The number 000 (also called “triple zero” or “triple oh”) can be dialed free of charge from any phone in Australia. This number will connect you to the police, fire, coastguard, or ambulance service after you have told the emergency call center which service you need.
If you want to contact these services but the situation is not urgent, do not call 000: You can call the police helpline on 131 444. The Poison Information Service, which also advises you on snake, spider, and insect bites, can be reached on 131 126. For information on the location of the nearest medical service, call 1800 022 222 (except in Tasmania).
If you need help in the event of a flood, storm, cyclone, tsunami, earthquake, or other natural disasters, you can contact the emergency service on 132.500 in any state (except the Northern Territory). You will be put in touch with your local unit and help can be organized from there. If the emergency is life-threatening, call Triple Zero instead.
You can dial 000 from any mobile phone. Mobile phones sold in Australia recognize this number as an emergency number and will use any available network to make the call. However, if you have a phone obtained outside Australia, it is best to use the universal emergency number 112. 112 uses any available network, works even if your phone is not roaming, and works even if the phone does not have a SIM card. 112 also works from phones purchased in Australia.
Those with hearing or speech impairments who have a TTY device can dial 106. Those who have an Internet connection can use the Internet Relay Service via the website.
Calls from landline phones can be traced so that emergency services can reach you. Emergency services have limited ability to trace the origin of emergency calls from mobile phones, especially outside urban areas, so be calm and clear about your location. Due to the number sequence of emergency calls, approximately 60% of calls to emergency numbers are made in error.
No one is likely to answer your call if you cannot effectively tell the operator that you need help. If you need help but cannot speak, you will be directed to an IVR and will have to press 55 to confirm that you need help and have not called by mistake. Your call will then be connected to the police.
With the exception of 112 from a mobile phone, emergency numbers from other countries (e.g. 911) do not work in Australia.
Keep your wits about you. Tourists are far more likely to be killed or injured as a pedestrian, driver or passenger on Australian roads than all other causes of death and injury combined.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Most states use a prescribed blood alcohol standard to determine whether driving is punishable. The prescribed (legal) BAC ranges from zero to .05. Random breath tests are conducted to determine the presence of alcohol in the blood.
Australia is a huge country and driving between cities and towns can take longer than expected, especially if you are used to driving on motorways or motorways in Europe or North America. While the main roads are comparable to those overseas, you should be a little careful on secondary roads in rural areas. Speed limits vary by location, road and state. Avoid fatigue by not planning to drive too far in one day. The authorities strongly recommend taking a break (walking a little outside the vehicle) every two hours.
Driving between cities carries the risk of collision or accident due to wildlife avoidance. Kangaroos are used to being startled by cars and then surprisingly jumping in front of them. Be especially alert when crossing vegetation near roads and at dawn and dusk when wildlife is most active. Wildlife is generally not a problem in large urban areas (except in Canberra, where a number of parks provide ample habitat for kangaroos, which often cross main roads).
Australian city dwellers walk on the pavement, dodge cars and anticipate the sequence of traffic lights. Although most drivers stop at a red light, it is common to run the yellow light. It is therefore always advisable to make sure that traffic is stopped before you leave the pavement. It will take some time for right-turners to get used to looking in the right direction when crossing.
Every year, about 10 to 20 foreign travelers drown in Australia. Most of these drownings occur on ocean beaches, where statistics show visitors are at much higher risk than locals.
Beachgoers must swim between the red and yellow flags that mark the patrolled areas. Beaches are not patrolled 24 hours a day or even all day. In most cases, local volunteer surf lifeguards or professional lifeguards are only available at certain times, on some beaches only at weekends and often only in summer. If the flags are not raised, there is no patrol. Many beaches in rural areas are not patrolled at all. If you decide to swim, be aware of the risks, check the conditions, stay at depth and do not swim alone.
Hard surfboards and other watercraft such as surf skis, kayaks etc. are not permitted between the red and yellow flags. These boats may only be used outside the blue flags “Surfcraft permitted”.
