Travel Etiquette

Etiquette is a word describing the norms that we as society should adhere to, in regards to consideration and respect. When travelling in the outback, it's very easy to perceive that the land is vast enough to do anything one wishes. This article helps reinforce the positive ideals of respect and consideration for the environment and of others. With good understanding of issues such as: responsible campfire considerations and proper rubbish disposal, you will gain an appreciated sense of doing good for this great country of ours.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: December 2005
Revised: May 2016
Latest Feedback: March 2016

Selecting a Campsite

When selecting a camp spot and other campers are in the area it is extremely rude to camp close by, unless you have been invited to do so. It's a big country and there's plenty to go around. If you've missed the best spot, then that's bad luck.

Campfires

One of the most devastating things you can do in the Australian outback is leave the remains of your campfire. The number of travellers in our outback is increasingly dramatically and every one of us must make a dedicated attempt to cover up any sign of our campfire, toilet pits etc.

Campfires are particularly bad because wind picks up remaining ashes and can spoil the area by spreading black ash through the soil. There is nothing worse than camping on dirt or sand that has been stained by black ash!
Firstly, when you select a campsite try to reuse any existing fire pits left by other campers. This helps reduces the number of black pitted holes in the area.

To build your fire place, scrape out a divot in the ground for your fire pit rather than pile up sticks etc on top of the ground. By scraping out a hole for your fire you will have some soil to use as a wind break around the edge of your fire and when you're ready to depart you should carefully place this soil back on top of the fire, pat it down and the ground will appear fresh and clean as if there has never been a fire here before rather than an unsightly mound!

Buried ash and coals will break down over time if covered up this way and this will help to regenerate the area for future users.

Loud Music and Noise

It is definitely not the done thing to play CDs, tapes etc at camp sites in the vicinity of other campers. People go camping to get away from people and the noises of civilisation. Please respect this and don't play music at camp unless you are the only one for miles - remember sound travels far especially over water and at night.

Occasionally, guitar and other non-amplified live music can be appropriate at times, however drunken sing- alongs should be left to private parties and not shared amongst strangers!

Because many people go to sleep early when camping and it is generally accepted that by 9pm it is polite to curb back any loud noises. Many campgrounds and caravan parks have clearly defined noise regulations such as 10pm curfews, however where rules are not posted on signs this is still the general rule to follow. Slamming of car doors is a particularly annoying noise as is persistent talking, washing, use of machinery, generators, air compressors, chopping of wood, running of car engines and hammering of tent pegs.

Waste Disposal

Rubbish

Rubbish must never be buried in the outback - animals will dig it up and then the wind will spread the rubbish all over the place. This also includes toilet paper - if you dig a hole, then you must also burn the toilet waste - covering with soil is not enough.

You should never leave bits of food scraps or unburned rubbish in your campfire, such as tins and cans. It is certainly ok to thoroughly burn small bits of plastic & cardboard packaging at your campfire when in remote areas where no rubbish facilities are provided for you, but you should bag and carry all your hard rubbish until you reach a township or property where you can dispose of it properly into bins or a tip. It is typical for outback tips, even in townships, to burn all their waste so don't be fooled into thinking that is inappropriate for you to lighten your load a little during your travels. It is sometimes necessary. In some areas you may need to plan to carry 2 weeks of rubbish so be prepared with adequate bags or tubs.

ExplorOz is proactive in helping travellers carry out their rubbish and has designed a rubbish bin-bag that can be carried over your spare wheel mounted to the rear of your vehicle, van or trailer. Most people simply tie up their rubbish in plastic shopping bags and drop them into this vinyl carry bag. You can carry a large number of rubbish bags this way and keep smells, flies, and leaks out of your way until a rubbish pit or bin is found. See the Spare Wheel Rubbish Bag in our shop.

As in the photo, if the bin is full don't leave more rubbish! Take it with you. We also encourage you to report cases of littering. The Keep Australia Beautiful organisation has a website where you can dob-in a litterer

Toilets & Bush Drop Pits

Where toilets are provided you must use them. Toilets are placed in areas where there is a significant level of visitors and the environment has been assessed to be unable to handle the impact of toilet waste at that volume.

Where there are no toilets, consider that urine will quickly be absorbed by the ground however repeated use in the same area will create a saturation of smell that is extremely offensive, difficult to get rid of and may unsettle wildlife in the area. The odd urination behind a tree or in open spaces when travelling is not a problem however please consider that some places in Australia only receive rainfall for a few months each year - smells will linger until thoroughly washed away. Please consider where you urinate for the enjoyment of other visitors and also so you may return to enjoy it yourself next time.

