There are only a few places on earth as expansive, beautiful, rough, or harsh as the Australian outback. Its climate, size, wildlife, and scenery are what attract visitors from all over the world.
But these same features can, at a single second, put a traveler’s life in danger. Remote regions are further from emergency assistance, and those who head out without the proper knowledge or planning could be putting their safety at risk.
This guide outlines the essential preparation and precautions you should take before setting out on your outback adventure.
How Do I Keep Myself Safe in the Outback?
Adequate preparation before beginning your trip will lower the chance of jeopardizing human life. So, do your research before deciding to head out to the outback (just like what you’re doing now!). Know more about choosing the right vehicles for the terrain, vehicle, and communications requirements (e.g., EPIRB, sat phones, and UHF radios), recovery gear, and the right tools, and most especially how to improve your driving skills.
Also, you should do a map study to see what fuel and water sources are en-route, the best route, what navigation aids you will have. You should also know the alternative routes you could use if necessary, the positions of evacuation are accessible, and where the residents are located.
Planning how you will bring along water, and where you will get refills is very important for planning your trip. Also, you should allow 4 to 5 liters of drinking water per person per day while traveling.
Weather is an essential consideration in planning your trip as the road conditions vary based on the rainfall in the area. You should be keeping track of the changes of the season as some parts of the outback shouldn’t be traveled at certain times of the year.
Most importantly, before heading on a journey through remote areas, always inform your friends and relatives of your time of departure, your planned and alternate routes, and your ETAl. Also, don’t forget to inform those concerned once you have safely finished the journey.
There are some services available, including the non-profit VKS-737 Australian National 4WD Radio Network Inc., which offer an extra level of safety and contact to travelers.
What Are the Basic Rules for Survival?
Survival is best defined as merely staying alive. Usually, survival in the outback is a daily proposition. For most people, a situation that warrants survival will be a traumatic experience. People who are survivors are common ones that have been able to keep their stress levels under control. By doing so, you can determine an aim, review the situation, identify all possible actions, list the factors affecting their survival, select the best course of action, and then start making a plan.
The following six principles are a useful essential guide that applies to anyone, anywhere to varying degrees.
- First Aid: In an accident or emergency, the first thing is to attend to is the vital life processes of the victim.
- Clothing: The next important aspect of ensuring survival is to lessen exposure.
- Shelter and Fire: The following step is to shield the body from the elements by finding refuge.
- Location: Now, you need to be in a spot that is easy to find by search and rescue parties. So, you should set up location aids such as fires, lights, mirrors, or more advanced methods like activating an EPIRB.
- Water: Typically, the body can survive – 3 minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without enough food.
- Food: This is a low priority in a survival situation unless no one knows you are gone. It refers to finding food and does not apply to travelers that might already have enough supplies. The issue here is that energy spent searching for food (bush food) is very wasteful of the body’s amount of water. Also, it is hazardous to eat if you don’t have water as it increases the body’s need for water.
If you have taken the precaution of informing someone of where you are heading and how long you want to stay, a search will no doubt be done to look for you if you don’t return after the time you intended. Your task will be to use the skills and knowledge you have to stay alive until found.
How Do I Find Water in the Outback?
The following ideas are well-documented methods of obtaining groundwater in survival manuals in Australia. So, be careful and don’t drink contaminated water as the infection will cause you to dehydrate further. If you have prepared for this situation, you will have water purification tablets with you.
- Creek Beds: Even when dry, these features may have water just under the surface. Look in bends for wet sand or mud or dig in a suitable spot. Water can be taken out by soaking a rag in soil and squeezing out the water into a vessel. Exposed tree roots can be slashed in lengths and drained of their fluid early in the morning. To reduce the chances of infection, boil any surface water.
- Rock Formations: Rocky areas are perfect for rain catchments, so if there is any chance that water seeps from the ground, it is likely to be found close to rock formations.
- Salt Lakes: After the rain has fallen, the top 3mm of a salt lake is freshwater. It can be collected by using a grass straw or tubing.
- Windmills: If you can spot a windmill, there will likely be a water supply such as a dam, well, or soak. So, check if the water has already gone salty.
- Animal Trails: Where several trails converge together, it would mean that water was not far away. Follow the paths to the sources of water.
- Water Seepage: Areas of soft rock erosion and natural springs (slopes, banks, etc.)
- Coastal Water Sources: In some places in Western Australia, you can get drinking water by digging on the beach above the tidemark or at the back of the first sandhills. It tastes salty and should only be consumed in small quantities.
- Dew: Wipe your vehicle with a cloth before the sun rises and squeeze it out into a bottle.
- Transpiration Method: You can get water by placing clear plastic bags over the leafy branch of a non-poisonous tree and fastening it to the end of the branch. You should also make sure that the container has no holes. Also, you shouldn’t disturb the bag to collect water, and you should only cut a small hole in the bag then reseal by using tape. The leaves will keep on producing water because the roots draw it from the ground. Water should be collected every 2 hrs and stored. But if there are no large trees in the area, remove clumps of grass or small bushes and place them inside the bag.
- Distilling Sea Water: If the only source of water around is non-potable (such as seawater), then boiling it will create steam (which is freshwater). Provided you can find a method to gather the steam, such as trapping it as condensation, you can drink it.
How Do I Find Shelter in the Outback?
Extreme temperatures are the bane of human survival, and both these qualities are found in inland arid regions where scorching days come before cold nights. Vehicles can be a good shelter as they protect from the scorching sun during the day and the coldness of the night. Ideally, you’ll be planning to set up camp and have brought along a tent or swag. If not, you can use branches or blankets to keep the direct sun from hitting the vehicle. Bonnets can be also be removed and arranged to make shade.
