Bob Cooper has made a living out of keeping people alive in the outback.

Story By Fleur Bainger

Every year people perish in the outback, their vehicles bogged or broken down, and left as they search for help. Few people can understand why they wander off from their cars, often leaving water behind and stripping off clothing. Bob Cooper, who’s been in that position himself more than once, can explain it. “Fear overrides your rational thoughts,” he says. “They’ve just never thought about what to do if they were in that situation. It’s unrehearsed in your mind, let alone on the ground.”

After 30 years of honing his survival skills and teaching anyone from Joe Public to employees of the FBI, NASA and the Australian security forces, Bob has more than a few handy hints on staying alive in remote areas. He’s even stuck it out for 10 days in Western Australia’s Pilbara to prove that knowledge and a survival kit the size of a tub of butter can get you by. His slightly less difficult three-day outback survival course, run on a bush block near Perth and in forest areas around Dwellingup, arms participants with all the skills they’d need, should they ever find themselves stranded in a remote place.

“Tyre pressure and blood pressure are the two most important things to have right when you’re driving in the outback,” says Bob, as he greets participants and sidles up to a white board. With words and pictures, he explains that people tend to drive faster when they’re lost – both in the bush and the city – which can result in overheating or accidents, including getting bogged. In that case he advises letting your tyres down for 90 seconds, and if that doesn’t work, sit in the shade and make yourself a cup of tea. “The process is calming,” Bob says. “People forget that you’ve got time. There’s no need to panic or do anything immediately. It’s better to plan what to do next.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #65

Outback Magazine: June/July 2009