The number 000 (called 'triple zero' or 'triple oh') can be dialled from any telephone in Australia free of charge. This number will connect you with the police, fire brigade, coastguard or ambulance service after you tell the emergency operator which service you need.
If you want to contact these services but the situation is not an emergency, don't call 000: you can call the police assistance line on 131 444. Poisons information advice, which can also advise on snake, spider and insect bites, is available on 131 126. Information on locating the nearest medical services can be obtained by calling 1800 022 222 (except for Tasmania).
If you require assistance during a flood, storm, cyclone, tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster you can contact the State Emergency Service in each state (except for Northern Territory) on 132 500. You will be connected with your local unit and help can be organised from there. If the emergency is life-threatening, call triple zero instead.
You can dial 000 from all mobile phones. Mobile phones sold in Australia recognise it as the emergency number and will use any available network to place the call. However, if you have a phone obtained outside Australia, using the universal emergency number 112 is a better idea. Using 112 will use any available network, will work even if your phone is not roaming, and will work even if the phone does not have a SIM. 112 works from Australian purchased phones too.
Hearing or speech impaired people with TTY equipment can dial 106. Those with Internet connectivity can use the Internet Relay Service, via the website.
Calls from fixed line (landline) phones may be traced to assist the emergency services to reach you. The emergency services have limited ability to trace the origin of emergency calls from mobile phones, especially outside of urban areas, so be sure to calmly and clearly provide details of your location. Because of the number sequence for emergency calls, around 60% of calls to the emergency numbers are made in error.
Nobody will likely respond to your call unless you can effectively communicate to the operator that you need assistance. If you are in need of assistance, but cannot speak, you will be diverted to an IVR and asked to press 55 to confirm that you are in need of assistance and have not called by accident. Your call will then be connected to the police.
Except for 112 from a mobile, Emergency numbers from other countries (for example, '911') do not work in Australia.
Keep a sense of perspective. Tourists are far more likely to be killed or injured as pedestrians, drivers or passengers on Australian roads than all the other causes of death and injury combined.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Most states use a prescribed standard of alcohol in the blood to determine whether driving is criminal. The prescribed (allowed) content ranges from zero to 0.05. Random breath testing for blood and alcohol is carried out.
Driving between cities and towns can take longer than you think, especially if you are used to freeway or motorway driving in Europe or North America. Speed limits vary by location, road and by state. Avoid the stresses of fatigue by not planning to drive too far in a day. Authorities strongly recommend a break (with some walking outside the car) every two hours.
Driving between towns and cities comes with a risk of hitting or crashing due to swerving to avoid wildlife. Kangaroos have a habit of being spooked by cars and then, bewilderingly, jumping in front of them. Take extra care when driving through areas with vegetation close to the road and during dawn and dusk when wildlife is most active. Wildlife is not usually an issue in major urban areas (with the exception of Canberra where a series of parks provides ample habitat for kangaroos, which often cross major roads).
If driving in the Melbourne CBD be aware some corners require hook turns; turning right from the left hand lane to keep tram tracks clear.
Urban Australians jaywalk, dodge cars, and anticipate the sequence of lights. Although most drivers will stop for a red light, running the amber light is common, so ensuring the traffic has stopped before stepping from the curb is always a good idea. People from countries who drive on the right will take a while to get used to looking the correct way when crossing.
Around 10-20 overseas travellers drown in Australia each year. Most of these drownings occur at ocean beaches, where statistics put visitors at significantly higher risk than locals. Check the Beach Safety website.
Beach goers should swim between the red and yellow flags which designate patrolled areas. Beaches are not patrolled 24-hours a day or even during all daylight hours. In most cases the local volunteer surf lifesavers or professional lifeguards are only available during certain hours, and at some beaches only on weekends, and often only during summer. If the flags aren't up, then there's no one patrolling - and you shouldn't swim. If you do choose to swim, be aware of the risks, check conditions, stay within your depth, and don't swim alone.
