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Play your survival cards right

Wednesday, 18 March 2009 - Christine Feary

THE Australian outback is a place of great beauty and wealth, but it can also be a place of devastation. On average, two people die every year in the bush, while many others are found just in the nick of time. There are also those who disappear and are never found. By Christine Feary

Outback survival expert Bob Cooper.

In the past, bush survival courses have largely been left to experienced hikers or professional armed forces.

This is changing, with industries such as mining seeing a wider range of people move from the urban environment to the outback.

Survival expert Bob Cooper has spent decades learning how to fend for himself in the harsh conditions of the Australian outback, and now spends his time sharing his knowledge in the hope that it will save lives.

He has been running survival courses full time for 20 years, and has worked with mining companies including Newmont, Newcrest Mining and Iluka, as well as for organisations such as the FBI and Australian security forces.

Cooper said he has taken many exploration teams, mining contractors and visiting foreign specialists on his three-day survival courses.

However, he said survival skills are important for anyone who will be spending time in the outback.

"Certainly I think every person that's going to work or travel through remote areas of Australia should have some formal survival training, and that's to prevent a mishap turning into a disaster," Cooper said.

"It should be mandatory for visitors and people who've been brought up in the city and have no idea of the vastness, the problems with communication, and the fact that it may take days for someone to get to where you are."

The potential dangers of being stranded in the bush include lack of food and water, venemous snakes and spiders, and wild animals, however Cooper said the biggest danger is fear.

In many cases, Cooper said, those who die or get into serious trouble while stranded in the bush have everything they need to survive, including plentiful food and water supplies.

"If you don't know what to do it's really hard to organise a logical strategy, so you tend to let your emotions override the rational side of your brain," he said.

"We tend to do some silly things when we panic, like leave the vehicle and try to walk back to where you think help is."

By equipping yourself with knowledge about survival in the bush, Cooper said you will be able to overcome the fear that can prevent you from thinking clearly when you become stranded or lost in the bush.

“Whether you are lost in Kalamunda, facing political unrest, or in a difficult business situation, the same strategies apply,” Cooper said.

“If you can stop, control your thoughts and react as a survivalist then you can choose what to do first.”

Last week, Cooper launched the Mark III survival kit, a box about the size of a tub of butter that contains 30 items essential for survival.

While the items included in the kit cover the five basic priorities – water, warmth, signals, shelter and food – there are also sachets of tea and coffee and a pack of miniature playing cards.

Cooper said these “luxuries” are important for dealing with the psychological state of a person who is lost or stranded in the bush, which helps to prevent fear taking over.

Having a cup of hot tea or coffee offers comfort and reduces stress levels, giving a person time to think over the situation.

Meanwhile, the playing cards (which have survival tips emblazoned on their faces) help keep the mind active, guarding against depression, and can be used to fuel a fire if necessary.

Other items in the kit include two heavy-duty plastic bags for gathering water and protecting against the elements; alcohol wipes for any cuts and for use as fuel when lighting fires; a steel hacksaw blade and flint for lighting fires; a miniature compass; twine; a torch; a mirror; and stock cubes for making soup.

There is also space in the kit for extra items, so that it can be customised to individual requirements.

Cooper recommended consulting a doctor to find out the best things to include in the kit, such as antihistamine and any medications required.

Cooper’s top five tips for survival:

  • Be mentally prepared for changes to your plans that are out of your control – be rational, not emotional.
  • Carry a survival kit, and know how to use it. Take enough food and water for possible delays.
  • Drink when you are thirsty – sipping water does not prevent dehydration so ration your sweat, rather than your water. Stay in shade and limit physical activity to night time or the cooler parts of the day.
  • Notify someone reliable of your plans – have an action plan in place if you don’t return.
  • Take a registered emergency position indicating beacon (EPIRB) and up-to-date maps when travelling in the outback.

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