4x4

Outback Cop: book review and how not to become the next story

Outback Cop is a good book on three levels.

First, it’s a decent read, chronicling the life and times of a long-serving Birdsville policeman, Neale McShane. It’s warm, well-written and tells it like it is without resorting to dramatics.

Second, it gives the reader a good insight into Outback life; the people, the environment, the pace and everything else. Anyone thinking of living Outback should read it for this reason alone.

Third, and most importantly for this website, anyone heading Outback for a trip needs to read it for their own safety and that of others.

Many of the stories involve Officer McShane recovering travellers in trouble, and by the end of the book it’s pretty clear there’s a common thread to most of the rescues. 

As he says in the book, the usual cause of a crash is a single-vehicle rollover. The usual cause for stranding appears to be flat tyres, followed by boggings in sand. Not helping the situation are wandering well away from your intended course, being ill-prepared – minimal water, food, maps and general living equipment. It seemed to me that those least prepared were the ones who got into trouble.

Obviously you could write a book on this topic, but some quick pointers.

Use light-truck construction all-terrain pattern tyres with 50% or more tread. For dirt-road driving deflate by 5-10 psi or so and cut the speed to 80km/h or less depending on the conditions. Remember dirt roads lull you into a false sense of security for hours on end and then wham…well that was unexpected. Read our Tyre Buyer’s Guide.

Use suspension appropriate for your load, usually aftermarket, and keep the vehicle’s load low, central and within the GVM.

Put part-time 4WDs into 4WD and leave stability control on, you are not better than the electronics and they won’t get in the way at dirt-road cruising speed. Do not swerve for animals, rocks or potholes. If the car gets loose look well ahead where you want to go and steer in the direction you’re looking. This takes practice so find yourself a training course and learn it there. If the car is loose and sliding out of control a bootful of power will not help, you’ve lost traction already. For any corner, slow in fast out. You can easily choose to back off the power on the way out, but increasing the braking on the way may not be possible. A great anecdote is when Neale went too hot into a corner and rather than fight it he let the car run off the road. It happens. And Neale didn’t damage his car either.

Ensure you can change a tyre – not just your skills! Check the lugnuts aren’t on too tight, your jack works (take a flat plate in case the ground is soft) and ensure your spare tyre is in good condition (age, tread) and the same size as your other tyres. Do a complete test before you leave. Also carry a plug-in puncture repair kit, tyre pressure gauge and an air compressor. Consider taking a second spare too.

Sand – ensure your 4WD is set up properly for sand. Saying “put it in 4WD” is too simplistic with today’s vehicles. Read my book for a full explanation. Ensure your tyre pressures are dropped, take a shovel or two, and four traction tramps like Maxtrax. Do a sand driving course before you leave.

So much more to say – feel free to chime in with your own tips. But this book is a great read that deserves a place on your bookshelf. It’ll also make a great present for those considering an Outback trip. If they pay attention to the words, it could save their life.

https://penguin.com.au/books/outback-cop-9780143797302

Outback Cop

Evan McHugh and Neal McShane

9780143797302

Also available as an ebook.


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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper