The Australian bush is a harsh mistress. Full of boundless plains, soaring cliffs, and ancient caves whose secrets have remained locked up for generation upon generation. As remote and desolate as the Australian outback can be, it’s also deadly. Here's the 10 most common ways outback travellers get snuffed. From snake bites, to dehydration; Croc attacks, to the guy off Playschool chasing you through the night in his tighty whiteys’. It’s not all doom and gloom though. While one of these things will absolutely happen on your next outback adventure, we’re arming you with the figurative tools to take on death and laugh in its face. Maybe just stay clear from Wolf Creek though, alright?
1. Snake Bite – Snake Bites in the Australian Outback could see you clocking out for good in under half an hour. Eastern Browns are the most likely to do you in and can be found anywhere east of the dog fence. They’re more riled up than a footy fan on grand final night, so if disturbed will generally stand up and try and fight you (hot tip, they’ll win). In the event of a bite don’t try sucking out the venom, it doesn’t get injected straight into the blood stream, instead it flows under the skin through lymphatic vessels. Start wrapping between the heart and the bite pushing down to the fingers and toes, eventually aiming to back up to the hip or arm pit. It’ll (hopefully) stop the flow of venom entering the blood stream and give you (hopefully) enough time to book it to hospital.
2. Tarantula Tango – Alright so Tarantula’s might not really be prevalent in Australia but fornicated by a Funnel-Web doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it. While the Sydney Funnel Web might be hands down the deadliest spider you’ll encounter in Australia they’re typically found in a small window between Newcastle, the Illawarra region, and the
Blue Mountains. They’re angry little balls of hate that want you to die, so give them a wide birth. If you’re bit (oh you’ll know you’ve been bit!) you can have as little as 15 minutes left in you. Similar to a snake bite, bust out a couple of metres of bandage and starting above the bite wrap away from the heart before coming back up as high as you can. The less you move the muscles, the slower the deadly venom will work its way through your body. Once that’s done put the hammer down and get to the nearest hospital.
3. Heart Attack – Alright put down the Bowie knife, this is one killer you can’t fight off with a steely gaze and witty one-liners. Like it or not, a heart attack is the most likely thing to off you in the outback. It the silent killer that’s responsible for tens of thousands of Aussie deaths a year, and heading bush only makes it worse. Risk factors are incredibly common. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, low fruit and veggie intake, alcohol, smoking, stress, and carrying a little too much extra weight around your stomach. Match that with the increased exertion or cold temperatures you’ll face running a winch line and you could be in real strife. Ideally, you’d lay off the pizza and quit worrying about your jerk-off neighbour, failing that, identify you’re about to have one and call for help. You can try chewing a Panadol too, it can minimise clots in your heat growing any bigger. The more you know eh?
4. Falling from heights – While standing in a wide-open field sounds exhilarating, most of the time our adventures take us to the hills. Winding tracks, expansive lookouts and bush walks aplenty. It’s a great day out in the bush, until you lean a little too far over the edge and find yourself at the bottom of a 50m gorge. Luckily, you’re not done for yet, a few stray branches slowed your fall on the way down, and you landed feet first with bent knees to absorb some of the impact. The bad news is your whole body is numb and attempting to move sends shooting pains up your back. If you’re unconscious, you better hope your friends roll you into the recovery position while keeping your spine and head in line as much as possible. If you haven’t knocked yourself out, you’ll need to stay still while they cover you in a blanket and keep you calm to ward off shock. Then sit tight while help comes. Un-due movement of the spine could turn a relatively minor injury into a lifelong date with a wheelchair.
5. Make it Snappy – Alright so croc’s might not exactly be a common way to cark it in the back country, but they’re certainly one of the more animated ways to go. If you’re aiming to make yourself supper for one of the only Apex predators in the world he’s a quick must do list. Camp by the water, be predicable, and charge into murky water big-toe first. While Croc’s might like to think they’re big and scary, the reality is they couldn’t last a second on our turf. Instead, they’ll try and drag you down to their level. Death rolls to break your bones and your spirits, then get you under the water to drown you. Despite that, they’re only capable of quick bursts of energy, keep 10m between you and it and you’ll be able to outrun it. If it does drag you down you’ve got no chance of taking it on so fight prison rules. Gouge it’s eyes, and if your leg is in its mouth shove it further down. They’ve got a small valve that stops them drowning. A belly full of water and it might start looking for an easier meal.
6. John Jarratt – Ever since I grew up watching Playschool I was always suspicious of John Jarratt, it turns out my fears were vindicated when he murdered all those backpackers at Wolf Creek. While you’re more likely to have your firewood pinched than end up in an underground torture chamber there are still a few things you can do to maintain personal safety. First and foremost, is let people know where you’re going, and when you’re expected back. Second, be aware of your surroundings. If your campground is littered with VB cans maybe keep moving up the road, and know where you’re heading if you need help. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut either. If the guy in the camp next to you is sacrificing goats there’s no need to give him the benefit of the doubt. And finally, if you are suspect, point your 4WD nose out, especially if you’re towing a trailer. You don’t want to be trying to reverse a trailer while John’s taking pot shots with his .303.
7. Heat Stroke – Humans can literally outrun anything in the world given enough time. It’s thanks to our ability to control our body temperature through sweating, as the sweat evaporates off our bodies it takes heat with it. Take that ability away and things turn pear-shaped real quick. High humidity slows down evaporation, essentially removing our ability to self-regulate our body temperature. Likewise, being dehydrated and not being able to produce sweat can have the same effect. If your body’s internal temp rises over 40c you can be staring down the barrel of cramps, vomiting, confusion and vertigo, eventually leading to death. Stave it off by keeping cool, wearing loose fitting light-coloured clothing and drinking plenty of fluids. If it hits you’ll need to find a cool environment and work on getting that body temp down ASAP.
8. Headbutting a bow-shackle – It might take a bit more than a solid wind up, but copping recovery equipment to the face can be downright deadly, and it’s far more common than you’d expect. There’s insane amounts of load involved in even the most basic recovery, and it’s almost always stored up in the straps and lines. Something let’s go and you could have a solid chunk of metal hurtling towards your noggin at a hundred miles an hour. First aid in these cases might not help, so your best bet is to not let it happen in the first place. Keep bystanders well and truly out of the firing line, always use a winch damper (yes, even with a snatch) and use as few metal pieces as possible. Do you really need a bow shackle on the end of your hook or are you adding more potential failure points?
9. Kissing a Gum tree – Getting up close and personal with a tree branch is hands down one of the deadliest things you can do outdoors. In fact, in a decade or so it’s claimed the lives of at least two unlucky campers. The worst part? You don’t even have to be climbing the tree for those pesky branches to get you. Those who live on the land know that tree branches are an eventually kinda affair, not a maybe sorta thing. High enough winds combined with a sick/dead/perfectly-friggin-healthy branch is enough to send a few hundred kilos of hardwood hurtling its way at your tent in the middle of the night. First aid isn’t going to help a log to the face, so when setting up camp look up and make sure you’re well clear of any potential falling branches. You may have to listen to a mate snoring, but it’s better than the alternative.
10. Reading it on the internet – While we’ve tried to give a reasonable run down of the potential calamity that faces you in the Aussie Outback (jesus one of the snakes is literally called a Death Adder, as in it adds death!) the reality is you’re never going to learn everything you need to know out of a couple page long magazine article, if you remember it at all. If you’re heading bush at all get your butt into a remote first aid course. They’re more extensive than a typical first aid course and typically run over two to three days. They’ll run you through every possible scenario you’ll come across and teach you what to do when help aint coming.