On the beaches of the Australian Ocean there are sometimes large tears that even the strongest swimmers cannot swim against. Tears are invisible channels of water that run down the beach. These channels drain the water that the surf waves bring to the shore. Swimmers can make mistakes when using these channels or areas as they can appear to be calm water and appear to be a more accessible area to swim. Problems occur when the swimmer tries to swim against the current back to shore or rips, quickly tires and eventually drowns. Rips are recognizable by one or more of these signs: a wavy appearance when the surrounding water is relatively calm; foam protruding above the rip area; brown, sand-coloured water; waves that continue to break on either side of the rip.
If you get into a skirmish on a patrolled beach, save your strength, swim or walk on the water and raise a hand. The surf lifeguards will come to you. Don’t wait until you are so tired that you can no longer swim. You will probably find that local swimmers or surfers will come to your aid just as quickly. Usually flags are placed where there are no tears, but this is not always the case because tears can move.
If you get into a fender bender on an unguarded beach, stay calm to save energy and swim parallel to the beach (not against the current). Most dykes are only a few metres wide and once you are out of the current you can swim or catch a wave to return to shore. Never swim alone. Don’t assume that with the right technique you will get out of any situation. In the waves at the bottom of the beach, it can be difficult to walk on the water as the waves crash against you every few seconds. If you haven’t seen this, it’s hard to comprehend how quickly a rip can carry you 50 meters out to sea and into much bigger waves. If you are at an unsupervised surf beach, be extremely careful and never go beyond your limits.
Beach signs often have a number or an alphanumeric code. This code can be passed on to the rescue services if necessary so that they can locate you quickly.
Crocodiles and jellyfish can be found on tropical beaches, depending on the season and region. Sharks are found on many Australian beaches. See the section below on dangerous creatures. Patrolled beaches monitor the sea for shark activity. If you hear a continuous siren, go to the beach and wave a red and white flag or hold it out of the tower to indicate you have seen a shark, then head towards the coast. As soon as the coast is clear, you will hear a short siren sound, which usually means you can safely return to the water.
Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) occur in the tropics (the northern part) of Australia between November and April. You need to understand how a tropical cyclone can affect you during the tropical wet season. The effects of cyclones vary depending on their intensity and your proximity. Weak cyclones can cost you a day or two of your holiday because of rain and wind while you stay in your hotel, and within an hour’s drive of the centre of the cyclone the weather can still be fine. More severe tropical cyclones can be deadly for those who are not prepared and can force you to evacuate an area and seriously disrupt your travel plans. Even low intensity cyclones or tropical depressions can close roads for days or weeks in more remote areas.
On average, a city in the tropics experiences a tropical cyclone about every 30 years. The low population density in the north and northwest of Australia (where cyclones are most common) means that many cyclones pass by the coast without hitting cities.
However, if you are planning to travel to the tropics during hurricane season, you should be aware of and consult the weather bureau’s information page before you leave and keep an eye on this page during your trip to be alerted quickly to any problems that may arise.
In the tropical north, the rainy season falls in the summer months of December, January and February, bringing torrential rains and frequent flooding to these areas. It is not uncommon for some coastal areas to be cut off from the outside world for a day or two while the waters recede. This can be a good time to visit some of the well-populated and touristy areas, and except in the case of exceptionally severe flooding, you can always see the rushing waterfalls and other attractions that make this an interesting time to visit.
Floods in outback and inland Australia are rare and occur decades apart, so you would have no chance of encountering them. However, if you are planning a trip to the outback or inland and the area is flooded, you should reconsider your decision. The terrain is flat and it can take weeks for the water to drain and the area to become swampy. Insects and mosquitoes go crazy with all the fresh water gathering around them, and these things eat insecticide for breakfast and are always hungry. Roads are closed, which often increases travel time. Many attractions are often on a short stretch of dirt road off the main roads, and these sections become impassable even if the main road remains open. Plan to return in a few weeks and the country will still be green, the lakes and rivers will still be flowing and the birds will still be there.
The wettest time for the south of the country is generally around June, July and August. It is rare for there to be so much rain at one time that flooding occurs. The main cities are rarely, if ever, affected by flooding to any significant extent.
National parks and forested areas in southern Australia, including parts of major cities in close proximity to national parks and forests, can be at risk of wildfires in summer.
