Australia is often touted as a dangerous country, mostly due to the range of deadly animal species that inhabit it. Despite this, over 670,000 British nationals visit every year and most visits are trouble-free. It’s not the creepy crawlies that are the biggest threat to first-time visitors, it’s the pristine beaches. In the past seven years, over 3000 tourists have died due to lack of education on beach safety before heading into the water.
General – Australia is not a country suffering an abundance of crime, however visitors should be aware of their surroundings and personal belongings at all times. Be aware that robberies, burglaries, assault, and auto theft are common in Australia’s larger cities and fighting between drunken youth is known to occur, especially over the weekend period. Don’t flash large amounts of cash or valuables around, be cautious with strangers and try not to walk around late at night in unfamiliar areas alone. When in bars/clubs, do not accept drinks from people you don’t know, and never leave your drink unattended. Beware of scam adverts claiming to help you extend a working holiday visa and do not hitch hike! Australia is a vast country and many people underestimate this. Plan journeys carefully, particularly if you’re traveling to remote areas, bushwalking or going swimming, and always tell someone where you intend to go and for roughly how long. Contact your local Embassy if you have your passport stolen and in the case of an emergency, the number to dial in Australia is 000.
Beach Safety – Before even getting to the water, a little tip first – if you don’t want to feel like you are walking on hot coals and the soles of your feet are on fire, wear footwear on the dry sand in summer! Seriously, it hurts! Many visitors who get into trouble on Australia’s beaches are normally found to be swimming outside the flags. If you’re not familiar with these, they are the red and yellow flags placed by Surf Lifesavers, indicating the safe zone in which to swim at that particular time. ALWAYS SWIM BETWEEN THE FLAGS! These flags move every day and even every few hours as the tides influence beach conditions. Some other signs at the beach include heavy breaking waves, dumpers (which slam you into the sand), no swimming zones and other hazards which may be present.
- Always find the flags and swim between them.
- Look for any additional safety signs.
- If you are still unsure, ask a lifeguard for advice.
- Don’t swim alone if you can avoid it.
- If you get into trouble, keep calm, raise your arm for help and float on your back. Do not attempt to swim against a rip if caught in one.
Rips – The main aspect of beaches that kills most people isn’t the physical conditions, but rather the lack of education on what to do when you’re in the water. It isn’t just about staying in the shallows close to shore, it’s about knowing your environment and being smart. One of the greatest pitfalls and the biggest hazard for tourists is the calm breaks in the water in the middle of the breaking waves. This is called a rip. Rip currents, or rips, are long, narrow bands of water that can pull any objects caught in them away from shore and out to sea. The deadliest aspect of rip currents is actually what people tend to do when they encounter you’re your natural instinct is to swim against the current to try and reach shallow water, but this is a feat that very few people can perform, as rips are incredibly strong. Trying to swim against will exhaust you, lead to panic and onto drowning, all of which can occur in rapid time.
The keys to spotting a rip are:
- Deeper darker water
- Fewer breaking waves
- Sometimes sandy coloured water extending beyond the surf zone
- Debris or seaweed
If you get caught in a rip:
- Remain calm if a rip current begins to pull you away from shore.
- Regain your footing if possible.
- Call for help immediately if you can’t swim well.
- Swim parallel to shore to get out of the current.
- Swim toward the shore once you escape the current.
Other dangers in the water include Bluebottles, which are very common around Australia. They have a small, blue sac filled with air and a long, stinging tentacle. If you are stung by one:
- Wash off tentacles with seawater, scrape them off with a blunt object like a credit card, or pick them off with the thicker skin of your fingers.
- DO NOT rinse with fresh water as this will activate the venom even more and do not rub the area with anything, particularly sand.
The Blue Ringed Octopus is a beautiful, but deadly creature. They are found hiding in the shallow rock pools and are very well camouflaged, though when threatened, show their ‘blue rings’. Their bite causes minimal pain initially, though the site can start to throb 5-10 minutes after. Symptoms include weakness, breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, changes in vision, numbness around mouth and even paralysis. If medical care is not provided urgently, respiratory failure, cardiac arrest or death may occur. If someone is bitten:
- Call 000 – this is medical emergency and there is no anti-venom.
- Apply a compression bandage and immobilize the area.
- Provide CPR if the person is having breathing difficulties.
- Life guards will alert beach-goers, by the way of a very loud siren, of a shark sighting, so avoid swimming on non-patrolled beaches.
- Avoid swimming at dawn or dusk.
- Avoid swimming in or around schools of fish.
Box jellyfish – lurking off the coast of Darwin and Northern Queensland, they have one of the most potent stingers in Australia and are most prevalent during
the months of October through to May. Tropical marine stingers can be found across Northern Australia, down to around Bundaberg in Queensland and Broome in Western Australia. You will find safe, netted areas of water to swim in populated places, though always pay attention to warning signs on beaches and if in doubt, don’t go swimming.
Crocodiles – in Australia there are two types – Freshwater(Freshies), and Saltwater(Salties).
Freshies are smaller, less threatening and not very capable of killing a human. Being a shy animal, they prefer to stay well away, though if provoked, will retaliate fiercely and their sharp teeth can do some serious damage. They can be found in inland creeks, rivers and billabongs from northwest Western Australia to northern Queensland.
Salties are huge, aggressive and very capable of killing a human. They are also found in freshwater, despite their name. They are found in the mangrove swamps, coastal marshes, and river mouths, around the top of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Saltwater crocodiles are also quite capable of living in the open ocean for periods of time and will cross vast amounts of water to reach new areas.
- If you see crocodile warning signs, DO NOT go swimming.
- If you are in an area inhabited by Salties, DO NOT go in the water, especially at night.
- Don’t climb trees, or sit on branches that overhang croc-inhabited water.
