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Health and safety in Australia

Australia is a very safe, secure and stable country, however accidents can and do happen. There are a number of things you can do to ensure a safe and happy visit.

Weather

Sun

The sun in Australia can be very hot and can lead to skin cancer. It is recommended that you stay out of the sun, particularly during the hottest period of the day. Remember to "slip, slap, slop" -- slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen. Your hat should be wide-brimmed -- baseball-style caps don't provide enough protection, especially if you wear it back-to-front -- and, despite popular belief, Australians don't wear hats with corks attached -- if you wear one of these you will be instantly recognised as a tourist.

Storms and cyclones

It is best to avoid northern areas of Australia during the wet season (approximately October to March). Tropical cyclones -- known in other parts of the world as hurricanes or typhoons -- are common during this period and can be very destructive. Thunderstorms and hailstorms can occur anywhere in the country and occasionally cause severe damage. There is usually some warning of any type of storm, so if you are advised of a coming storm it is best to get out of the area.

Bush fires

Bush fires are common in Australia and cause significant damage including loss of life. If you are in an area threatened by brushfire it is best to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

Best time to visit Australia.

Swimming

Australia's beaches can be dangerous, but it's not sharks, crocodiles or jellyfish that are the big killer -- drowning is one of the highest causes of accidental death in Australia. Life savers are on duty at most popular beaches -- if there is no-one patrolling the beach do not enter the water -- and you should always swim between the flags.

Wildlife

Australia has some of the most dangerous animals in the world but if you're sensible it's unlikely that you will even see a dangerous animal let alone be in danger from one.

Crocodiles

There are two types of crocodiles in Australia, generally referred to as freshwater and saltwater, however the name "saltwater" can be misleading. These are more correctly called "estuarine" crocodiles and they can be found in fresh water. Freshwater crocodiles are considered "harmless", however estuarine crocodiles are very dangerous and do kill a number of people every year. Crocodiles are only found in northern parts of the country. Be very careful near the water in these areas.

Sharks

Shark attacks are rare, and become a big media event when they do happen, giving a false impression that sharks are more dangerous than they really are. If you swim on patrolled beaches the risk of a shark attack is extremely low.

Jellyfish

There are lots of jellyfish in Australia. Most of these are harmless, however there a couple of species found in northern areas that can be deadly -- these are called "box jellyfish" or "stingers". The "jellyfish season" is approximately October to May although stings have been reported in Darwin year-round. These jellyfish are virtually invisible. Beaches in northern parts of the country have nets around areas where you are able to swim safely. If stung, the best treatment is to pour vinegar over the affected area.

Snakes

Australia has some of the world's most venomous snakes, but if you're careful you are unlikely to see one. Snakes will do what they can to avoid people and will only attack if they are unable to escape. If you make enough noise they will stay away from you. However, if you are bitten, do not move, wrap the wounded area tightly with a wide bandage, and seek help immediately.

Spiders

There are many spiders in Australia but most of them are harmless. Some, such as the red-back and funnel-web, can cause serious illness and death but this is very rare. If you are bitten seek medical help immediately.

Insects

Mosquitoes, flies and midges (or sand-flies) are the worst insect pests, but they are generally more annoying than dangerous, although mosquitoes can spread some diseases such as Dengue fever and Ross River fever in some areas.

Midges are tiny, nasty little insects found Australia-wide, but more commonly in northern areas. They are too small to see and the first you know they're around is after they've bitten you and your skin becomes extremely itchy, which may not occur immediately. Scratching only makes it worse. It's best to avoid their habitats -- such as coastal lagoons, estuaries, mangrove swamps and tidal flats -- around sunrise and sunset.

For both mosquitoes and midges, wear protective clothing (long sleeves/pants), and apply a strong, good quality insect repellent to exposed skin.

If you intend going into the outback I highly recommend the purchase of a "hat fly net"external link, which is by far the best invention in the history of the human race! (No, I'm not exaggerating).

Dingoes

The dingo is Australia's native dog, although there are arguments about how long they've been in Australia, how they got here and where they came from. There are very few pure-bred dingoes left in Australia.

Dingoes can only be found in the north and west of Australia -- a fence was built to protect the sheep industry in the South-East of Australia. The dingo fence -- called the dog fence in the SA section -- stretches 5,320 km from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the Eyre peninsula in South Australia -- it's 2.5 times longer than the Great Wall of China. Map of the dingo fence here external link.

Dingoes can be aggressive and dangerous for children, however there are far more attacks from domestic dogs than there are from dingoes, it's just that a dingo attack is news but a dog attack isn't.

Road safety

Traffic accidents are the biggest cause of accidental death in Australia. A big danger in your hired campervan is the long distance between destinations, leading to people falling asleep at the wheel.

More information on Australian road rules and driving tips.

Health care

Some countries have reciprocal health care arrangements with Australia so your medical treatment may be fully or partially covered. A list of countries and details of the particular arrangements can be found on the Medicare Australia external link website. If you are coming from a country that doesn't have reciprocal arrangement then travel insurance is strongly recommended in case you require medical attention either for accident or illness.

Medicine

If you are travelling to Australia you might need to make arrangements for ongoing access to necessary medicine. If you are planning to bring medicine with you, you will need to check regulations regarding bringing medicine into Australia. If you need to obtain prescription medicine while you are here, the prescription must be written by a doctor in Australia.

More information from the Medicare Australia external link website.

Crime

Although crime is not a major problem in Australia, there is always a risk of theft or crime on the streets, as there is in all countries.

Emergency

Australia takes visitor and resident safety and security seriously, however accidents can and do occur. The emergency number in Australia is 000 -- for either fire, police or ambulance.


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Images of Australia

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Trees and tree ferns. Crimson Rosella. A walk in the rainforest.

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