YET another news story recently hit the headlines about the number of people travelling the outback for the first time and getting into trouble in the process.
Police in Broken Hill, for example, are getting numerous calls from travellers doing the wrong thing and getting bogged and then needing help … and it’s happening all over Oz.
For many people, this year will be the first time they have towed a van or a camper or have even driven on a dirt road for any length of time. And while many people who buy a 4WD vehicle for that change of lifestyle and for the big trip around Australia do a 4WD course, many of those courses have little instruction on how to drive on dirt roads. So, it’s essential to pick one that does!
4X4 RECOVERY: The Basics
Generally, you are not going to die while driving on a sandy beach or crossing a river up on Cape York, but do the wrong thing at 80km/h on a dirt road and you’ll be lucky to walk away from it unscathed. Put a van or camper on the back and the chances of you coming to grief, if and when you do the wrong thing, are magnified 10 times over.
It’s best not to rely on your mates for any enlightenment, but to join a 4WD club. Do a dedicated driving course or join a tag-along tour so you can start your initiation into the enjoyable life of touring and camping and learning by experience. For a course, check out Great Divide Tours in NSW or Google ‘Driving courses for towing with a van’ or similar. The life you save may be your own, your partner’s or some stranger coming the other way.
4WD CLUB: Should I sign up?
Then, when you are on the road, there is some etiquette involved with passing and overtaking. If you are towing, consider those behind you. In the USA it’s a law in most states that you pull over if there are more than four or five vehicles behind you, but you really shouldn’t let it get to that stage. On a dirt road it’s more important again, and simply driving slowly on the dusty verge is not good enough – pull well over and let those following slip by.
When you come upon a truck, a semi or a road train, heading either towards you or in the same direction, you can bet that if it is a single-lane strip of blacktop he will be very reluctant to drop off on to the dirt. If you want to overtake, best to give him a call on the UHF radio (you’ll have one of them, won’t you?) and let him know you’re behind him and he’ll let you know when it’s safe to pass. On a dirt road if a truck with a billowing cloud of dust is approaching, it’s best to get well out of his way, stop and let the dust cloud dissipate before proceeding. Being in a hurry could easily cost someone’s life.
Then when you are in camp, bush etiquette demands that you begin playing by the largely unwritten rules even before you set up.
Take care with fire and dispose of your rubbish properly. As far as going to the toilet in the scrub – if you haven’t got a Porta Potti or similar, and there isn’t a long-drop dunny within cooee, then find a spot, dig a hole, do a poo, cover it up and burn the loo paper. It’s not that hard!
Most outback roads pass through pastoral properties and, while you may not have seen a house or a living soul for ages, the land is owned by someone who is generally trying to make a living out of it.
You are not entitled to wander around willy-nilly following any station track you come across. And if you pass through a gate, leave it as you found it – if it was open, leave it that way; if it was closed and you opened it, close the bloody thing!