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Home > Tips and Hints > Trip planning and safety > Personal Safety and First Aid
Personal safety

Personal safety when camping: Bush camping in Australia is far safer than living in a city or large town.  For the maximum security, do not camp near large towns, particularly on Friday or Saturday nights when local youth may come around to drive around in circles after the pub closes, and waking the odd camper up may seem to them a good idea at the time.  We have only met this once, when between one and two in the morning a lone ute came into the campground and spent a while kicking clouds of dust.  He was between us and the tent camper at the other end but did not come close to either. 

 

If you camp alone and are out of sight of the road, no-one will bother you.  We have also camped alongside major roads and been undisturbed apart from the sound of passing trucks. 

 

Some people prefer to have others around them, and will congregate in rest areas where there are a number of other campers.  People in free camps and rest areas are usually more sociable than in town caravan parks, so get out and introduce yourself to your neighbours.  Always camp facing outwards, so if hoons do come around (eg close to a town and Friday night after they’ve had a few drinks), or if it starts to rain and you are on clay, you can make a fairly quick getaway without backing through trees in the dark.   

 

Be cautious if opening the door to someone knocking unexpectedly at night.  There have been incidents reported of unwelcome visitors in parking areas in a couple of specific towns.

 

Should you feel the need for further personal safety issues, consider movement sensitive lights outside your caravan, but be prepared to be woken by passing wildlife. A movement sensitive audible alarm may give you security, but will not make you popular if there are camping neighbours and it is set off by a passing animal or another camper stepping out during the night.  

 

Weapons (be they batons or capsicum sprays) are more likely to be used against you before you can defend yourself should someone burgle your camper and wake you in the night.  Should you use a weapon such as a capsicum spray on someone you feel is up to no good outside your van, you may find you have assaulted an innocent camper.  A recording of a large dog snarling and barking which can be quickly activated may be a better deterrent. 

 

Firearms should not be carried for self defense purposes, and can only be carried at all if you meet very strict criteria for secure storage, having a valid reason (eg travelling to a gun club competition).  In most states Police must be notified each time you enter that state and you must meet that state’s requirements whilst travelling in that state.  If you do discharge a firearm for self defense purposes; even if aimed away from the aggressor and intended only to scare, you may well be in for a “long holiday without a view”.  There is a far greater chance that a person if genuinely intending you or your property harm will get able to snatch the weapon from you and he may be willing to use it against you or your family. 

 

In the unlikely event someone suspicious does come to your door or break into your camper, a bright torch shone at his eyes will give you a moment to assess the risk or the innocence of that person.  If you are genuinely threatened, secure the door/windows as best you can and call to 000 emergency services if you are in telephone service range.  Should the threat be very real and otherwise unmanagable and only as a last resort, use the fire extinguisher which will be set in an easy to grab position by the door.    

 

See also Campsite and Animal Safety and Weather Safety.

Personal safety on walks and hikes:  If walk is long and perhaps difficult, and there are not lots of others walking, it may be wise to take a satellite telephone or PLB in your backpack.  A hand held two way can be useful over a short distance if walking alone while partner remains at the car with either the car set turned on or another hand held, ensuring you have coordinated the channel. 

 

Always ensure you have adequate water, allowing extra in hotter climates.  Snacks will be welcome on longer walks. 

 

Do not wear tight clothing as this can increase the chance of heat exhaustion.  Ensure adequate protection from the sun with sunscreen, wearing a shady hat and loose fitting clothing with sleeves to avoid sunburn and overheating. 

 

Some walks have a registration system, either at the Ranger Station, or a book at the start of a walk.  Be sure to advice or tick off your return.  If the walk is long and you have concerns, advise someone else (like a neighbour at the campground) of your plans and expected time of return, so they can alert authorities if you are well overdue. 

 

The following safety advice from Travel NT is worthwhile checklist for hikers and bush campers; click here

 

If there is a risk of snake bite (eg walking through brush), wear long trousers, thick socks and boots.  Most snakes will try to get out of your way, and most snake bites occur when someone is trying to catch or corner the snake.  If you see a snake, stop and stay still.  It will then perceive the threat (you) has gone, and will usually move away.  See first aid for snake bite. 

