Enjoying the great outdoors

Australians love their outdoor lifestyle and many of us grow up around the coast enjoying the surf, or living on the land learning to read the weather, and to live with the multitude of wildlife and creatures who share it with us. Just as you know and learn to live with the many beautiful and challenging features of your own country and culture, it is neither good nor bad, better or worse, just different if it’s new to us or normal if it isn’t. If you want to experience these elements of Australian life and culture, please make yourself aware of the things below for your own safety while enjoying the great outdoors.

Visitor Information Centres

Visitor or Tourist Information Centres operate all over Australia and provide a welcome point for maps, tours and local advice. Look out for the distinctive blue and yellow ‘i’ sign as you travel around Australia. The sign is a pointer to a Visitor Information Centre, part of a network of accredited information centres across the country.

Sun safety

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. In fact, one in every two Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point during their lifetime. The good news is it can be prevented. By minimising your exposure to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation (UVR), you can protect your skin and prevent the development of skin cancer.

The key to preventing skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun by practising sun safe behaviours.

  1. Minimise your time in the sun between 10am and 3pm.
  2. Seek shade.
  3. Wear suitable clothing that provides good sun protection.
  4. Choose a broad brim, legionnaire-style or bucket-style hat that will protect your face, neck and ears.
  5. Wear UV protective sunglasses.
  6. Apply SPF 30+ broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before you go out into the sun.

Find out more on how to be SunSmart.

Beach safety

Understanding the ocean is very important - the more you know about how waves, wind and tides affect conditions in the water, the better able you are to keep yourself safe, or even rescue others, from danger. Recognising danger signs and awareness of surf conditions is an essential part of lifesaving.

Remember the F-L-A-G-S and stay safe

F - Find the flags and swim between them - the red and yellow flags mark the safest place to swim at the beach.

L - Look at the safety signs - they help you identify potential dangers and daily conditions at the beach.

A - Ask a surf lifesaver for some good advice - surf conditions can change quickly so talk to a surf lifesaver or lifeguard before entering the water.

G - Get a friend to swim with you - so you can look out for each other's safety and get help if needed. Children should always be supervised by an adult.

S - Stick your hand up for help - if you get into trouble in the water, stay calm, and raise your arm to signal for help. Float with a current or rip - don't try and swim against it. 

And remember – NEVER

  • Never swim at unpatrolled beaches
  • Never swim at night
  • Never swim under the influence of alcohol
  • Never run and dive into the water
  • Never swim directly after a meal.

Rips

A rip is a strong current running out to sea. Rips are the cause of most rescues performed at beaches. A rip usually occurs when a channel forms between the shore and a sandbar, and large waves have built up water which then returns to sea, causing a drag effect. The larger the surf, the stronger the rip. Rips are dangerous as they can carry a weak or tired swimmer out into deep water.

Identifying a rip

The following features will alert you to the presence of a rip:

  • darker colour, indicating deeper water
  • murky brown water caused by sand stirred up off the bottom
  • smoother surface with much smaller waves, alongside white water (broken waves)
  • waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip
  • debris floating out to sea
  • a rippled look, when the water around is generally calm.

Escaping from a rip

If you are caught in a rip:

  • Don't panic - stay calm.
  • If you are a strong swimmer, swim at a 45 degree angle across the rip and in the same direction as the current until you reach the breaking wave zone, then return to shore.
  • If you are a weak or tired swimmer, float with the current, don't fight it. Swim parallel to the shore for about 30 - 40m until you reach the breaking wave zone, then swim back to shore or signal for help.
  • Remember to stay calm and conserve your energy.

Negotiating the surf
Before entering the surf, always make note of a landmark such as a building or headland that can be seen from the water and used as a guide for maintaining a fixed position. Also check the depth of any gutter and the height of any sandbank before diving under waves – this will help prevent spinal injury.

For comprehensive information on beach and water safety visit Surf Lifesaving Australia website.

