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Don't Die in the Outback

Outback Survival Guide

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4WD vehicle on the Newman Tabba Tabba road to Marble Bar, Western Australia
Peter Walton Photography/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Newspaper headlines and radio and television bulletins regularly report of massive searches in bushland or in remote Outback regions for one or more people who have been lost or stranded. Most of the time, these searches end in success. Sometimes they don't.

In April 2005, two men in an old Land Rover were stranded in the desert Outback of Western Australia when their vehicle broke down. They had only 20 litres of water with them, no extra fuel beyond what was in their tank, no two-way radio, just a mobile phone, and a dog for company.

They had last been seen at an Aboriginal settlement on the rarely used Talawana Track east of the inland town of Newman. They had been dead at least a week when a passing station hand chanced on their vehicle and the men's (and dog's) bodies near the intersection of the Canning Stock Route.

These men were Australian, and they weren't the first Australians to die in the Outback as a result of misadventure.

Abandoned stock route

Crossing remote and most unforgiving desert country, the Canning Stock Route was used until 1958 to transport stock north from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It is a 2013-kilometre track running from Wiluna, 950 kilometres northeast of Perth to Halls Creek in the north.

On this route alone, where you'd think only the foolhardy would venture, you'd find about 3000 people, including visitors from overseas, every year.

Real dangers exist

If Australian men, who should know their country better, can get stranded, get lost, starve, die in the Australian Outback, non-Australians should really take heed of the real dangers that exist in the country's desolate inland reaches.

    In 1999 an American tourist was rescued after wandering the Great Sandy Desert for 42 days. In 2002 a German tourist was stranded for three days after becoming bogged on the Canning Stock Route. They were rescued because they had been reported lost and successful searches undertaken.

The greatest perils

Getting stranded in remote, isolated areas and becoming lost in heavy bushland comprise some of the greatest Outback dangers facing Australians and non-Australians alike.

Be prepared

  • Whether in desert or bush, arm yourself with up-to-date, preferably detailed maps showing water sources and nearest communities, have a compass or global positioning system, and emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB).

  • Always inform someone where you are going, what route you plan to take and when you expect to reach your destination.

  • If you are traveling by road and expect to travel great distances, have your vehicle undergo comprehensive service before you leave.

  • On long journeys, have two complete spare wheels, extra petrol, engine oil, fan belts, spare keys. Carry water in several containers.

  • If your vehicle suffers a breakdown or gets bogged, the advice is to remain close to the vehicle as your vehicle would be easier to spot from the air in case of a search. Don't set out for help unless you definitely know where you're going and you know you can get there.

  • Don't rely on mobile phones to call for help. They may not receive a signal where you are.

Getting lost in the bush

  • Unless you are well-skilled in finding your way, particularly with compass or global positioning system, keep to properly-marked tracks.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the area, keep a safe distance from cliff edges.

  • Be alert to danger from animals. For instance, in the northern parts of Australia, there may be danger from saltwater crocodiles.

  • Call for help. If you are not in too remote an area, you may be heard and rescued.

The cardinal rule

In all of this, the cardinal rule is to be completely sensible, take adequate precautions, avoid risky situations, err on the side of caution.

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