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Snake Bite at Oberon Bay: A Lesson in Preparedness

As the sun began its downward progress on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late October, a group of 10 enthusiastic bushwalkers from Bayside Bushwalking Club found their dinner preparations interrupted by a dramatic rescue mission at Oberon Bay, Wilsons Promontory. 

Word had made it to the group that a day walker had been bitten by a snake.   Without hesitation, the group grabbed their snake bandages and rushed to the edge of the beach on the grassy verge, to find the unfortunate victim, on the ground being cared for by his friend.  Another camper had already put two compression bandages around his foot and ankle, and club members wrapped two snake bandages around his leg up to his thigh, and encouraged him to stay still until help arrived.  As luck would have it, his friend had mobile coverage and was talking to emergency services.  If that had not been the case, the group from BBC carried both a PLB and 2 Garmin InReach devices to call for help.  Luckily they weren’t needed at this location.  

After about 30 minutes a Parks Victoria Ranger arrived and they waited for two paramedics to arrive about a half hour later, with another ranger in a second four door ute.  Apparently the ambulance could not drive down the very sandy track to Oberon Bay.

Given the patient was not showing any symptoms, a helicopter was not called in.  But unfortunately the paramedics did not have a stretcher.  The bushwalkers gave the professionals some space to let them take care of the situation, but about 20 minutes later, they got a call for some strong arms to help shift him about 50 metres up to the ute.  The paramedics and rangers had put a thin plastic sheet under him and the plan was to drag him on the ground to the clearing near the toilets and tanks.  BBC club members  lifted the sheet at his leg end, making sure his bandaged leg was kept still all the time.  After about 30 metres, one of the paramedics needed a break and the rangers took over the head end.  They had to drag him over sand, rocks, tree roots and grass, it was certainly a challenge, and 50m felt like a very long way.  He was then told to hop up and slide across the back seat of the ute. Which he did very sprightly, as it turned out he was a pilates instructor.  

The ute took him back to the ambulance on the Telegraph track and they were then planning to drive him to Wonthaggi Hospital, where they had snake antivenom and the ability to monitor him 24 hours a day.  (Apparently Foster hospital had antivenom, but could not do 24 hour care).

BBC club members received the following message from the patient’s friend in the early hours of Sunday morning: 

“Hi! Wanted to thank you again for today! We are still in the hospital, he really got bad when he was in the ambulance but now with the anti venom it’s getting better. He had venom in his system so thank you for your help! You guys did an amazing job (even the doctors said it) Have a great trip”

The crew from Bayside were so very pleased that they were there, and could help.  

Well done to the Bayside Bushwalking club members, he was very very lucky to have so many well prepared (and strong) bushwalkers on hand to help.

This incident serves as a crucial reminder of the challenges that can arise during bushwalking adventures, especially during snake season:

Vigilance During Snake Season.  October is in the thick of the snake season, and all walkers must remain vigilant, especially those exploring the Prom.  Watch the trail ahead of you, and anytime you step off the trail for a break, or a lunch stop, make sure you have a good look where you are putting your feet (or hands, they love warm rocks too).  

Know First Aid:  Whilst keeping your first aid certification up to date is the ideal (even better if you have remote first aid training), sometimes it’s impractical.  There are now smartphone apps that give you specific step by instructions for most first aid situations.  These apps can be downloaded onto your phone so that you can use them even if you don’t have mobile reception:  

Inclusion of Snake Bandages in First Aid Kits: Every bushwalker should carry snake bandages in their first aid kit as a crucial precaution.  You should always carry 2 snake bandages, more if in a group.

Do Not Move the Patient:  If a snake bite is suspected, the first treatment must always be to advise them not to move (unless they are in other danger).

Carrying a PLB or device to contact emergency services:  Not all parts of our wilderness has mobile coverage, so it’s important that you have a way to contact emergency services if you need to.  Read about using mobile phones, PLB’s and satellite tracking devices in the Bushwalking Victoria Bushwalking Manual:

Using your mobile phone to contact emergency services

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’S)

Satellite Tracking Devices with SOS (eg. Garmin inReach, Zoleo)

Be Prepared to Wait for Help:  It is important to understand that help is rarely immediate.  Emergency services need to triage your call, and plan how they will respond, frequently seeking assistance from multiple agencies.  Add in rough terrain, and accessibility challenges, it can take hours or more for help to arrive.

Be Prepared with clothing:  It’s easy to think it’s only a short walk, and the sun is out, I don’t need a jumper.  Always pack for the scenario where you need to sit still for multiple hours, waiting for help.  Make sure you always have a waterproof/windproof jacket and a mid layer (fleece or puffer).  It’s always a good habit to carry a space blanket, or even better, a space bag to put your whole body in to keep warm, they take up little space, and should be in your first aid kit.  

Join a Bushwalking Club:  If this all feels a bit daunting, find a local club to walk with.  As part of a club you can learn from experienced bushwalkers how to walk safely, how to prepare for a walk, discover new walks in new places, and make new friends.  Find a Club near you.

Safe trails and happy adventures to all!

Thanks to Jeff McDonell from Bayside Bushwalking Club for sharing the experience with us.