- If in a boat where crocs are known to be, don’t put your feet, a finger, or even an elbow in the water.
Spiders – Australia has over 2400 species of spiders, fact. Australia has the some of the world’s most venomous spiders, fact. In Australia, more people are treated in hospital for allergic reactions to bee stings than spider bites, fact. You will probably not even encounter a single one of these spiders during your travels, though below are a few to be wary of just in case.
The Funnel Web – there are around 40 different species in Australia, but this one, found in New South Wales and also known as the Sydney Funnel Web, is by far the deadliest spider in Australia, if not the world. They are found in forests, urban areas and they love humid places. They sometimes find their way into backyards and fall into swimming pools and are extremely aggressive when threatened. The venom attacks the nervous system, their massive fangs can pierce through toenails and if a bite comes from a male, it can kill. Relax though, an anti-venom is available.
The Redback spider – is found all throughout Australia. They are tiny compared with the Funnel Web, like dry, sheltered places such as garden sheds, letterboxes, under outdoor furniture, in shoes left outside and in rock crevices. Once again, the nervous system is attacked, the female gives the most serious bite and people experience severe pain, nausea and lethargy.
The Mouse Spider – found all around Australia, mainly in burrows, waterways, near rivers and on occasion they are spotted in urban areas. The female prefers the burrow, but the males will wander around in daylight hours, hiding at night away from predators. These spiders are lazy, rarely aggressive and there have been no reported deaths, however their venom effects people in the same way as the Funnel Web and should be treated the same.
The misunderstood one – the Hunstman – can grow as big as 15 cm wide, are scary, hairy and fast! They run out from behind curtains, bolt under beds and scoot up walls, the stuff of nightmares. That being said, they are reluctant to bite, will run away when approached and their venom is not harmful to people. The danger with these spiders comes when you suddenly see one in your car whilst driving along the motorway, going to the toilet at night, or falling as you run away in terror. In actual fact, every household should have one of these and people have even been known to name their in-house Huntsman. They are a natural form of pest control you see and keep menacing bugs and insects at bay.
It can be difficult to know if a bite from a spider is dangerous or not. The easiest way to group spiders is how the medical field do it – ‘big, black’ spiders, ‘Redback’ spiders and ‘all other’ spiders. If you, or someone you are with, are bitten by a ‘big, black’ spider it should be treated as a medical emergency.
- Call 000
- Apply a pressure bandage over the bite, then down the limb to the hand or foot, then back up again
- Keep yourself, or the person calm and still
- Keep the limb down
- Wait for the ambulance
Redback bites will cause significant pain at the bite-site, though not any life-threatening effects. The ‘all other’ category is more or less harmless and no treatment is normally required. For these categories of spider bites, including from redback spiders, apply a cold compress or ice pack directly over the bite site to help relieve the pain. Seek medical assistance if further symptoms or signs of infection develop.
Snakes – there are roughly 140 species of land snakes in Australia and they tend to get a bad rap. Yes, some of them have the deadliest venom in the world, however bites are rare and fatalities low since the introduction of anti-venom. They don’t seek you out, or chase you down the street, but try and stand in one’s way and be ready for a show! Below, for your pleasure, are a few of the most dangerous.
The Eastern Brown – very fast and constantly in a bad mood, this snake is found in the eastern half of Australia, likes populated areas and farms where there are mice. When startled, it will ‘stand’, become extremely aggressive and attack. If bitten by one of these, victims collapse within minutes and become paralyzed.
The Western Brown – not as aggressive, this snake can be found almost all over Australia. Despite being a little more nervous, it is quick and will try to escape. If it can’t, it will strike. Whilst the venom is not as toxic as the Eastern Brown it contains a lot more and if bitten symptoms can include, nausea, headache, abdominal pain, blood clotting and kidney damage.
The Tiger Snake – you will find this one in highly populated areas along the East Coast. It also likes farms and suburban neighbourhoods where it hunts mice at night. When it is under threat, it will flatten its neck and attack low to the ground. Bites are fatal if not treated its venom causes numbness, sweating, breathing difficulties, tingling and also damages muscles and blood bringing on renal failure.
The Common Death Adder – this snake won’t flee as many others do. It prefers to stay put which is a hazard to bush walkers who may step one. Found in eastern, parts of southern and western areas of Australia, it will sit completely still, trying to attract prey with its tail (which is worm-like). A neurotoxin is found in the venom and if bitten symptoms include, respiratory failure, loss of sensory and motor function, paralysis and death. Relax though, there is currently an anti-venom.
In the unlikely event that you are bitten by a snake:
- Ring 000
- Administer CPR if required
- Remain calm, reassure and keep still
- Apply a pressure bandage starting above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb and wrap firmly upwards as far as possible including the area bitten
- Immobilize the area
- Write down, or try to remember the time of the bite and application of the bandage
DO NOT wash the venom off, try to suck out the venom, use a tourniquet or try to catch the snake.
Weather – Australia is not just hot. Being such a vast country, temperatures and weather can vary hugely. Northern parts have more of a tropical climate with hot, humid summers and warm, dry winters. Southern areas are a little cooler with milder, though still hot, summers and rainier winters. The outback weather ranges from arid, to sub-tropical to dessert, hence bringing a plethora of temperatures ranging from 6 – 50 degrees celsius. And yes, italso snows! Australia is prone to seasonal natural disasters including tropical cyclones, flash flooding, dust storms and bushfires. Tropical Cyclones occur, mainly in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia between November and April. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms and follow the advice of the local authorities. Be aware of the environment whilst traveling and monitor the progress of any potential threats via local authorities.
Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. Be smart in the sun. Use sunscreen, wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses when spending extended periods of time exposed. Take water with you at all times and keep hydrated.