Hard surfboards and other water craft such as surf skis, kayaks etc., are not permitted between the red and yellow flags. These craft must only be used outside of the blue 'surfcraft permitted' flags.
Australian ocean beaches can sometimes have strong rips that even the strongest swimmers cannot swim against. Rips are invisible channels of water flowing away from the beach. These channels take out the water which the incoming surf waves bring into shore. Beach goers can mistakenly use these channels or areas since they can appear as calm water and look to be an easier area into which to swim. Problems arise when the swimmer tries to swim back into shore against the outgoing current or rip, tire quickly, and end up drowning. Rips can be recognised by one or more of these signs: a rippled appearance when the surrounding water is fairly calm; foam that extends beyond the break zone; brown, sandy coloured water; waves breaking further out on either side of the rip.
If you are caught in a rip at a patrolled beach, conserve your energy, float or tread water and raise one hand. The surf lifesavers will come out to you. Don't wait until you are so tired you can't swim any more. You will probably find that local swimmers or surfers will also quickly come to your aid. Usually the flags are positioned where there are no rips, but this isn't always the case as rips can move.
If you are caught in a rip at an unpatrolled beach stay calm to conserve energy and swim parallel to the beach (not against the pull of the current). Most rips are only a few metres wide, and once clear of the undertow, you will be able to swim or catch a wave to return to shore. Never swim alone. Don't think that the right technique will get you out of every situation. In the surf out the back of the beach, treading water can be hard with waves pounding you every few seconds. Unless you have seen it happen, its hard to appreciate how quickly a rip can take you 50 m out to sea and into much larger wave breaks. If you are at an unpatrolled surf beach, proceed with great caution and never go out of your depth.
Beach signs often have a number or an alphanumeric code on them. This code can be given to emergency services if required so they can locate you quickly.
Crocodiles and Box Jellyfish are found on tropical beaches, depending on the time of year and area. Sharks occur on many of Australia's beaches. See the section below on dangerous creatures. Patrolled beaches will be monitoring the ocean for any shark activity. If you hear a continuous siren, go off at the beach and a red and a red and white quartered flag is waved or held out of the tower as it indicates a shark sighting, so make your way to shore. Once it is clear, a short blast of the siren will be sounded, which usually means that it is safe to return to the water.
Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) occur in the tropics (the northern part) of Australia between November and April, and you should understand how a tropical cyclone may impact you during the tropical wet season. The impact of cyclones varies with their intensity and your proximity to them. Weak cyclones may just cost you a day or two of your holiday to rain and wind while you stay indoors in your hotel, and an hours drive from the cyclone centre can still have good weather. More severe tropical cyclones can be deadly to the unprepared, and may cause you to evacuate an areas and can seriously disrupt your travel plans. Even low intensity cyclones or tropical depressions in more remote areas can close roads for days to weeks at a time.
On average a town in the tropics experiences a tropical cyclone every 30 years or so. The sparseness of population in Australia's north and north-west (where cyclones are most prevalent) means that many cyclones pass the coast with little impact on towns.
Still, if you are planning to travel to the tropics during cyclone season, you should understand and review the Bureau of Meteorology's information page before you set out, and keep a general eye on the page while you travel for early alerts of any problems developing.
In the tropical north the Wet Season occurs over the summer months of December, January and February, bringing torrential rains and frequent floods to those regions. It is not unusual for some coastal areas to be cut off for a day or two while the water recedes. It can still be a good time to visit some of the well populated, tourist-oriented areas, and, except in unusually heavy flooding, you can still get to see the pounding waterfalls and other attractions that can make this an interesting time to visit.
