Selecting a Retreat Location in Australia, by Mike McD.

Saying that Australia is unique sounds clichéd but in so many ways it is true. It is the world’s largest island and the world’s smallest continent. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world and yet one of the world’s most heavily urbanised. It is the flattest, driest, least fertile inhabited continent on earth but which through modern agricultural practices is one of the world’s largest food producers. The list of its unique features goes on.

Selecting a retreat location in Australia requires this uniqueness be taken into account. Failure to do so will be fatal WTSHTF. Figure 1 Map of Australia


Population density and distribution

Australia is 2 941 299 sq miles {7 617 930 sq km} (approximately the size of the lower 48 states) with a population of 20 million giving it an average population density of around 6.7 per square mile {2.6 per square kilometre}. Obviously as in the case of the US this distribution of population isn’t even across the country. Figure 2 gives the distribution of Australia’s population at 30 June 2004. (Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Australia is heavily urbanised with 40% of its population living in just two cities – Sydney and Melbourne. When looking at the number of Australians who live in cities of 1 million or more (there are 5 – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth) we see that this rises to 60% or 12.3 million out of a population of 20 million. This heavy urbanisation means that outside the capital cities population density drops dramatically.

In the state by state breakdowns, density figures are given including and excluding the capital city.

In the event of TEOTWAWKI, the south-eastern coastal region of the mainland will become a seething mass of humanity fleeing the major cities. The Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane will become the Highway of Death as the Golden Horde heading north out of Sydney meet the Golden Horde fleeing south from Brisbane. Similarly the roads and regions between Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne will suffer from the effects of two or more Golden Hordes meeting.

Outside these densely populated areas the country is vast and lacking in infrastructure. It is possible to travel 1000 miles (or more) in a straight line without once crossing a sealed road. A number of rough dirt tracks cross these empty regions however travelling these in anything less that a well prepared 4WD is foolhardy in the extreme. Every year deaths occur when the unprepared attempt to cross these regions.


In the driest inhabited continent access to water is the number one consideration in selecting a retreat location. The average annual rainfall over 80% of the continent is below 24 inches {600 millimetres (mm)} per year, and below 12 inches {300mm} over 50%. The average annual rainfall is shown in Figure 3.

Australia’s rainfall pattern is strongly seasonal in character, with a winter rainfall regime in parts of the south, a summer regime in the north and generally more uniform or erratic throughout the year elsewhere.

Drought is common in Australia and climate change looks set to make periods of drought longer and more severe. The effects of prolonged drought and the resulting pressures on the remaining water supplies by nearby population clusters need to be taken into account.

Artesian (bore) water is available in parts of the interior however this will be the only source of water.

In terms of population and rainfall, the tropical north of Australia and south-western Tasmania would seem good locations. There are of course a number of other considerations that need to be taken into account before deciding on a retreat location.

Most of the continent receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, or nearly 70% of the total possible. In central Australia and the mid-west coast of Western Australia, totals slightly in excess of 3,500 hours occur. Totals of less than 1,750 hours occur on the west coast and highlands of Tasmania, which is the equivalent of only 40% of the total possible per year.

In southern Australia, the duration of sunshine is greatest about December when the sun is at its highest elevation, and lowest in June when the sun is lowest. In northern Australia, sunshine is generally greatest over the period August to October prior to the wet season, and least over the period January to March during the wet season.

Natural Hazards


Australia sits in the middle of a tectonic plate and thus lacks major fault lines as is the case along the west coast of the North and South America. Intra-plate earthquakes do sometimes occur such as the 1989 Newcastle earthquake (5.6 on the Richter scale) which killed 13. Although earthquakes do not rate highly as a hazard in Australia, the earthquake history of a retreat area should be researched and sensible precautions be made.


There are no active or dormant volcanoes in Australia. The last volcanic activity occurred over 4500 years ago.

Thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes

Thunderstorms are most frequent over northern Australia with high frequencies (30 to 50 per year) also occurring over the eastern uplands of New South Wales. Some parts of southern Australia receive fewer than 10 thunderstorms per year, with eastern Tasmania receiving fewer than 5. Through most of Australia thunderstorms are more common during the warmer half of the year, but along the southern fringe they also occur in winter as a result of low-level instability in cold air masses of Southern Ocean origin.

Some thunderstorms can become severe, with flash flooding, large hail and damaging winds. These storms can be very destructive. The Sydney hailstorm of 1999, in which hailstones up to 3.5 inches {9 centimetres (cm)} in diameter were observed, was Australia’s most costly natural disaster, with losses estimated at $1.7b.