Bush and outback safety

Australia has many extraordinary and beautiful places to explore. If you are going on a trip, travel with other people, make sure someone knows where you are at all times, including when you are expected to return, and stay on a road or a walking track.

  • Check the weather forecast and be prepared for unexpected changes in weather.
  • Check the length and degree of difficulty of your planned walk. Consider using a local guide when taking long or difficult walks.
  • When walking or exploring outdoors drink plenty of water (allow at least one litre of water per hour of walking). Wear sturdy shoes and socks, a hat, sunscreen lotion, comfortable clothing and insect repellent. Other handy items for long bushwalks include food, warm clothing, first aid supplies, a torch and a map.
  • Never walk alone. Read maps and signs carefully. Stay on the track and stay behind safety barriers.
  • Never dive into a rock-pool, creek, lake or river. Stay away from cliff edges and waterfalls.
  • Do not feed or play with native animals. You might get bitten or scratched.
  • Limit your use of fire. Use a fuel stove for cooking and wear thermal clothing to keep warm. Never leave fires unattended or unconfined.
  • Visit the ranger station or park information centre to obtain details on the best places to visit and any additional safety tips for that park.

Bush fires

Bush fires are common occurrences in Australia during our often long hot summers. Check the Country Fire Authority (CFA) website for bushfire warnings and fire ratings before venturing into country areas. You can also call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667.

If you are in smoke and fire-affected areas, you should stay off the roads. If you must get in the car, put your headlights on, dress in protective clothing and footwear and make sure you take food and water - you could be stuck for long periods if your journey is blocked by road closures. Turn the car radio on and keep it tuned to local stations for bush fire updates.

You should also check the Total Fire Bans prohibiting the lighting of any fires in the open air. The ban includes all campfires, all solid fuel barbecues and portable barbecues in excess of 20 metres away from a permanent dwelling. It also includes incinerators, welding, grinding, soldering or gas cutting. Forecast of Total Fire Bans and danger rating is available from CFA website.

For comprehensive information on what to do in a bushfire visit the CFA website.

In the outback     
Australia’s outback is vast and often distances between towns and petrol stations are vast, so be aware and plan your trip.

  • When planning each day of travel spend some time to calculate how long it will take to drive between destinations. Be realistic about how far you can drive in a day.
  • Inform family and friends or the local police of your travel plans. The local police can also provide helpful advice on facilities and road conditions.
  • Always carry a current road map.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and has been serviced recently.
  • Use a four-wheel drive vehicle on unsealed roads in remote areas. Take extra care when driving these vehicles. For example, drive at reduced speeds on unsealed roads.
  • Always carry a spare tyre, tools and water. If travelling to remote areas off major highways take extra food, water, fuel and tyres. Do not overload your vehicle and never carry spare fuel inside an enclosed vehicle.
  • If you have trouble with your vehicle, don’t leave your vehicle because it will provide you with shade and protection from the heat. Wait for help to come to you.
  • Hire appropriate emergency communication equipment, such as a satellite phone or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon device (EPIRB).
  • Obey road closure signs and stay on recognised routes.
  • Fires in desert and bush areas can spread very quickly. If required, be prepared to evacuate the area immediately.
  • Australian wildlife and livestock often graze on the roadside and can stray onto the road. Be very careful when driving at sunrise, sunset and at night, when animals are most active. If an animal crosses in front of you, brake gently, do not swerve wildly to avoid it.
  • During daylight hours always drive with your headlights on low beam, as outback conditions can make it difficult to see oncoming vehicles.

Snow safety

The alpine environment is a beautiful destination for winter or summer holidays and a venue for many challenging and exciting activities including skiing and bushwalking. The Alps however, can be hazardous if visitors are careless or irresponsible.

When taking a trip

Let someone know before you go. Check in when you return.
Leave a written record of your trip plans with a reliable person so that person can notify the appropriate authorities without delay if you fail to return when expected. The information should include:

  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of all in the party
  • Details of planned trip
  • Location, make and registration of vehicle used
  • The reliable person should be a friend or relative at home, or a member of your lodge.

