101 Outback Facts

WORDS BY BRENDAN SEYMOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOMMY SALMON, OFFROAD IMAGES AND MATT FEHLBERG
101 Outback Facts

For many of us, the Outback is our version of 4WDing mecca. Amazing scenery combines with challenging 4WDing, and the ability to get as far away from civilisation as possible just tops it off. The Outback can present the trip of a lifetime with its majestic beauty, or it can become the nightmare you’ll never forget. Before you head off, brush up on these facts – they could very well save your life.
DRIVING
FACT 1: THE OUTBACK’S HARSH ON VEHICLES
Bloody harsh indeed. If your 4WD’s not maintained and reliable, then it could be a long wait for a tow truck. RACQ doesn’t service the Simpson Desert.
FACT 2: YOUR COOLING SYSTEM’S CRUCIAL
Your radiator will cop a workout in temperatures that regularly top 40°C. Service it before you leave home.
FACT 3: IT’S MURDER ON TYRES
Sharp gibber rocks can slash even the toughest of tyres. Always carry at least two spares, and the tools to change them over.
FACT 4: THE DUST’LL GET YOU
Drive with windows up to keep the dust out of the cabin, but be prepared for fine red powder to engulf every crevice. Your vehicle’s AC on re-circulate will help prevent dust from entering the cabin.
FACT 5: AIR PRESSURES ARE KEY
As your tyres heat up, the air inside them expands. Drop pressures to suit conditions at the beginning of the day, and monitor and adjust them as you go.
FACT 6: A BULLBAR’S YOUR BEST FRIEND
Regardless of how careful you are, suicidal animals are abundant in the Outback. A quality bullbar will keep your vehicle’s precious cooling system safe.
FACT 7: IT’S NO PLACE FOR A FLAT BATTERY
Dual-battery systems are abundant these days, and there are universal kits to suit every 4WD. It’s either that or a long wait for a jump start...
FACT 8: COMMUNICATIONS ARE VITAL
Invest in a UHF and a separate HF radio before you head off. That way, if something happens you’ll be able to radio for help. UHF Channel 5 is reserved for emergency use, so don’t hold conversations over it.
FACT 9: YOU’LL CHEW THROUGH FUEL
As a general rule, a fully loaded 4WD crawling over soft dunes or beating along a dirt road will use double the fuel it normally does. To be safe, account for this when planning how much fuel you’ll need for a trip – plus a safety margin of 30 percent.
FACT 10: IT’S A LONG WAY TO THE PARTS STORE
Take a comprehensive spares kit, including replacement belts, hoses, filters, oils, and sufficient tools to change them – otherwise a small problem becomes a big one.
FACT 11: ALL TRACKS LOOK THE SAME
Take a selection of proper maps that cover the area you’re travelling in, even if you have a GPS. After a while, all tracks start to look the same.
FACT 12: THE CORRUGATIONS ARE 4WD KILLERS
Even the newest 4WDs will shake bits loose on hundreds of kilometres of corrugations. The key is to find a safe speed that irons those bumps out.
FACT 13: YOU’LL WANT TO TAKE YOUR TIME
No-one wants to rush on holidays, so plan your time generously. If you only do 200km a day, who cares? It’s your well-deserved holiday, after all. Slow down, take in the scenery and minimise wear and tear on your 4WD.
FACT 14: STORAGE BECOMES IMPORTANT
Roller drawers, cargo barriers and creative storage solutions are worth their weight in gold. Stuff just thrown in the back gets broken or lost quickly.
FACT 15: FATIGUE WILL FLOG YOU
Behind alcohol, fatigue is the number-one cause of accidents in the bush. Long stretches of straight roads will tire you quickly. Take regular breaks, keep drinking water and eat well to keep the energy up.
FACT 16: IT’S NO PLACE TO GO IT SOLO
You might very well have no problems on a remote trip. But what if you do? Travelling in convoy means a trip to town for spares is always available.
FACT 17: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PLANNING
Your trip will only be as good as your planning. Thoroughly plan out your trip beforehand, including stops, campsites and major attractions you want to see.
FACT 18: WEIGHT’S YOUR WORST ENEMY
Added kilos means added strain on every part of your 4WD. Small 4WDs float over sandy tracks that big ones bog down in. Do your best to keep overall weight to a minimum.