If you are camping for a few days in the same bush camp with a group, then one extremely effective method is to dig a communal toilet pit at least 1 metre deep that can be filled in with plenty of fresh soil on top when you depart. Do not leave toilet paper in the hole however, as dingoes and other small animals will definitely dig it up and it becomes a disgusting mess. You must burn your toilet paper.

Burning of toilet paper for all bush toileting is very important. If you regularly use bush camps where toilets are not provided then we suggest you carry a basic toileting kit and educate your family how to appropriately prepare and leave the "hole". A gas lighter will fit nicely inside a roll of toilet paper - make sure your family members take both when they head off to dig a hole with the spade. Choose a place to dig where the soil is soft enough to get a hole to a decent depth (about 30-50cm), away from waterways, and clear of flamable materials. Gently clear a space to dig the hole, ensuring the area is free of leaves or dry grass with the spade if necessary (without damaging living shrubs or plants of course). When digging the hole, carefully place each shovelful of soil in a pile alongside the hole so that you can backfil when you're done. After you've done your business, take time to ignite the toilet paper (check again for no other flamable material nearby that could catch alight). Take the time to watch that all the toilet paper burns and that the fire is fully extringuished to ash before backfilling the hole with the soil that you had stockpiled. Pat the soil down hard again. Ideally it should be almost impossible to see where you've been if you've done it right. Everyone can learn this technique - kids included. If you aren't prepared to do this - take a porta-potty or camp only in areas where toilets are provided.

It is not surprising that many campgrounds are now requesting that campers bring their own porta-potties. In fact, some operators are not allowing access without a toilet and have units available for hire (such as at Ningaloo Station on the WA Coast). These porta-potties are similar to a boat toilet in that they are flushed using a hand-pump into a small storage unit and require a chemical activator to breakdown toilet waste into a slurry. If the solution you use is the environmentally friendly one, then you simply tip this waste into a hole every couple of days. If not using the environmentally friendly solution, you'll need to tip the slurry into a chemical toilet dump point (normally located in caravan parks). For only around $150 these are a practical, comfortable, and eco-friendly solution to solving the problem of bush toilet problems.

Driving Considerations

Trucks

When driving on Australian roads particularly in the outback, it is etiquette to consider larger vehicles and the difficulty they have with braking quickly. Trucks and farming vehicles use the roads to conduct their business and tourists should be respectful of this and provide plenty of warning if stopping/turning ahead of a truck.

Towing

If you are towing please consider that people travelling behind you may not enjoy driving in your dust if you are driving significantly slower than conditions would allow a regular vehicle to travel. It is much harder for them to pass in great clouds of dust so it is polite to pull over and STOP periodically to let them pass. Simply driving slowly in the dusty verge expecting them to pass is not good enough. This is often more dangerous as stones may be flicked up onto their windscreen or the dust could obstruct their view.

Other Considerations

Gates and Station Properties

Many roads cross station properties and have gates. The rule of the outback is to leave gates exactly as you find them, even if a sign says otherwise. Farmers sometimes let stock wander between paddocks and at other times require fencing be secure.

Permits

Obtaining permits is necessary for some tracks throughout Australia. These include areas managed by National Parks, Aboriginal Lands and the Australian Defence Force. Please read our Permits page for more information.

Regardless of whether you feel your permit will be checked or enforced, these permits are important. Some are free and are designed to assess the levels of tourism in the area for future management plans, others will incur a charge however you will usually receive useful trip planning information such as maps and booklets about the area.

Memories

Burke and Wills, Leichhardt, Landsborough and other early explorers carved their initials in trees to show where they had been. These records are part of our heritage and are protected for other visitors enjoyment. If you want a record of your visit to the outback, please use your camera and not a knife, spray paint or other means of graffiti.

The best way to record your visit is to use a marking pen to trace your path on a large map that you can have laminated as a keepsake of your adventures.

Travelling Solo

We advise the use of an HF radio - see Communications and joining the Australian National 4WD Radio Network. This non-profit organisation relays scheduled broadcasts such as daily weather and road condition reports. They take sellcalls from members to record your daily position and expected movements and can help arrange emergency help.

You should be proficient in the basic skills of administering First Aid and you should carry a well equipped first aid kit that suits the conditions you are likely to encounter in the Australian outback as well as your regular medications or emergency options if you are allergic to anything.

NOTE - it is no longer a requirement to notify police of your movements in remote areas. With the huge popularity of 4WDs and the common forgetfulness of people to reconfirm their arrivals many false alarms have been raised. The police now wish for travellers to be self-equipped with emergency radios, a CB and UHF as minimum and HF if travelling alone or in remote areas. Epirb's (sold here in The Adventure Shop) are another excellent safety device. Always let someone know your intended movements and ensure you confirm your arrival asap.

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