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Prepare for the worst when crossing the Australian outback

By Ron Moon, 25 Aug 2019 Opinion

Properly prepare crossing Australian outback opinion

With very few travellers and no phone connection, preparations for crossing Australia's remote country are essential.

SINCE THE beginning of this year, we’ve done a couple of remote outback jaunts. Early on we headed along the Anne Beadell Highway, before turning south on a couple of Aboriginal business roads; more recently we crossed the Gary Junction Road from the WA coast to Alice Springs. On both of these trips we travelled distances of up to 1000km between fuel points, and we saw very few travellers.

As we set out on both trips and entered remote country, we came across signs that warned of dire consequences if warnings and advice were not heeded. Most are common-sense; but with common-sense being pretty scarce, the signs are required and I hope people take note of them.

It’s just like peoples’ reliance on mobile phones, as many don’t seem to understand that there are large regions of Australia where mobile phones don’t work … a phone out here is good for taking photos, that’s all. Likewise, a UHF radio is near useless unless you’re travelling with a mate, so take a HF radio, a satphone or a satellite messenger such as a Spot or Garmin inReach.

Also, just because you have the latest whizz-bang vehicle, don’t think you won’t break down. I met two couples on the latest trip who had major computer and/or electronic failures with their almost-brand-new vehicles. One had broken down 200km south of Halls Creek on the Tanami Road, while the other had stopped east of Ayers Rock/Uluru. Both had been recovered by a flat-bed truck, with one going to Broome and the other to Alice Springs for expensive repairs that were to take in excess of two weeks on each occasion. Their holidays were completely stuffed.

In the event of electronic failure it’s essential to have a plan, a way of communication, or a good friend who can tow you to the nearest town or repair place. That’s one of the reasons I always prefer to travel in company; not only for social aspects, but also for the safety side of things if anything goes wrong.

4x4 advice: Outback breakdown - What to do?

If I’m travelling solo, I have a satphone or HF radio, and I always carry enough gear and have basic knowledge on how to fix most things … except a major electronic failure. The only time I’ve had to call for outside assistance was a few years ago when I was on a remote Aboriginal road north of the Tanami and an electronic box failed.

There was nothing I could do except call for help, and that’s something that still niggles because I’ve always been able to get myself out of trouble. Likewise, I have always carried a heap of water. It’s surprising the number of travellers we have found broken down that don’t have a drop of water between them.

On our latest sojourn we had a tyre disintegrate when I didn’t follow my own preaching of ensuring the tyres were in good nick before we set off. Still, I had three spares – one on the camper and two on the Cruiser, all interchangeable – so while the shredded tyre held us up for a short time, it was nothing too dramatic.

We had a few other minor issues: the sliding bolt latch on the camper’s battery tray broke, allowing the tray to smash the battery door off; and a couple of the plastic hinges broke on the main door of the camper. Before you comment, our Trakmaster caravan is eight years old and has had a rough and varied life, spending much of its time on unsealed roads and lumpy outback tracks.

A length of thin fencing wire fixed the battery slide, while a self-tapper screw fixed the door hinge. Something that took a bit longer to find and fix was a broken wire leading to the Redarc BMS auxiliary battery unit. Still, none of them were major issues and we rolled along through the desert country.

We hope your travels are just as enjoyable, but be prepared with a plan and the right gear just in case something goes wrong.

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