 

Although travel in Australia is relatively safe,Australia does have a number of snakes, spiders, ant and insects which can inflict a painful or harmful bite or sting.  There are also a number of dangerous sea creatures, such as the blue ringed octopus.  While incidents are rare, caution should be taken. For further reading if you want to know more about creepy crawlies and things that bite: Dangerous Australian Fauna.  Seefirst aid for bites and stings other than snakebite.  Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, as mosquitoes across Australia can carry viruses such as Ross River Virus.  If you would like to know more about mosquito borne viruses see here

 

Do not swim or paddle in areas where estuarine (salt water) crocodiles are found.  It sounds obvious, but it does happen. Crocodiles can move quickly on land, so be cautious anywhere near water in crocodile areas.  The smaller Johnstone’s (fresh water) crocodiles are not life threatening, but can bite if threatened.  Respect signage at all times.  Do not swim in areas where and at times when it is not recommended due to the presence of other dangers. 

 

In an emergency for finding bearing when you do not have a compass you can use these methods in Finding North 

 

Respect signage where there are cliff top overhangs. It might make a nice photo to send home with you dangling your legs over the edge of Kings Canyon or the Great Australian Bite, but not worth the risk.  Sandstone and limestone are unstable and you may not be able to see that there is nothing underneath the ledge but a very large drop.  Not so nice if you don’t make it home. 

 

At Kings Canyon there is signage in a number of languages on both sides of the canyon, yet young tourists were still going past the signs to sit and stand on the edge.  From the other side we could see how eroded the ledge was.  The people under the left arrow are on a large platform jutting out over the canyon at a place with signs of more recent rock falls.  The people under the right arrow are still on an unstable edge.

At the Bunda Cliffs on along the Nullarbor in South Australia, several of the viewing areas have now been closed due to safety concerns.  At one of the few remaining public access cliff viewing areas, this picture is very different to one I took five years earlier, as an area which was then undercut has now gone.  Five years ealier, people were walking near the edge, unaware that little lay between them and the ocean way down below.  

 

First Aid

The best first aid kit is knowledge.  When doing your first aid certificate, you will be taught how to improvise, and they will most likely have kits for sale as well.

 

St John Ambulance is a recognised major training provider.  In addition to the Senior First Aid Certificate, there are short courses specific to different areas such as Remote Area First Aid and Child Resuscitation. 

See  St John Ambulance First Aid Courses

 

A short on line course will give you the basics which may save a life. 

See St John Ambulance On Line First Aid Course

 

Red Cross also provides similar courses as well as on line courses. 

See Red Cross First Aid Courses 

 

First Aid Kit: I carry a number of rolls of crepe and elastic bandages (with some in my back pack when taking long walks in case of snake bite or sprains). I have a very basic First Aid Kit which also includes triangular bandages (for use as slings, dressings and pressure pads), sterile dressings, hand sanitiser, splinter probe, vials of eye wash as you may not always have access to water, and eye bath for when you do, strong pain tablets and antihistamines, toothache relief, Nurofen ointment, Betadine ointment, medi swabs, band-aids mixed shapes and sizes, cotton buds, digital thermometer, single use instant hot and cold packs. They travel a small case which goes with us between the car and caravan.  I keep a mini first aid booklet in top of the case.  We also have a re-usable cold pack in the caravan fridge freezer section.  Check expiry dates on products and replace as necessary each year.

I carry a disposable key ring type mask for mouth-to-mouth; these are made to attach to your car key ring. Our St Johns Ambulance Centre sells these and more substantial masks.  Disposable gloves are another easy product to carry to protect you from any blood born diseases when treating injured accident victims. 

 

Looking at planning personal security and safety for your trip, including first aid and what to in case of snake bite.

Australian Venom Research Unit pioneered Pressure Immobilisation Bandaging.  Printable Factsheet no longer available.  See also Pressure Immobilisation First Aid  

Refer to the above website of the Australian Venom Research Unit for the latest techniques in treating snake and certain other bites with the Pressure Immobilisation Technique. 

 

The pressure-immobilisation first aid technique was developed in the 1970's by Professor Struan Sutherland. Its purpose is to retard the movement of venom from the bite site into the circulation, thus "buying time" for the patient to reach medical care. Research with snake venom has shown that very little venom reaches the blood stream if firm pressure is applied over the bitten area and the limb is immobilised. Pressure-immobilisation was initially developed to treat snakebite, but it is also applicable to bites and stings by some other venomous creatures.

Call for an ambulance using emergency calling number 000 where possible.  Reassure patient and keep them calm and still.  Do not allow the patient to walk.   Apply pressure immobilisation bandage and splinting to immobilise the limb when bitten on a limb.  Do not chase or attempt to catch the snake.  Do not wash the bite area, as this can be used to identify the type of snake.

 

If you are out of telephone service range and do not have a satellite phone, use what ever means are available to obtain help such as contacting passing vehicles, using two way or HF radio or even activating an PLB if there are no other options. Passing vehicles may have a satellite telephone or be able to obtain a telephone service at a nearby station or roadhouse. 