Floods in outback and inland Australia are rare, occurring decades apart, so you would be unlucky to encounter them. However, if you are planning to visit the inland or the outback and the area is flooded, then you should reconsider. The land is flat, so the water can take weeks to move on, leaving the land boggy. Insects and mosquitoes go crazy with all the fresh water pooling around, and these things eat insect repellent for breakfast and are still hungry. Roads close, often adding many hours to driving times. Many attractions often lie on a short stretch of dirt road off the main highways, and these sections become impassable, even if the main road remains open. Plan to return in a few weeks, and the land will still be green, the lakes and rivers will still be flowing, and the bird life will still be around.
The wettest period for the south of the country is usually around the winter months of June, July, and August. There is rarely enough rain at one time to cause flooding. The capital cities are rarely, if ever, significantly affected by floods.
National parks and forested areas of southern Australia, including some parts of major cities next to national parks and forests, can be threatened by bushfires (wildfires) in summer.
If the fire risk is extreme, parks may be closed, especially the backcountry areas, so you will need to have an alternative plan if you intend to camp or hike in parks during summer. If there is a fire in a park, it will usually be closed entirely.
Entire country towns can sometimes be evacuated when there is a bushfire threatening them. Often there can be no signs of the fire at evacuation time, but you should leave early, as evacuating through a fire front is dangerous. The best advice is just to move on, and not stay around to watch.
Make sure any fires you light are legal and kept under control. The fire service operates a fire ban system during periods of extreme fire danger. When a fire ban is in place all outdoor fires are forbidden. Most parks will advertise a ban, and it is your responsibility to check the local fire danger levels. Fines or even jail terms apply for lighting fires that get out of control, not to mention the feeling you may get at being responsible for the property, wildlife, and person damage that you may cause.
If you are caught in a bushfire, most fires will pass over quickly. You need to find shelter that will protect you from the smoke and radiant heat. A house is best, then a car, then a clearing, a cave, or on the beach is the best location. Wet everything what you can. Stay low and cover your mouth. Cover yourself with non-flammable (woolen) clothing or blankets, and reduce the skin directly exposed to the heat. If you have access to a tap gather water early; don't rely on water pressure as the fire front approaches. If your holiday goes no further than cities, major towns, and beaches, this won't really concern you.
Australia is a very dry country with large areas of desert. It can also get hot.
When travelling in remote areas, away from sealed roads, where the potential to become stranded for up to a week without seeing another vehicle is very real, it is vital that you carry your own water supply (4 gal or 7 L per person per day). Do not be misled by entries on maps such as 'well' or 'spring' or 'tank' (or any entry suggesting that there is a body of water). Nearly all are dry, and most inland lakes are dry salt pans.
Many cities and towns have water restrictions, limiting use of water in activities like washing cars, watering gardens, or public showers. It is common to see signs in accommodation asking visitors to limit the length of their showers.
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of insects, reptiles and marine life on the planet. However the average tourist is unlikely to encounter any of these in an urban environment. The vast majority of deaths from bites and stings in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps.
Some of the information spread about Australia's dangerous wildlife is blown out of proportion, often jokingly by Australians themselves. However, you should take warnings about jellyfish and crocodiles seriously in the tropics, and keep your distance from snakes in the national parks and bushland.
If travelling in rural areas it would be a good idea to carry basic first aid equipment including compression bandages and to learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
Australia is home to six of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Never try to pick up any snake, even if you believe it to be a non-poisonous species. Most people bitten by snakes were trying to pick up the snake or kill the creature, or inadvertently stepped on one while out walking. Snakes will generally try to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible, so if you see a snake while out walking, simply go around it or walk the other way. Walking blindly into dense bush and grassy areas is not advisable, as snakes may be hiding there. For the most part, snakes fear humans and will be long gone before you ever get the chance to see them.
It is common to see spiders in Australia, and most will do you no harm. Wear gloves while gardening or handling leaf litter. Check or shake out clothing, shoes, etc. that have been left outside before putting them on. Don't put your fingers under rocks or into tree holes, where spiders might be.