In case of extreme fire danger, the parks may be closed, especially the backcountry areas. Therefore, you need an alternative plan if you want to camp or hike in the parks during the summer. In the event of a fire in a park, the park is usually closed.
Whole rural towns can sometimes be evacuated if a bushfire threatens them. Often there is no sign of fire at the time of evacuation, but it is advisable to leave early as it is dangerous to evacuate through a fire front. The best advice is to move forward and not stand around and watch.
Ensure that fires you start are legal and under control. The fire brigade enforces a fire ban system during times of extreme fire danger. When a fire ban is in effect, all outdoor fires are prohibited. Most parks announce a ban and it is your responsibility to check the local fire danger level. There are fines or even jail sentences for fires that get out of control, not to mention the feeling that you may be responsible for any damage you cause to property, wildlife and people.
If you get caught in a bushfire, most fires pass quickly. You need to find shelter that will protect you from smoke and radiant heat. A house is best, then a car, then a clearing, cave or on the beach is the best place. Get everything you can wet. Stay on your stomach and cover your mouth. Cover yourself with non-flammable (wool) clothing or blankets and reduce skin directly exposed to the heat. If you have access to a tap, collect water early; do not rely on water pressure as you approach the fire front. Unless your holiday goes further than towns and beaches, this will not really affect you.
Australia is a very dry country with large stretches of desert and can also get very hot.
If you are travelling in remote areas off paved roads, where the risk of being stuck for a week without seeing another vehicle is very real, it is essential that you have your own water supply (4 gal or 7 L per person per day). Don’t be misled by map markings such as “well”, “spring” or “reservoir” (or other markings indicating a body of water). Almost all are dry, and most inland lakes are dry salt marshes.
Many cities have water restrictions that limit the use of water for activities such as washing cars, watering gardens or public showers. It is common to see signs in homes asking visitors to limit how long they shower.
Poisonous and dangerous creatures
Although Australia is home to many of the world’s deadliest species of insects, reptiles and sea creatures, the traveller is unlikely to encounter them in an urban environment, and even in the bush these creatures usually try to avoid humans. The vast majority of deaths from stings and bites in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps.
Some of the information about Australia’s dangerous wildlife is exaggerated, often joked about by Australians themselves. However, you should take warnings about jellyfish and crocodiles in the tropics seriously and keep your distance from snakes in national parks and bushland.
If you are travelling to rural areas, it is a good idea to carry basic first aid supplies, including compression bandages, and learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
Snakes are not common in urban areas of Australia, but they are common in grasslands, national parks and other bush areas. Snakes generally try to get as far away from you as possible. If you see a snake while walking, go around it or walk in the other direction. It is not advisable to walk blindly in areas with dense bushes and grass, as snakes can hide there. Most snakes are afraid of humans and are long gone before you have a chance to see them.
Never try to pick up a snake, even if you think it is a non-poisonous species. Most people who are bitten by snakes try to pick up the snake or kill the creature, or they accidentally step on one while walking.
There are some snakes in Australia that are deadly. Therefore, all snakes should be treated with respect and any snake bite should be treated urgently. Take a first aid kit suitable for snakebites with you when travelling off the beaten track. In case of a bite, immobilise the wound by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages and seek medical attention immediately. Do not clean the wound as poison residue may be tested to determine which antivenin to use. If you are in a remote area, send another person to help. The venom of some snakes (especially taipan) takes 15 minutes to take effect, but if the wound is immobilised immediately and you rest, the effect of the venom can be delayed by one to several hours. Multi-purpose anti-venom medications are available at most hospitals, containing anti-venom for all dangerous Australian snakes.
It is common to see spiders in Australia and most of them will not hurt you. Wear gloves when gardening or handling dead leaves. Check or shake any clothes, shoes, etc. left outside before putting them on. Do not put your fingers under rocks or in tree holes where spiders may be. Some spiders are common in buildings and houses, including large, hairy hunting spiders, which are generally harmless and reduce other insect pests such as cockroaches. Large spider webs stretched between trees and occupied by garden or tarantula spiders are more of a nuisance than a hazard.