While thunderstorms in general are most common in northern Australia, the most damaging thunderstorms, in terms of hail and wind gusts, occur in the eastern halves of New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Tornadoes are also associated with severe thunderstorms, although they do not occur with the same frequency or severity as can occur in the United States of America. As tornado paths are narrow it is rare, but not unknown, for them to strike major population centres, with notable examples occurring in Brighton (Melbourne) in February 1918, the southern suburbs of Brisbane in November 1973, and several Perth suburbs in May 2005.


During most years, snow covers much of the Australian Alps above 4800 feet {1,500 metres (m)} for varying periods from late autumn to early spring. Similarly, in Tasmania, the mountains are covered fairly frequently above 3200 feet {1,000m} in those seasons. The area, depth and duration of snow cover are highly variable from year to year. These areas can experience light snowfalls at any time of year. Small patches of snow can occasionally persist through summer in sheltered areas near the highest peaks, but there are no permanent snowfields.

Snowfalls at lower elevations are more irregular, although areas above 1900 feet {600m} in Victoria and Tasmania, and above 1,000 metres in the New South Wales highlands, receive snow at least once in most winters, as do the highest peaks of Western Australia’s Stirling Ranges. In most cases snow cover is light and short-lived. In extreme cases, snow has fallen to sea level in Tasmania and parts of Victoria, and to 650 feet {200m} in other parts of southern Australia, but this is extremely rare. The only major Australian cities to have received a significant snow cover at any time in the last century are Canberra and Hobart, although Melbourne experienced a heavy snowfall in 1849, and there are anecdotal reports of snowflakes in Sydney in 1836.


Heavy rainfall conducive to widespread flooding can occur anywhere in Australia, but is most common in the north and in the eastern coastal areas. There are three main flood types:

* flash floods, which are generally localised and often emanate from severe thunderstorms.

* short-lived floods lasting a few days that occur in shorter coastal streams, and inundate the natural or modified flood plain. These are the most economically damaging floods, affecting the relatively densely-populated coastal river valleys of New South Wales and Queensland (e.g. the Burdekin, Brisbane, Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay, Hunter and Nepean-Hawkesbury valleys), and the major river valleys of the tropics. While these floods are chiefly caused by summer rains, they can occur in any season. Floods of similar duration also occur in Tasmania, Victoria (particularly rivers draining the north-east ranges) and the Adelaide Hills, although in these latter regions they are more common in winter and spring.

* long-lived floods of the major inland basins. These floods usually arise from heavy summer rains in inland Queensland and New South Wales, and move slowly downstream, some ultimately draining into the lower Murray-Darling system or towards Lake Eyre. Floods of this type can take several months to move from the upper catchments to the lower Darling or to Lake Eyre. They often cover an extensive area and gradually disappear through a combination of seepage into the sandy soils and evaporation; it is only occasionally that floodwaters of Queensland origin actually reach Lake Eyre. Floodwaters can also cover large areas in situ when heavy rains occur in a region of uncoordinated drainage such as much of western and central Australia.


Under adverse weather conditions, bushfires in Australian eucalyptus forests cannot be stopped and often destroy homes and settlements which border such areas. Huge amounts of flammable eucalyptus vapour, transpired from leaves, create fireballs which often engulf the forest upper storey ahead of the main fire-front. South-eastern Australia has the greatest wildfire hazard in the world. Large bushfires burn until stopped naturally by rain or lack of fuel, which may be weeks after ignition.
In the event of a breakdown in law and order, a retreat in the bushland that surrounds major population centers (such as the Blue Mountains on the western edge of Sydney) would become a death trap as every fire bug with a match would come out to play.


Post-TEOTWAWKI, the risk posed by the profusion of deadly snakes, spiders, and sea life that can be found throughout the country needs to be taken into account. The current low death rates can be attributed to the wide availability of anti-venene and modern medical treatments, both of which will be non existent post TEOTWAWKI.

In the tropical north the saltwater crocodile is a threat to both man and livestock. The ban on hunting has seen their numbers explode across the north. If your retreat is located in croc territory, arming yourself with knowledge (and sufficient firepower) will go a long way to improving your chances at survival.

One less obvious animal danger is the one posed by wounded kangaroos and emus. Normally kangaroos and emus make use of their great speed to get themselves out of danger, preferring flight to fight. But if wounded or cornered, their powerful kicks and large clawed feet can easily be fatal. I have seen a wounded kangaroo gut a pair of pit-bulls like fish, and there have been recorded fatalities when people failed to respect the danger these animals can pose.