The following medical training website may be of interest to those wanting to familiarise themselves with Australian venomous snakes before leaving on travels.  Many species of Australian snakes are not venomous or not dangerous and all snakes have an important role in the environment.  Members of the python family are not venomous. 

 

Australian Snake Bites and snake identification

 

Most Australian snakes are shy and will avoid contact with people.  If you see a snake, stop and wait for it to go on its way. Snakes will generally only strike when they feel threatened or cornered.   In stopping still you are no longer posing a threat to the snake.  We have seen very few snakes while travelling, and see more snakes around our house and sheds at home, which they frequent to hunt rodents. 

This Tasmanian tiger snake was seen on a popular short walk trail to a coastal rock feature.   I stopped for a while and showed those walking past what they had almost trodden on, and waited until it went into the scrub before leaving.   Shortly afterwards, two ladies who had come with partners on bikes (attending the Ulysses annual rally) raced back alarmed “There was a snake on the path!”.  It must have returned to its sunny spot, unperturbed by people walking by.   Tiger snakes in Tasmania can vary in colour from black on top and yellow or beige underneath to patterning such as on this specimen.   Most on the main island are small, although a huge tiger snake sub species has developed on King Island in the Bass Strait.   

In the south west of Western Australia, tiger snake colours can vary often being black on the top and yellow or cream underneath.  On a farm we had near the south coast, tiger snakes were very common and had the traditional tiger colouring with lovely orange and black banding and an orange under belly.   Tiger snakes can be more aggressive than the brown snake family and are venomous, however most just want to get on with their lives. 
Vehicle breakdown safety

Should you have a break down you cannot fix, become bogged and unable to extricate your vehicle or become totally lost in a remote area, the golden rule is stay with your vehicle.  In the event of a search, a vehicle will be easier to spot that person, and you will have some shelter and provisions with you.  People have died in the desert because they left their vehicle and were not found in time. 

 

Think about your survival plan.  Work out how much drinking water and food you are carrying, and a likely time frame for your rescue and work out how to make this last.  See What if you have no water for emergency water gathering. If it is hot and there is no nearby shade, make a temporary shade from anything suitable in your vehicle such as a tarpaulin or a picnic rug.  Inland areas can become cold at night so find a way of keeping warm, even if this means sleeping in your vehicle. 

 

If travelling alone and in remote areas where you may not see other travellers regularly, always advise someone of your planned route and expected time frame, with instructions to call for help if you have not been in contact after a specified number of days. If you have a satellite telephone, Spot messenger, PLB or EPIRB, you will be in a better position to be recovered or rescued.  See more details about these devices in Communications

 

When someone in a remote area activates an emergency signal such as a PLB, an aerial search may be initiated.  It is helpful to be able to communicate ground to air and for this purpose an emergency set of signals is used.

 

Number

Message

Code Symbol

1

Require Assistance

V

2

Require Medical Assistance

X

3

Proceeding in this Direction

è

4

Yes or Affirmative

Y

5

No or Negative

N

Note: If in doubt use International symbol - SOS

 

Basically, these symbols can be made on the ground by using rocks or other material or using ready-made V-Sheets etc. You must ensure that the symbols are large enough to be seen by an aircraft flying overhead. The pilot will respond if the signal is understood by rocking the aircraft’s wings during daylight or flashing the aircraft’s landing lights or navigation lights ON and OFF.

 

These signals are worthwhile remembering to indicate to a search aircraft that your party is in distress or, if the search aircraft cannot land close by, giving the pilot more information about the situation for relaying to a ground party or more suitable rescue aircraft that is making its way towards you.  See more at Ground to Air Emergency Code

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A very good chart on treating bites, based on AVRU techniqies, can be found at Queensland Poisons Information Centre
 
Print the chart from the link above to keep with you on your travels if you are not totally familiar with treating snakebite in various parts of the human body.   This website also lists which bites should be pressure bandaged and which should not. 
 

 
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Snake bite first aid
 
First aid for other stings and bites

Click on the links and download each Factsheet.  Factsheets no longer available. Note the advice of when to seek medical attention. 

 

When removing spines and tentacles from Non-tropical Bluebottles, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, Sea Anemones, Sea Urchins and Stinging Fish, bathe the area in hot but not scalding water then remove spines with tweezers. 

 

For Box Jellyfish and Irukandji pour vinegar over the area for at least thirty seconds, then remove any remaining tentacles. 

 

Apply a cold pack to the site for bites and stings from Caterpillars, Centipedes, Leeches, Paralysis Ticks, Scorpions, Ants, Bees or Wasps, most Jellyfish and Tropical Bluebottles.