FACT 19: A UHF WILL SAVE YOU TIME
4WD-to-4WD communications are made easy as long as every 4WD in convoy has a UHF. The other option is pulling over every time you want to say something, which gets boring quick.
FACT 20: HIGH FREQUENCIES WILL MAKE YOU HEARD
UHFs will work (at most) up to about 40km with a direct line of sight. HF radios operate over an infinitely larger area, and will let you keep in touch with civilisation wherever you are.
FACT 21: SAT PHONES ARE A GREAT OPTION
You can hire a satellite phone for about $100 a week, and make and receive normal telephone calls from anywhere in Australia. For that price, you’d be silly not to have one.
FACT 22: CONVOYS TEST FRIENDSHIPS
No matter how good a mate you’ve got on a trip, weeks of close-quarters living will test nerves and friendships. Regular opportunities to do your own thing are a must. Keep your cool and keep your mate!
FACT 23: ROCKS SUCK
It only takes one errant stone to shatter a windscreen. Always slow down when passing vehicles, and move over as far as possible.
FACT 24: SPEED’S A DEMON
Travelling Outback roads at a blistering pace will only flog your vehicle un-necessarily. Slow down and save wear and tear.
FACT 25: YOUR SHOCKS WILL BE SHOCKED
Shocks transfer the energy of a moving vehicle into heat, and disperse it into their oil. Excess heat will destroy standard shocks, which is why good quality brands are favoured.
FACT 26: SPINIFEX STICKS
If you’re driving through overgrown areas, the long bits of grass between wheel tracks has been known to wrap around hot exhausts and cause fires. Regularly stop and clean debris from under the vehicle, and carry a shovel.
FACT 27: (ROAD) CONDITIONS APPLY
Road conditions can easily vary from sandy, to rocky, to muddy and boggy. Adjust driving conditions and tyre pressures to suit, and minimise track and tyre damage.
FACT 28: TIMING’S CRUCIAL
The hotter months make desert travel downright painful. Summer days can top 50°C. Winter months are a much more comfortable time to travel.
FACT 29: TRAILERS NEED TO BE TIP-TOP
Dragging your old rusty box trailer behind you is asking for trouble. Put as much effort into preparing your trailer as you do your 4WDing, and know you’ll be able to tow it home again.
FACT 30: PERMITS ARE A MUST
You’ll be travelling through national parks and possibly even private property on most trips, and permits are essential. Plan ahead and organise them before you leave.
FACT 31: VEHICLE CHECKS PRE-EMPT BREAKDOWNS
A 10-minute visual inspection before you break camp will pick up most equipment malfunctions before they happen. What would you rather – fix an engine mount at camp or have it crack through at 60km/h?
FACT 32: ENGINE RPMS WILL REVEAL ALL
No good comes of over-working an engine. If you’re constantly having to rev the buggery out of your 4WD to crest dunes, drop your tyre pressures lower. Less RPM also equates to less fuel usage
FACT 33: THE RIGHT GEAR’S ESSENTIAL
If you’re towing a trailer and bog down in 1-Hi, drop the transfer into lowrange and cruise with it. You’ll lessen stress on the vehicle and occupants.
FACT 34: A SAND FLAG’S ESSENTIAL IN THE DUNES
Single-lane tracks through sand dunes can be driven both ways, and you won’t be able to see the other side of dunes as you crest them. Sand flags on long poles prevent accidents.
FACT 35: WET TRACKS ARE A NO-GO
Muddy tracks might be fun to play in, but the ruts you carve will harden and need grading. It’s a sure-fire way to get the locals offside. If it’s too boggy, find another route.
FACT 36: DAWN AND DUSK ARE DANGER
The cool light of the morning and evening is when animals come out to feed. It’s also when the most animal strikes occur. Do the maths.
FACT 37: 4-HI IS THE WAY TO GO
On fast dirt roads you may not need the front diff turning the whole time, but 4-Hi makes for a much more stable and safer ride.
FACT 38: ANIMALS ARE DUMB
During the danger periods of dawn and dusk, constantly scan the road ahead for animals, and have your passengers do the same.