The world's deadliest spider is the Sydney Funnel Web spider, found in and around Sydney and eastern New South Wales. Until the late 1970s a bite from this spider could cause death, but anti-venom is now available. The spider is anywhere up to 5 cm large, and is usually black. If you are in an area that is known for having Funnel Web spiders and you are bitten by a spider that you believe could be a Funnel Web it is important you get to hospital as quickly as possible. Funnel Webs can seek shelter indoors when there is a lot of rain; however they are usually found under rocks, especially if recent gardening has taken place.
The Red Back spider (usually easily identified by a red mark on its abdomen) is common and after a bite it is important to seek medical attention, however it is not as urgent as with a Funnel Web. Red Backs typically hide in dark places and corners. It is highly unusual to see them indoors, however they can hide in sheds, around outdoor tables and chairs and under rocks or other objects sitting on the ground.
Anti-venom is available for most spider and snake bites. If bitten you should immobilise the wound (by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages) and seek immediate medical help. Do not clean the wound as hospitals can test venom residues to determine which species of anti-venom should be used. If you are in an isolated area send someone else for help. The venom of some snakes (the taipan in particular) can take effect within fifteen minutes, but if the wound is immediately immobilised and you rest it is possible to delay the onset of poisoning by one to a few hours, depending on the creature. If possible, you should attempt to identify the creature that bit you (in the case of spiders it might be possible to trap it in a jar and take it to the hospital) so that the appropriate anti-venom can be administered swiftly.
First aid treatment for spider bites may vary in Australia compared to other areas of the world. Always seek medical advice after a bite has occurred.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal stings from the Box Jellyfish if swimming in the ocean between October and May. They are very hard to detect and can be found in very shallow water. Stings from these jellyfish are 'excruciating' and often fatal. Vinegar applied immediately to adhering tentacles will lessen the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical assistance will be required. The danger season varies by location. In general the jellyfish are found close to shore, as they breed in the estuaries. They are not generally found out on the Great Barrier Reef, and many people swim on the reef without taking any precautions. Seek out reliable local information. Some locals at the beach can be cavalier to the risks.
Irukandji are another species of tiny (fingernail sized) jellyfish that inhabit the waters off Northern Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very hard to see, and can be dangerous, although bites are rare. Unlike the box jellyfish they are found out on the reef. The initial bite can go unnoticed. There is debate as to whether they can be fatal, but they certainly can place a victim in hospital, and cause extreme pain lasting days. If you have nausea or shooting pains shortly after emerging from the water seek medical treatment.
A "stinger-suit" that is resistant to jellyfish stings costs around $100 or can be hired for around $20 a week.
Found in rock pools around the coasts of Australia is the tiny Blue Ring Octopus. Usually a dull sandy-beige colour, the creature has bright blue circles on its skin if threatened. The Blue Ring Octopus is rare and shy. Avoid placing your hand under rocks or in crevaces in rock pools or near the shore as this is where they tend to hide. Most locals do the same. It has a powerful paralysing toxin which can cause death unless artificial respiration is provided. In the history of Australia there are only two confirmed deaths by Blue Ring Octopus.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or north Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by saltwater crocodiles in and adjacent to northern waters (ocean, estuarine and fresh water locations) between King Sound, Western Australia, and Rockhampton, Queensland. Saltwater crocodiles in these areas can reach 25 feet in length and can attack in water without warning. Despite what their name implies, they can be found in both salt and fresh water. On land, crocodiles usually lie motionless, but they have the ability to move with extraordinary speed in short bursts. There are relatively few attacks causing injury — most attacks are fatal. Dangerous swimming areas will usually have prominent warning signs. In these regions only swim in inland waters if you are specifically advised that they are safe. Since 1970 there has been about one crocodile attack on a human each year.
The smaller freshwater crocodile is, unlike the saltwater, timid and will avoid humans if possible. The freshwater may attack to defend itself or its eggs or if startled. They can inflict a nasty bite but due to their small jaws and teeth this will rarely cause death in humans.
