What to do in an emergency

David Gilchrist — 13 December 2017
When travelling in the outback Australia, you have to be prepared in case of an emergency

Many caravanners find adventure in the outback. The trouble is, the effects of drought and flooding rains, of narrow roads, and wildlife and stock, large distances under wide horizons all make the chance of facing an emergency real. 

Barcaldine, at the heart of the Queensland Outback, sees its share of travellers facing emergencies. Nonetheless, Barcaldine Mayor Rob Chandler reckons a little care and attention will mitigate risks and open opportunities for safe and rewarding travel experiences. He insists travellers should know that if an emergency happens, help is available.

“As far as emergencies go we have got our state emergency service, police and ambulance services in each of our communities and they respond very quickly to that sort of stuff,” Rob told Caravan World.

When it comes to being prepared, Rob recommends caravanners drive to the road conditions. Inherent to that advice is taking care on narrow roads. He says travellers should avoid moving too fast on to the road shoulder as oncoming vehicles pass.


Gavin Farry is the Queensland Ambulance Service Superintendent for the Central West region of Queensland – a vast area including towns such as Birdsville, Longreach, Winton and Barcaldine. Caravanning and camping is a popular pastime for people travelling through the region and Gavin sees first-hand some of the problems caravanners come up against. The outback is a huge place, full of beauty, opportunity and adventure, not at all unlike the ocean in its vastness and temperament. And travelling through it can be as isolated as any ocean passage. 

Nonetheless, the experienced Queensland ambulance officer says the outback offers “great places” to enjoy. 

“People come to remote parts of Australia because of the adventure, the journey into the unknown,” he says. “We definitely support tourists – we like ’em, (but) travelling in remote areas is just about being prepared.”

Gavin has some tips to help you get safely around the outback.


You’re in the outback, a land of wide horizons and long straight bush roads. When asked you might say you’re so many hours away from back of beyond. However, in an emergency you might need to be a lot more specific – especially if you’re on a back road. Gavin says to help emergency services find you, it’s good to plan and practise how to accurately communicate your location in an emergency. The most accurate way is to understand latitude and longitude (GPS coordinates) and how to find this information on your devices such as mobile phones or satellite navigation device. The Emergency+ app is a great way to do this – it provides your coordinates in the event of an emergency even when you’re out of range. Gavin says you should, “set your odometer every day, take note of distances from landmarks like major intersections, [and] know the roads you are travelling on”.


When you’re out in remote parts a sound knowledge of first aid and an up-to-date, well stocked first-aid kit – which includes bandages, wound dressings, gauze, gloves, a resuscitation mask, saline and alcohol swabs among other things – are essential. You can learn first aid by contacting St John Ambulance Australia or your state ambulance service. To know what to put in a first-aid kit check out: www.ambulance.qld.gov.au/docs/QAS-First-Aid-Kits.pdf


In the event of an emergency call Triple Zero (000). Gavin says it’s critical to understand and plan that medical assistance may be hours away. Don’t panic though, the emergency medical dispatcher will talk you through what to do. The key  is to “remain calm, describe your location and follow the instructions given to you and help will be on the way.”


A little homework always helps so research the best time of the year to travel to your intended destination. Stay up to date with weather and road conditions on websites such as https://qldtraffic.qld.gov.au and www.bom.gov.au. Remember – if it’s flooded, forget it.


Never leave your vehicle if you become stranded. Park it in a safe place off the road and do your best to contact help. Consider emergency location indicators in your safety kit, such as a strobe light which are readily seen at night and attract attention to your location.


Gavin says that while many travellers worry about getting the car serviced and the caravan checked before they go, they forget about their own health. He recommends a good chat with your GP about your health and how it may affect your capacity to travel prior to your journey is invaluable. That includes ensuring you have sufficient prescription and non-prescription medications with you as limited supplies are available in the bush.  


If a snake bite does occur, assume the snake is venomous and call Triple Zero (000) immediately. Avoid washing the wound as hospitals can test the bandage for poison and may be able to identify the type of snake, which will aid in treatment. Wrap a bandage over the bite and then work up the limb. Bandage the limb firmly as you would for a sprained ankle. Splint the limb to keep it straight, don’t move around and stay calm as panicking will cause the heart rate to increase, which will spread the poison around the body more quickly.


As the temperature soars in the outback stay hydrated and cool. Consider travelling in the morning and evening when it’s cooler. Watch out for signs of a heat-related illness such as headaches, nausea, cramps, fainting, excessive sweating, tiredness and dizziness. If you suspect heat stress lie down in a cool spot, remove as much clothing as possible and drink small amounts of water. Cool down with a cold shower, bath, sponge or wet sheet.


While we all love a good campfire, Gavin insists that using accelerants is a bad idea. He says you should just put out a campfire with water – don’t cover it in sand or dirt. If you get burnt, run cold water over the area for 20 minutes, call Triple Zero (000) or seek further medical help.


The outback has mobile coverage within most towns but limited coverage outside these towns. Communication is available with tools such as UHF CB (visit www.outbackqueensland.com.au/outback-communication/). If you travel remotely, share your plans with a responsible person who can call for assistance should they not hear from you as previously arranged.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #570. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month! 


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