FACT 39: SWERVE AND YOU’LL ROLL IT
If Skippy does step out in front of you, get on the anchors but don’t swerve. Countless 4WDs roll trying to avoid animals. Gas it at the last moment before impact to lift the vehicle’s nose up and prevent damage.
FACT 40: WHERE THERE’S ONE THERE’S MORE
Most Outback animals travel in packs. If you see one, drop the speed right off and prepare to see more.
CAMPING
FACT 41: IT GETS COLD. VERY COLD
Night-time temperatures out in the desert can drop to single digits, even during summer. Don’t be fooled by daytime temperatures into packing light.
FACT 42: THERE’S FLIES. LOTS OF ’EM
Be prepared to deal with swarms of the buggers every time you stop. Face nets preserve sanity, and a good quality insect spray is also essential.
FACT 43: IT’S SORTA CREEPY
Apart from the flies, the Outback’s full of insects. Make sure you keep tents and swags zipped up when not in use to prevent unwanted bedfellows.
FACT 44: SUPPLIES CAN BE RARE
It can be a long way between corner shops, so make sure you stock up on the essentials like bread and milk before you head off.
FACT 45: FIREWOOD CAN BE SCARCE
At popular campsites you’ll be lucky to find decent firewood that’ll last you through the evening. Start looking early in the afternoon and stash found firewood on your roof rack.
FACT 46: AIRBEDS GET CHILLY
With no coverings, bare ground holds very little heat at night. Air beds will rapidly cool down and chill you while you sleep. The solution is to have a thick blanket between you and the mattress.
FACT 47: QUALITY TENTS ARE WORTH THE DOSH
Your flea-market $20 tent might not seem like such a bargain when it’s letting dust and flies get in. Spend the dough and buy a quality tent – it’ll be worth it in the end.
FACT 48: GLASS AND TIN DOESN’T BURN
You can get rid of most rubbish by burning it off in the camp fire, but glass bottles or aluminium cans won’t burn. Take ’em out with you until you find a rubbish bin.
FACT 49: ONLY MUGS LITTER
While we’re on the subject, know that only idiots leave behind any traces other than camp fire ashes. Do the right thing and preserve the Outback for your kids and grandchildren.
FACT 50: CAMP FIRES START BUSHFIRES
If you’re camping in areas with long grass, take the time to properly clear a firebreak around the campfire. Small embers can spark major catastrophes.
FACT 51: FRIDGES DON’T NEED ICE
Eskies are great cost-effective ways of keeping food fresh and drink cold when ice is available. When it’s not, fridges come into their own.
FACT 52: GAS COOKERS ARE CHEAP
And damned effective, too. If your campfire fails due to lack of wood you can always cook your dinner in a pan on one of those $20 cookers, and they take up bugger all space when packed up.
FACT 53: YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH LIGHTING
12V fluoro lights are brilliant because they throw out heaps of light and use bugger all power. Gas lanterns on the other hand give a nice warm light, but either are essential for a moonless night in the desert.
FACT 54: SANDY BEDS MAKE FOR RESTLESS NIGHTS
No-one likes sleeping in a sandy bed. Do your best to keep sand out by removing shoes outside the tent, and keep a dustpan and broom handy for sweeping up.
FACT 55: THERE’S NO NEED TO CROWD
In the middle of the desert there’s no need to camp on top of one another. Throw tents up with ample room between each and let everyone enjoy a good night’s sleep.
FACT 56: NOT ALL CANVAS IS WATERPROOF
The middle of a shower is the last place you want to be when you discover your tent’s not water-proof. Check it out at home, and treat the canvas with a waterproofing agent if necessary.
FACT 57: WATER’S MORE PRECIOUS THAN FUEL
You can never have too much water in the Outback. Bank on 5L/day per person of fresh drinkable water for every day you’re away from civilisation, plus three extra days supply per person.
FACT 58: MULTIPLE CONTAINERS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
If your one large water container splits, you’re buggered. Stock up on 10L water packs from the supermarket and keep refilling them when you find fresh water.
FACT 59: CAMP CLEANING CAN BE ENVIRO-FRIENDLY
Opt for a biodegradable dishwashing liquid that won’t pollute the environment during washing up. Half the time they’re cheaper too.