How Do I Keep Warm in the Outback?
Fire cooks, warms, sterilizes, and can be used as a signal if needed. Ideally, your vehicle is well stocked with a gas cooker or lamp and matches. To start a fire without using matches can be quite challenging for the modern man – but you’ll only need to find “fuel” and add oxygen and heat. You can also use other “fuel” like dry kindling, animal manure, timber, and other reactive chemicals. Moreover, heat can be created by chemical reaction, friction, magnification, or spark.
If you don’t have a match, you can make a fire by one of these methods:
- Put a little petrol on a rag and use a heated cigarette lighter to light it
- Pull out two wires from the car and attach them to the terminals of your battery and run them away from the ground. When the ends are in contact, they will spark, and you can light up tinder (starting fires from batteries is very dangerous. Keep fire well away from the battery to prevent it from exploding)
- Hold steel wool above the negative terminals of a 6-volt torch battery and brush it on the positive terminal. The sparks made should set the steel wool ablaze, which you can then use to enflame the tinder.
- Condy’s crystals can be combined in equal amounts with sugar and pounding them with the flat of a knife blade making a brief but enormous flame
- Use a lens from a camera or binoculars to focus sunlight onto light tinder such as leaves
How Do I Find Food in the Outback?
In the past, self-drive travelers that have become stranded and died, very few die of extreme hunger. Most travelers will have some food in their vehicle, and if they venture away from the car, they usually die of dehydration, not starving. Remember – the human can survive only three days without water, but up to 3 weeks without food. Any food should be rationed if you aren’t sure how long you have to wait before being rescued, it’s better to have one meal a day than to have snacks.
Here are some useful tips:
- The body uses fluids to digest food, so those with high water content should be eaten before others. If you don’t have water, then avoid eating meat
- You can also survive by eating insects, lizards, and grubs for many days. These can be found below tree stumps, rocks, and other shaded places.
- You can avoid food contamination and infection by washing and cooking all foods
- Bushfood is generally tough and unpalatable and to some even repulsive, but it is still food. Most people want the following foods in order: marsupials, birds, fish, fowl, reptiles, vegetarian, grubs, and insects.
How Can I Navigate in the Outback?
In most situations, it’s best to stay near your vehicle, but there may be some cases when you become lost from a walking party and find yourself without a compass. Every person heading to the Australian outback should know how to navigate without a compass or map.
To find north using your watch stand, hold your wristwatch horizontally with the 12 o’clock pointing towards the sun. Split the angle in the middle the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position to give you the approximate location of the north.
Australia is found in the southern hemisphere, so shade from bushes in the day always occurs on the hedge’s south side.
The Shadow Stick
Put a stick vertically into the ground and place a stone at the end of the stick’s shadow. After 20 min, place another stone at the edge of the shadow. After that, draw a line in the ground between the two stones – these lines are the direction of West-East. Stand along the line while facing the stick with your left foot between the two rocks and your right foot outside the rocks – you will now be facing north.
What Are the Most Common Emergencies that Happen in the Outback?
When all is going well, your vehicle provides you with food, shelter, and water. These are all critical elements of survival, but most of these only work for you when the car is generating power from the alternator to keep batteries alive. It will keep the air conditioner and fridge running etc. It doesn’t take much when the car breaks down to cause a dangerous situation, so you should do everything to make your vehicle last longer. Doing so is a significant factor for your survival.
Typical emergencies that happen when the vehicle is damaged are:
- Vehicle breakdown (getting bogged down, mechanical problem, running out of fuel, or getting lost)
- Blocked access (natural disasters like floods, bushfires, or blizzards)
You can prevent these incidences from becoming risky by PLANNING and USING COMMON SENSE. You should also notify authorities/family/friends where you are going and when you expect to return. Take adequate communications equipment and know-how to use them. Always take the right 4WD recovery gear and know-how to operate it. Most importantly, travel in convoys and look after one another.
What Are Emergency Signals?
There are a lot of forms of outback navigation aids and communication devices that can be purchased or hired. An EPIRB is the most recommended to survive the outback in an emergency. If you don’t have safety aids, you can also use these methods to show your position to potential rescue parties that are looking for you.
A smoking fire will help searchers, both at day and night. But extreme care should be taken so your fire won’t get out of hand.
One blast at recurring intervals means searchers are looking for a lost party
Two blasts that are repeated regularly means they spotted your distress signal
Three signals that are periodically spaced means it is a distress signal by lost party
Four blasts mean a recall sign for search parties
Gun Shots and Torch Flashes
Quite similar to a whistle, guns should be discharged into soft ground, not the air.
Signal to Aircraft
Write SOS by utilizing figures that are 8-9 meters. Use logs, rocks, brush, brush, or dig trenches in the sand.
Aircraft Signals Back
Aircraft will rock from both sides during daylight to show that it has seen your message. At night they usually make green flashes. If they didn’t understand your message, the aircraft will fly in complete right-hand circles or make red flashes at night.
How Hot Can the Outback Get?
In the arid zone (the most significant outback climate), we get long, scorching summers that last from approximately October through to mid-March. The typical maximum temperature for January is often 35 degrees Celsius (95 F) or more, and we usually have a lot of days above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) in late January and through February.
Why Is the Outback So Dry?
This air in the subtropical high-pressure zones is arid because the air has lost most of its moisture in the form of rain on the tropics. Warmer air encourages more evaporation from the surface, which helps to further the dry climate.