Category Archives: subject_intro

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On-track Navigation

Learning how to navigate along a pre-existing route

When you think about navigation, thick impenetrable scrub and vast empty wilderness spring to mind. But navigation is not only for off-track walking. It’s just as important when following established routes, that is, on-track walking. Unlike other parts of the world, not every route is signposted in the Australian bush! Also, routes fade, reform and change over time. Following a track, trail or path blindly can very quickly take you to somewhere completely different to where you intended.

Typical navigation decisions that bushwalkers face on established routes include:

  • “Do I take the right or left fork at the junction?”,
  • “Does the track continue on the other side of the creek now”, and
  • “Is this the last water source for 10km?”

On-track walking means using pre-existing ways to get from A to B. On-track navigation involves planning a route that links these ways together. By comparison, off-track navigation is where bushwalkers plan and walk their route without following established ways. Both types of navigation rely on following the plan, staying found and recognising reliable map features.

Famous on-track walks in and around Australia include: the Great North Walk, the Overland Track and the Larapinta Trail.


Bushwalking Etiquette

Being considerate to others in the bush

Etiquette is the invention of wise men to keep fools at a distance. Richard Steele

Different cultures around the world have wildly different customs to others, and sometimes when people go traveling outside their own cultural, they can go into cultural shock, a feeling of total confusion about how to act or behave. Some actions viewed as exceptionally rude in one culture are highly complementary in another. For example, in Japan it’s standard practice to slurp when eating a bowl of noodles, whereas it’s the height of rudeness in Britain. These examples highlight different cultural norms around the world.

Within any culture there are sub-cultures, and these too have customs, rituals and expectations. These practices form the expected etiquette of that community and can vary in place and time. These practices are often ingrained and followed unconsciously. Etiquette guidelines strongly reflect the culture they’re held in, and getting these unspoken expectations correct can make a big difference to how easy it is to feel accepted by that community.

The bushwalking community is a good example of an Australian subculture with its own set of unique etiquette. In the bush, while the core etiquette ideas are similar, clubs (and states) have their own expectations and unique culture. The point of this etiquette article is not to dictate a set of rules, but rather to provide guidelines. Etiquette isn’t about being right or wrong, but rather it’s about knowing what the expectations of that community are so that if people stray from the norm, they do so knowingly.

Bushwalking etiquette involves being considerate to others before, during and after the walk and includes people within the group as well as others on the track. The etiquette around bushwalking is all about respecting how other people want to experience natural places and taking care of each other on the track.

While a walk is usually organised by a single leader, it’s not up to one person to make the trip a success. It comes down to every single member of the group being well prepared, turning up with the right expectations and equipment, and being an inclusive, respectful and courteous participant. These ideas all highlight that the actions of an individual can dramatically impact upon others and this is the focus of this etiquette article.


Map Reading

An introduction to map reading

Maps are a fantastic resource to bushwalkers, and many love them for their simplistic detail. Maps can tell details as simply as the name of a road, right through to the side of a rock which a river flows past. An entire rescue operation can be planned and executed based on the knowledge of grid coordinates alone, and many people owe their lives to the wealth of information that users can extract from a simple map.

Learning to read a map is like learning a new language. Individual features are like words, and how the features are presented together create sentences. Being able to extract meaning from these sentences involves understanding what particular features represent, and putting them all together. This interpretation enables the reader to make sense of how the environment fits the map, and the map fits into the environment. Map reading is one step towards being able to navigate with confidence through the bush.


Personal Locator Beacons

What they are and why to carry them

The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are devices that transmit your location via satellite to emergency services. They are used in life-threatening situations to signal that emergency help is required (e.g. group is lost, someone is injured or very unwell), and usually only activate when other forms of two-way communication such as a phone call cannot be made (e.g. group is out of mobile phone reception). PLBs are an important safety backup for groups traveling through areas with poor or no mobile phone reception, and have been proven time and time again to be a life-saving device for bushwalkers.


Bites and stings

How to manage unexpected wildlife interactions

Don't let the same dog bite you twice. Chuck Berry


The terms ‘bite’ and ‘sting’ refer to when an animal or plant breaks the skin surface, potentially transferring germs or venom that can result in anything from a minor irritation to a severe medical condition.

We generally use the word ‘bite’ when it occurs with teeth (e.g. a dog bite), and sting when it occurs with another part of the body (e.g. a bee stings with a barbed stinger; a plant stings with tiny hairs on its leaves).

In the case of insect bites and stings, while both hurt, the difference in the two terms refers to whether any toxic venom is transferred. An insect bite occurs when the insect pierces the skin. Often the insect injects anticoagulant saliva so they can feed on your blood. By contrast, an insect sting is when the animal transfers toxic venom into your system, often as a defence mechanism.