FACT 60: SUITABLE SEATING’S SWEET
You don’t want to be squirming uncomfortably the whole time you’re around the camp fire, do you? Take your time and choose a seat that you can just about fall asleep in. You’ll thank yourself later.
FACT 61: NO-ONE LIKES A FLASH
Camping in a dry creek bed might sound like a good idea, until 2am when the flash storm comes through and you escape just in time to watch your tent wash away. Make sure to camp away from natural causeways.
FACT 62: FIRE BANS ARE THERE FOR A REASON
It might be disappointing to not be able to get the fire cranking after a day on the road, but fire bans are in place for a reason. You don’t want to be remembered forever as that idiot who started a bushfire.
FACT 63: CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO... SOMETHING
Never leave food out around the camp. It’ll only attract wildlife, and the next thing you know you’ll have a boar tearing through your tent.
FACT 64: CRYOVACING – THE FUTURE, TODAY
No, we’re not talking about freezing dead people – cryvac’d meat keeps fresh for longer, and fresh meat is good meat. Either buy a machine or get your butcher to do it for you.
FACT 65: TARPS ARE TOPS
You can never have too many tarps. They can protect a leaky tent, be used as a ground matt under tables and chairs, or keep you clean when working under your 4WD. Buy quality silver ones from camping stores.
FACT 66: DUST TODAY IS MUD TOMORROW
Even a sprinkling of rain can turn fine bulldust into goopy mud. Try and set up camp somewhere grassy to keep your gear clean.
FACT 67: DAYLIGHT’S THE BEST TIME TO SET UP CAMP
Pitching a tent in front of your vehicle’s headlights is no-one’s idea of fun. Start looking for a campsite in the early afternoon.
FACT 68: IT GETS WINDY
Wind and sand storms can pick up at any time. Trees and bushes provide good shelter against the elements.
FACT 69: SAND PEGS ARE A GODSEND
Normal metal pegs have Buckley’s chance of holding a tent in sandy ground. Large plastic sand pegs from camping stores work wonders.
FACT 70: CAMPFIRES BURN FOR A LONG TIME
Completely extinguish your campfire before you break camp of a morning. Use a shovel to cover the coals and water to cool them down if you have any spare.
FACT 71: SELF-INFLATING MATTRESSES ARE GREAT FOR WINTER
The foam doesn’t get as cold as an air mattress meaning it won’t let heat escape as readily.
FACT 72: CAMP OVENS TAKE TIME
Everyone knows it, but the best camp roasts are the ones that cook slowly. Aim to throw dinner in the pot around 4pm and with a decent amount of heat you’ll be eating by 8pm at the latest. Speaking of heat…
FACT 73: HEAT BEADS ARE BRILLIANT!
Throw a load of these in the campfire then cover the camp oven with them and it will dramatically increase the heat and reduce cooking time.
FACT 74: MOULD DESTROYS GEAR
If it rains during the night, make sure to dry your tent as thoroughly as possible. If you just can’t get it dry then, open it up and dry it at the earliest possibility to prevent mould forming.
FACT 75: YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY TORCHES
Even if you don’t stock up on quality ones, get yourself a couple of torches. Moonless nights in the desert make midnight toilet trips a hazard.
FACT 76: YOUR BUSINESS SHOULDN’T BE EVERYONE’S
Never dig a toilet hole near a natural water causeway. Make sure it’s a couple of feet deep, and burn toilet paper when used.
FACT 77: TARPS ARE TRICKY
Set up tarp poles in the ground before you try to unfold the tarp. Once the poles are in place, securing the tarp itself is easy.
FACT 78: TRENCHES KEEP TENTS DRY
If you’re on a hill, dig a small trench down and around either side of your tent. Any rain that runs down the hill will funnel around the tent and not through it.
FACT 79: KEEPING YOUR HEAD UP’S BEST
If you can’t find flat ground, sleep with your head – and not your feet – on the highside. You’ll ensure a comfortable sleep this way.
FACT 80: KARMA’S A BUGGER
Out in the bush it’s all about being kind to your fellow traveller. Leave campsites cleaner than you found ’em. Respect the bush and make it pleasant for the next person!
GENERAL FACTS
FACT 81: AUSTRALIA’S A BIG, EMPTY PLACE
Around 80 percent of our population lives on the seaboard. That makes for a lot of quiet, peaceful campsites in the other areas!