But some spiders are also very dangerous. The most poisonous spider in the world is the Sydney funnel-web spider, which can be found in and around Sydney and in eastern New South Wales – mostly under stones and dead leaves. The spider is up to 5 cm wide and usually black in colour. If you are in an area known for funnel-web spiders and you are bitten by what you think is a funnel-web spider, it is important that you go to hospital as soon as possible. The funnel web spider spends most of its time underground (it can usually only live for 30 minutes outside a damp hole) and it is therefore very unlikely that you will encounter one walking around.
The redback spider (usually easily recognised by a red spot on the abdomen) is common and after a bite it is important to see a doctor, even if it is not as urgent as with a funnel web spider. Redbacks usually hide in dark places and corners. It is very rare to see them indoors; however, they can hide in sheds, around outdoor tables and chairs, and under stones or other objects on the ground.
First aid treatment for spider bites may vary in Australia compared to other parts of the world. Always seek medical attention after a bite. If possible, try to identify the creature that bit you. Take a photo or capture it so the appropriate antivenom can be administered quickly. But do not risk being bitten again.
Travellers to northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal jellyfish stings from box jellyfish when swimming in the sea between October and May. They are very difficult to spot and can be found in very shallow water. Jellyfish stings are “horrible” and often fatal. Immediate application of vinegar to the attached tentacles reduces the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical attention is required. The season of danger varies from place to place. Jellyfish are usually found near the coast as they breed in estuaries. They are not usually found on the Great Barrier Reef and many people swim on the reef without taking any precautions. Look for reliable local information. Some beach dwellers may be a little reckless in the face of danger.
The Irukandji are another species of tiny jellyfish (about the size of a fingernail) that live in the waters off northern Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very difficult to see and can be dangerous, although stings are rare. Unlike the ear jellyfish, they are found on the reef. The first sting may go unnoticed. It is not known if they can be fatal, but they can certainly hospitalise a victim and cause extreme pain for several days. If you feel nausea or stabbing pain shortly after getting out of the water, seek medical attention.
A jellyfish stinger costs about $100 or can be rented for about $20 per week.
The tiny blue-ringed octopus is found in the rocky basins off the Australian coast. Normally this creature has a dull, sandy-beige colour, but when threatened it has bright blue circles on its skin. The blue-ringed octopus is rare and shy. Avoid putting your hand under rocks or in crevices in rock pools or near the shore, as they like to hide there. Most locals do the same. It contains a potent, paralysing venom that can cause death if artificial respiration is not provided. In Australia’s history, there have only been two confirmed deaths from the blue-ringed octopus.
Travellers to northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by saltwater crocodiles in northern waters and adjacent areas (ocean, estuaries and freshwater) between King Sound, Western Australia, and Rockhampton, Queensland. In these areas, saltwater crocodiles can grow up to 25 feet long and attack without warning in the water. Despite their name, they are found in both salt and fresh water. On land, crocodiles are generally immobile, but they have the ability to move in short bursts with extraordinary speed. There are relatively few injurious attacks – most attacks are fatal. Dangerous swimming areas usually have clear warning signs. You can only swim in inland waters in these areas if you are specifically told that they are safe. Since 1970, there has been about one crocodile attack on a human every year.
The small freshwater crocodile, unlike the saltwater crocodile, is shy and will avoid humans if possible. Freshwater crocodiles may attack to defend themselves or their eggs, or if startled. It can inflict a nasty bite, but this rarely leads to death in humans due to its small jaws and teeth.
Gympia (Dendrocnide moroides), also called Stinging Tree, is a stinging plant whose microscopic stinging hairs on the leaves and twigs can cause severe pain for several weeks. It is found mainly in north-eastern Queensland, especially in clearings in tropical forests. However, the Gympia shrub and other closely related stinging tree species (there are about five) are found in south-east Queensland and further south in eastern Australia. People who are in these areas are advised not to touch the plant under any circumstances.
The crime rate in Australia is roughly comparable to that in other First World countries: few travelers become victims of crime. You should take the usual precautions against pickpocketing, purse snatching and the like. Some areas of major cities are more dangerous after dark, but generally there are no dangerous areas to enter unless you are from the area.
Australian police are accessible and trustworthy and you should report assaults, robberies or other crimes to them as soon as possible.