While both can result in a pain, itchiness, or even an allergic reaction for some people, the causes are quite different. For an insect bite, our bodies are responding to the potential infection by the breakdown of the skin barrier and potential transfer of infectious agents from the insect (e.g. malaria transferred to humans via mosquito bites). For an insect sting, your body in addition to potential infection is dealing with a foreign toxic substance, that may have severe medical consequences. The same is true for spiders, although they are not if fact insects – a general misconception for many of us!

In the case of snakes, however, the term ‘bite’ can refer to both venomous and non-venomous attacks, however, for practical purposes all snakes bites are treated as venomous until proven otherwise.

And in the plant kingdom, ‘stinging’ plants have tiny needles that break off and lodge into the skin, causing extreme discomfort.

Having said all this, the chance of being bitten by a snake or spider on a bushwalk is relatively low. In Australia there are about 3,000 snake bites per year, of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom; on average one or two will prove fatal. By contrast, spider-related deaths are almost unheard of:although approximately 2000 people are bitten each year by Redback Spiders, there has only been 1 spider-related death since antivenoms for funnel web and redback spiders were developed in 1980s.

To put this in perspective, there were 1290 road crash deaths and fatal road crashes in Australia during only 2016 And in 2015, there were 45,392 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease in Australia.

While fatal outcomes of bites and stings by Australian wildlife is unlikely, nevertheless, it’s worth having the knowledge and skill set to deal with unexpected situations in the bush because emergency medical help is often delayed.

Although the likelihood of getting bitten, stung or scratched by an animal on a bushwalk by an animal that will envenomate (or similar) is fairly low, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce that risk further. The information here is based on current guidelines from the NSW Health Direct website.

Some general advice for avoiding wildlife bites, scratches and stings, and good for mozzies too!

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and closed-top shoes to cover up your skin and reduce the risk of bites.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles and leave wild animals be. Do not touch, corner or startle a wild animals, especially for the sake of a photo.
  • If you notice a wild animal, warn others in the group. If you can, wait for it to move off on it’s own accord or make a wide berth around the animal.
  • Insect repellant is great for preventing insect and leech bites.

DEET is an extremely effective way of avoiding insect bites including mosquito bites, and is particularly important in areas with known mosquito-borne diseases. The DEET (Diethytoluamide) chemical conceals us to insects by stopping the detection Carbon Dioxide, which we emit from our skin, a stimuli for blood feeding [note]Leslie, Mitch. “Hiding From Biting Insects in Plain Scent.” Science 319.5869 (2008): 1471-1471[/note].

The Department of Medical Entomology at the University of Sydney & Westmead Hospital released the following guidelines for using repellants:

  • DEET repellants = recommended, but in different strengths depending on situation.
  • Plant-based repellents = good, but need to be reapplied regularly.
  • Wrist-band and patch repellents = ineffective.

Always check the label before applying insect repellent for instructions on how to apply and how often to reapply, and test it first on a small patch of skin before applying fully.


Health direct is a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information:

Free app on to help identify and deal with bites and stings:

Resources at the Australian Museum website (e.g. spider bites and venoms)


Author of Marine Explorer and Ex-President of National Parks Association of NSW.

Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW

School of Life and Environmental Sciences | Faculty of Science
The University of Sydney

Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW


Using weather forecasts

What is ‘weather’ and does it differ to ‘climate’?

“Sunshine is delicious,
rain is refreshing,
wind braces us up,
snow is exhilarating;
there is really no such thing as bad weather,
only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

Weather forecasts are a handy tool for predicting future weather conditions and packing appropriate gear on a bushwalk. Knowing in advance if the trip will be particularly cool, hot, wet or dry means you can tweak your gear to best meet your needs.

In Australia, we are a land of extremes, from snow-capped peaks to arid desert conditions. Bushfire awareness is a key part of weather forecasting for us, as well as knowing when to pack warm clothes for Alpine conditions.

Of course, no weather forecast will ever be 100% reliable, but as technology improves, experts are better than ever before at predicting conditions. And technology like weather radars, maps and satellite images mean that you can get a fairly good idea into what to expect. Long-term datasets also enable walkers to select walks based on typical seasonal weather patterns so you can avoid (if you wish) camping out in the rainiest months of the year! As a general rule shorter term forecasts are more reliable than longer term forecasts. Forecast for the next 24hrs from a reputable source (such as BOM or NOAA) tend to be very reliable.

Dive into this topic by first learning more about weather and then how to check conditions before and during a bushwalk.