FACT 82: OUR TRAINS ARE STRAIGHT!
The straightest in the world, in fact. From Nurina WA to Watson SA, the train line runs dead straight for a whopping 487km.
FACT 83: WE’VE GOT THE OPAL MARKET CORNERED
Australia produces 95 percent of the world’s opals and 99 percent of its black opals.
FACT 84: KALGOORLIE’S BIG. REAL BIG
In fact, it’s the world’s largest political electorate at a monster 2.2 million square kilometres.
FACT 85: WE LIKE FENCES. LONG ONES
The Dingo Fence is the world’s longest at a whopping 5531km long. It runs from South Australia through NSW to Queensland.
FACT 86: OUR CATTLE STATIONS ARE MASSIVE
Anna Creek Station is roughly the size of Belgium. That’s big in anyone’s language!
FACT 87: THE TEMPERATURES VARY VASTLY
In summer it can get up to 50°C. In winter, don’t be surprised to cop subzero nights and single-digit days. It’s all part of the Outback’s beauty.
FACT 88: IT CAN BE REALLY, REALLY DRY (BUT YOU ALREADY KNEW THAT)
Lake Eyre in SA receives on average 100mm of rain a year. Makes you think twice about that couple of litres you used for washing up, right?
FACT 89: IF THERE ARE NO LAKES, WE BUILD ’EM
Lake Argyle in WA is the world’s largest artificial lake, measuring in at about 700 square kilometres.
FACT 90: WE’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM TO BREATHE
Australia has a population density of 2.84 people per square kilometre. To put it into perspective, only six other countries out of the 238 have a sparser population density!
FACT 91: THERE’S NO FLIES ON OUR TREES
The Australian Eucalyptus is the world’s fastest-growing tree, able to grow up to 10m a year.
FACT 92: THE BUSH TELEGRAPH WAS ERECTED OVER 140 YEARS AGO
Connecting Darwin and Port Augusta, the Overland Telegraph Line spans a total of 3200km. Talk about long-distance call rates.
FACT 93: IT WAS ONLY IN THE MID 1900S THAT THE OUTBACK WAS THOROUGHLY EXPLORED
Len Beadell and his Highway Creation Party spent a large portion of the 1940s and ’50s opening up exploration through central Australia. For his work, Len was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
FACT 94: DESPITE APPEARANCES, THE OUTBACK IS ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST RESOURCE-RICH AREAS
Everything from copper to uranium, iron and aluminium is mined in large quantities from places all over WA, SA and the NT.
FACT 95: DIAMONDS ARE AUSTRALIA’S BEST FRIEND
The Argyle Diamond Mine in WA contributes approximately one-third of the world’s supply of natural diamonds. And you thought they all came from overseas!
FACT 96: YOU CAN GET A GOURMET COFFEE AT BIRDSVILLE
Call it a sign of the times or call it a godsend, but a cappuccino’s only as far away as the Birdsville bakery.
FACT 97: THE BIRDSVILLE RACES HAVE BEEN RUN SINCE 1882
In fact, the 2007 horse flu outbreak was the first stop to the event in 127 years.
FACT 98: THE SIMMO CONTAINS ROUGHLY 1100 SAND DUNES
Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down…
FACT 99: ALL THE WATER’S UNDERGROUND
The Great Artesian Basin is inland Australia’s most reliable source of water. It covers a total of 1.7 million square kilometres and contains an estimated 67,000 cubic kilometres of ground water. That’s a lot of Sunday baths
FACT 100: THE OUTBACK IS MORE THAN A PLACE. IT’S AN EXPERIENCE
You won’t understand it until you’ve been, but those who have know it gets under your skin. There’s a reason why everyone wants to head bush.
AND ONE LAST AND FINAL FACT…
FACT 101: WANT TO KNOW MORE? 4WD ACTION’S THE PLACE FOR YOU
We know you need all the info about Outback travel, so we’re dedicated to bring it to you. Keep your eyes peeled for more stories that’ll be running in 4WD Action! Of course, you can ensure you always get every issue delivered straight to your door, as well as some great Outback driving accessories. All you’ve gotta do is call 1800 801 647!

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