The Gympie bush (Dendrocnide moroides), also known as the stinging tree, is a stinging plant, whose microscopic stinging hairs on leaves and branches can cause severe pain for up to several weeks. They are mostly found in North-east Queensland, especially in rain forest clearings. However, the Gympie bush and other closely related species (there are about five) of stinging tree can be found in south-east Queensland, and further south in eastern Australia. People bushwalking in such areas are advised not to touch the plant for any reason.
Crime rates in Australia are roughly comparable with other first world countries: few travellers will be victims of crime. You should take normal precautions against bag snatching, pick pocketing and the like. There are some areas of the large cities that are more dangerous after dark, but there generally are no areas that the police refuse to patrol or that are dangerous to enter if you aren't a local.
Australian police are approachable and trustworthy, and you should report assaults, theft or other crime to the police as soon as possible. Under no circumstances should you offer an Australian police officer (or for that matter, any other government official such as a customs officer) a bribe or gratuity, as this is a crime and they will enforce the laws against it.
When leaving your car alone, make sure it is locked, that the windows are rolled up, and that there are no obvious targets for theft in the vehicle, as thieves will often smash windows to get at a phone, GPS or bag that is visible in the car.
Racism is a sensitive subject in Australia. There are laws against any form of racial vilification or discrimination with jail terms possible for breaches of some states racial vilification laws. It isn't hard to find someone who will express some form of racist views in a pub in Australia. It is much rarer to find someone who will openly express aggression towards any racial group. Australia is outwardly a multicultural and racially tolerant society.
Some language used for ethnic groups that you may find offensive may not be considered offensive by the standards of some Australians. Terms such as Yank, Pom, Paki and to a lesser extent Wog are used in casual conversation in the presence of those respective nationalities, often between friends, and as such are not seen as offensive. However, tread carefully before using slang racial descriptors yourself, to avoid the possibility of offence. Some will choose a racial abuse term if involved in an argument, over a more general abusive term.
You may hear the indigenous population of Australia referred to as "Abos". This is considered a highly offensive and racist term, which you should never repeat.
It is not offensive to use Aussie (Ozzie) to describe Australian people, but it isn't a term Australians generally use to self-identify. They are more likely to apply it to things (Aussie Rules, etc.) than to themselves. When the chant of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie - Oi Oi Oi goes up at an international sporting event, some Australians will cringe, and others will join in. Often this depends on their own perceived social standing, or their state of inebriation, or both. Furthermore, in parts of Australia that are racially fractured, Aussie and Australian can both be used as divisive terms to identify racial heritage. Ensure that you use the terms Aussie and Australian inclusive of Australians of all racial heritage.
Attempts to scam tourists are not prevalent in Australia; take normal precautions such as finding out a little bit about your destination. There have been instances of criminals tampering with ATMs so that cash is trapped inside them, or so that they record card details for thieves. You should check your transaction records for odd transactions after using an ATMs and immediately contact the bank controlling the ATM if a transaction seems to be successful but the machine doesn't give you any cash. Always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN to prevent any skimming devices which have cameras recording your PIN.
Opium, heroin, amphetamines (speed), cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana and hashish among other drugs are all illegal both to possess and to sell in all states of Australia. Trafficking offences are federal offences, and carry a long jail term. Australia shares information on drug trafficking with other countries, even those with the death penalty.
Penalties for possession or sale of small amounts of marijuana are typically lower than for other drugs, and vary between states. In South Australia, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory jail terms do not apply to first time marijuana offences. Some states can issue on-the-spot fines for small amounts of marijuana whereas others always require a court appearance. Foreigners should not expect more lenient treatment than locals from Australian police for drug offences.
Australia's proximity to Asia means that heroin is a far more commonly used illicit drug than cocaine or crack cocaine. In some areas of large cities you will need to be careful of discarded needles: however these will generally be found in back streets rather than in popular tourist spots.
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