In addition, if an intentions book is provided where you start your trip, please use it – even on the shortest trips.

In case of emergency, if you find yourself in difficulties stop and think.

  • Identify your last confirmed position and estimate your current location.
  • Believe your compass. It is more likely to be right than your unaided sense of direction.
  • Decide if you will proceed or if you will camp.
  • If your party is still strong and you can set a course which must bring you to a known position in a reasonable time, then you could proceed.
  • If any party member is fatigued or you are not sure of your ability to navigate to known country, then camp and await assistance.

Knowledge of your own capabilities is the next most important safety factor. Individual skiing skills and fitness levels vary greatly. What is quite safe for one person to attempt may be foolhardy for someone else. Know your capabilities and keep well within them when out touring.

If lost, retrace your steps if you can, if not STAY PUT!

For comprehensive information on staying safe in the snow, visit the Snow Safe website.

Storm safety

Storms can happen anywhere and at any time of the year. Storms are more common during storm season – from October to the end of April, but it is important to be aware all year round.

Severe storms can cause major damage. They may be accompanied by torrential rain, strong winds, large hailstones, loud thunder and lightning. Storms can cause flash flooding, unroof buildings, and damage trees and powerlines.

You can also be indirectly affected by storms even if your property is not damaged; such as losing power, or access roads being cut.

The State Emergency Service (SES) is responsible for managing the clean-up and helping people during and after a storm. 

During a storm, there are some things you can do to stay safe:

  • Stay indoors and away from windows.
  • Unplug sensitive electrical devices like computers, televisions and video recorders.
  • Listen to your radio for weather updates.
  • Don’t use a landline telephone during an electrical storm.

If you are caught outside during storm:

  • Get inside a vehicle or building if possible. 
  • If no shelter is available, crouch down, with your feet close together and head tucked in. 
  • If in a group – spread out, keeping people several metres apart.

To download a home emergency plan,  emergency tool kit, and for other helpful information visit the State Emergency Service (SES) website or call the Flood and Storm Information Line on 1300 842 737.

Dangerous animals and plants 

Australia is home to a variety of native animals. Even if they seem friendly to you, do not touch or feed them - they are not used to close contact with humans and may hurt you.

If you are visiting any of Australia’s beautiful parks or forests:

  • Be wary of animals in their natural habitat. Stay well back from goannas, crocodiles, snakes, dingoes, cassowaries, and also wild pigs, cattle, horses and buffaloes. People have been seriously injured or killed by wild animals. Be very careful about approaching any injured animal, such as kangaroos or possums. They are likely to bite and scratch if you attempt to touch or move them.
  • Never feed or play with wildlife. Native animals are by nature timid; however, having been provided food from people may become aggressive in pursuit of food. You may get bitten or scratched. In addition, human foods may be harmful to native animals.

Bites and stings
The majority of insects in Australia are not harmful to humans. Some insects bite and sting if they are threatened so it is best to avoid touching them if you want to avoid being stung or bitten.

The Australia-wide Poisons Information Centres have a common telephone number: 131 126.

Some people are allergic to certain insect bites or venom. In the case of an allergic reaction to bites or stings, medical attention should be sought immediately. Call a doctor or hospital for guidance, or 000.

General first aid for bites and stings
For bites or stings from these creatures seek first aid assistance straight away, stay calm, and as immobile as possible:

  • all species of Australian snakes, including sea snakes
  • funnel web spiders
  • blue ringed octopus
  • cone shell stings.

For all other bites and stings:  seek or apply basic first aid. 

  • Wash with soap and water and apply an antiseptic if available.
  • Ensure that the patient's tetanus vaccination is up to date.
  • Apply an ice-pack to reduce local pain and swelling.
  • Pain relief may be required eg. paracetamol or an antihistamine (to reduce swelling, redness and itch)
  • The patient should seek medical advice if they develop any other symptoms or signs of infection.