Health and safety in Australia
Australia is a generally safe and easy country to explore, however it’s important to be aware of potential environmental hazards, such as bushfires, rough surf and extreme desert heat.
You’ll need to be thoroughly prepared for outback journeys and long bushwalks or hikes, and take sensible precautions in regards to sharks, crocodiles and poisonous animals.
The advice below will help you know what to look out for to stay safe on your Australian tour.
Reciprocal medical arrangements exist between Australia and the UK. Under the reciprocal agreement British nationals may have unforeseen emergency medical treatment under the Australian Medicare scheme. You are entitled to the following for any ill-health or injury requiring treatment while in Australia; free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital, subsidised medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment provided by doctors through private surgeries and community health centres.
Australians live with the risk of bushfires. The danger period is from late spring to summer and during this time everyone should observe some simple safety precautions. Before setting out on a journey, inform yourself of bushfire risks through TV, radio and newspaper reports. When camping, use designated fireplaces and comply with road warning signs and total fire bans. If you must light a fire, always extinguish it completely with water.
Swimming between the flags
Australia’s beautiful beaches can hold hidden dangers in the form of strong currents called rips. Avoid them by always swimming between the red and yellow flags – they mark the safest place to swim on the beach. Lifesavers wearing red and yellow uniforms generally patrol beaches during the warmer months of October to April, but some of the most popular beaches are patrolled all year round. Never swim alone, at night, under the influence of alcohol or directly after a meal. Always check water depth before diving in and never run and dive into the water from the beach.
Sharks and crocodiles
Shark attacks in Australia are very rare, however may be fatal. Shark netting on Australian beaches deter sharks, but you can further reduce your risk by always swimming between the flags on patrolled beaches and not swimming at dusk or evening. Avoid swimming alone, a long way offshore, at river mouths or along drop-offs to deeper water. Crocodiles live in rivers and coastal estuaries across northern Australia, often changing habitat via sea. When travelling near crocodile habitats, observe safety signs and don’t swim in rivers, estuaries, tidal rivers, deep pools or mangrove shores. Also seek expert advice about crocodiles before camping, fishing or boating.
The poisonous animals – snakes, spiders, marine stingers
Marine stingers (jellyfish) are present in tropical waters from November to April and can be lethal. During this time you can only swim within stinger-resistant enclosures, which are set up on the most popular beaches. You will also need to wear protective clothing when swimming, snorkeling or diving on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Always observe warning signs. When bushwalking or hiking, you can avoid snake and spider bites by wearing protective footwear and using your common sense. If bitten, seek immediate medical attention. Deaths from snake bites are extremely rare and there have been few deaths from spider bites since anti venoms were made available in 1981.
Bushwalking or hiking in wilderness
When planning a bushwalk or hike, check the length and difficulty of the walk and consider using a local guide for long or challenging walks. If walking without a guide, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Wear protective footwear, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent and take wet weather gear, a topographic map and plenty of water. When walking, read maps and signs, stay on the track, behind safety barriers and away from cliff edges. Don’t feed or play with native animals, as you might get scratched or bitten. Plan walking in summer months carefully and avoid challenging hikes when the sun is too intense.