Manmade Hazards

Gun Laws

It is possible (with some considerable hoop jumping) to own guns in Australia, however you are generally limited to bolt action rifles/shotguns, lever action/pump action riles, and single/double barrel shotguns. To the general public semi auto rifles/shotguns and pump action shotguns are prohibited. Likewise, handguns are strictly controlled with prohibitions on calibre (under 9mm), magazine capacity, barrel length, and what they can be used for (target shooting only) to name a few.

Australian gun laws will only get worse as the main political parties have stated their desire to reduce the number of guns in the community with total elimination the final goal.

Area: 668,206 square miles {1,730,648 square kilometres} (rank 2 of 7).
Population: 3,977,100 (2005).
Capital: Brisbane 1,810,900
Population Density:
Including capital city- 5.95 per square mile [2.30 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 3.24 per square mile [1.25 per square kilometre] (Rank 4 of 7).
Pluses: Good climate (temperate to tropical), high rainfall in the tropical north, low population density beyond the south-east corner.
Minuses: Tropical north hazards (cyclones and crocodiles), close proximity of Cape York to Papua New Guinea (potential for a large influx of illegal immigrants), low rainfall in the south-west, high population density in south-eastern corner.

New South Wales
Area: 309,129 square miles {800,642 square kilometres} (rank 5 of 7).
Population: 6,768,900 [2005].
Capital: Sydney 4,254,900
Population Density:
Including capital city- 21.90 per square mile [8.45 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 8.13 per square mile [3.14 per square kilometre] (Rank 5 of 7).
Pluses: temperate climate along the coastal regions.
Minuses: high population density along the coast, the potential for two or more Golden Hordes meeting along the north coast and south-east regions, extremely high bush fire danger (especially after the breakdown of law and order), lack of reliable water supply west of the Great Dividing Ranges.

Area: 87,874 square miles {227,594 square kilometres} (rank 6 of 7).
Population: 5,023,200 (2005).
Capital: Melbourne 3,634,200
Population Density:
Including capital city – 57.21 per square mile [22.09 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city – 15.82 per square mile [6.11 per square kilometre] (Rank 7 of 7).
Pluses: good rainfall across much of the state, good land fertility.
Minuses: high population density (massive Golden Horde potential), extremely high bush fire danger.

Area: 26,409 square miles {68,401 square kilometres} (rank 7 of 7).
Population: 485,700 (2005).
Capital: Hobart 203,600
Population Density:
Including capital city- 18.39 per square mile [7.10 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 10.68 per square mile [4.12 per square kilometre] (Rank 6 of 7).
Pluses: high rainfall across the state, good land fertility, low bushfire potential, isolation from the mainland, large percentage of wilderness.
Minuses: high population density, cold climate (by Australian standards), isolation from the mainland (isolation can be a double edged sword).

South Australia
Area: 379,724 square miles {983,482 square kilometres} (rank 4 of 7).
Population: 1,542,100 (2005).
Capital: Adelaide 1,129,300
Population Density:
Including capital city- 4.06 per square mile [1.57 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 1.09 per square mile [0.42 per square kilometre] (Rank 3 of 7).
Pluses: low population density.
Minuses: lack of water across the state (South Australia is the driest state in the driest country).

West Australia
Area: 976,790 square miles {2,529,875 square kilometres} (rank 1 of 7).
Population: 2,011,000 (2005).
Capital: Perth 1,477,800
Population Density:
Including capital city- 2.06 per square mile [0.79 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 0.55 per square mile [0.21 per square kilometre] (Rank 2 of 7).
Pluses: very low population density, good rainfall in south-western corner, high rainfall in the tropical north, isolation from the east coast of the country (1000 miles of desert between Perth and Adelaide provides a buffer zone few could/would try to cross WTSHTF), temperate climate in the south-west.
Minuses: lack of water across much of the state, Golden Horde potential in south-west corner, proximity of the tropical north to Indonesia, cyclones and crocs in the north.

Northern Territory
Area: 520,901 square miles {1,349,129 square kilometres} (rank 3 of 7).
Population: 203,400 (2005).
Capital: Darwin 111,800
Population Density:
Including capital city- 0.39 per square mile [0.15 per square kilometre]
Excluding capital city- 0.18 per square mile [0.07 per square kilometre] (Rank 1 of 7).
Pluses: extremely low population density, high rainfall in the north during the wet season.
Minuses: cyclones, crocs, proximity to Indonesia/East Timor, restricted travel during the wet season in the north, lack of water during the dry season in the north and year round in the south.