There are two types of police in Australia: the state/territorial police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Generally, you will only deal with the state police, with the AFP focusing on very specific government-related duties, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), where the AFP is the main police force. State police are responsible for enforcing local laws in their respective jurisdictions. Laws are enforced at the state level.
Under no circumstances should you offer a bribe or gratuity to an Australian police officer (or indeed any other government official such as a customs officer) as this is a criminal offence and the laws are enforced in this regard.
If you leave your car alone, make sure it is locked, the windows are rolled up and there is no obvious target for theft in the vehicle, as thieves often break windows to get at a phone, GPS device or bag that is visible in the car.
Racism is a sensitive issue in Australia. A history of state-sanctioned discrimination and racism dating back to the 20th century has given way to multiculturalism. Post-war European immigrants were joined by Asian and African immigrants in the late twentieth century. The law prevents discrimination on the basis of race, and it is rare for anyone to openly express aggression towards a racial group. On the surface, Australia is a multicultural and racially tolerant society.
Some expressions that are familiar to ethnic groups may not be considered offensive by the standards of some Australians. Terms such as yank, pom, paki and to a lesser extent wog are often used between friends of different races in informal conversations in the presence of those respective nationalities. Do not use colloquial racist terms yourself if you do not want to cause offence. Never call Aborigines “Abos” – it is a very offensive term that comes from Australia’s bad history with its First Peoples. If you are not ready for discussion, it may be best to avoid any discussion of race.
If you are (unfortunately) involved in an argument or conflict, it is possible that some people may choose a racist term if you are of a different race to them. If you have been called a ‘skip’, a term reserved for white Australians for racial abuse, and there are many others for other races. Either way, it’s best to walk away and ignore it. Unfortunately, some people have faced random incidents of racial abuse. If you are a victim, you can report it to the police and expect action to be taken. Call “000”. Fortunately, violent incidents are very rare.
There are anti-immigration and anti-multicultural groups operating on the fringes of Australian society. As a visitor, you are unlikely to come into contact with them. If it’s late at night in a pub and you start pushing people to express their racist views, the bets are off – be prepared for anything.
It is not offensive to use the term Aussie (Ozzie) to describe Australians, but it is not a term Australians generally use to identify themselves. They are more inclined to apply it to things (Australian rules etc) than to themselves. When the song “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi Oi Oi” is sung at an international sporting event, some Australians start shaking, others join in. This often depends on their own social status, drunkenness, or both. In addition, in areas of Australia where there is a racial divide, the terms “Aussie” and “Australian” can both be used as divisive terms to identify the racial origin. Be careful to use the terms “Aussie” and “Australian” when including Australians of any race.
Attempts to scam tourists are not common in Australia; take the usual precautions, for example by doing a little research on your destination. There have been cases of criminals tampering with ATMs to block money or record card details for thieves. After using an ATM, check your transaction records to see if there are any strange transactions and contact the bank controlling the machine immediately if a transaction appears to be successful but the machine is not dispensing money to you. Always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN code to prevent fraud machines that have cameras from recording your PIN code.
Opium, heroin, amphetamines (speed), cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana, and hashish, among other drugs, are illegal to possess or sell in all Australian states. Trafficking offenses are punishable by long prison sentences and can even result in life imprisonment in serious cases. Australia shared information on drug trafficking with other countries, including those that used the death penalty.
Penalties for possession or sale of small amounts of marijuana are generally lower than for other drugs and vary from state to state. In South Australia, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory, prison sentences do not apply to first-time offenders who use marijuana. In some states, on-the-spot fines can be imposed for small amounts of marijuana, while in other states a court appearance is still required. Foreigners should not expect any more lenient treatment from Australian police for drug offenses than they would receive on the premises. Driving under the influence of drugs is a serious offense and driving under the influence of drugs inevitably leads to arrest and prosecution, and even imprisonment in serious cases.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to bring illegal drugs, including marijuana, into Australia; this is strictly prohibited and punishable by long prison sentences of up to life, and customs officials often use dogs to sniff out drugs from the luggage of arriving passengers.
Australia’s proximity to Asia means that heroin is a much more common illicit drug than cocaine or crack. In some areas of major cities you need to be on the lookout for discarded needles; however, these are usually found in side streets and not in popular tourist areas.