The journey home from the Arctic – well almost! An odyssey in itself.

So… my fellow Almanacers!!! I thought it was time to tap away on the laptop and let people know what has transpired the last few days…


Upon leaving the community of Fort McPherson ( high up above the Arctic circle in the western arctic of the North west territories of Canada) on last Saturday morning (Canadian time) I enjoyed the trip of 253 km to Inuvik with a driver Brian ( a mid-30s Gwit’Chin man) who was happy to get to talk to the Aussie (who he heard so much about) over the last 8 months or so. It was great to have closure with an indigenous bloke from the area as we laughed and talked about all the wonderful experiences I had had in the area. Happily laughing and telling each other tall stories as we drove through the snow and ice across frozen rivers and just enjoying the process – he was glad for me to be going home and it was good to connect with a fellow human as I readied myself for the trip ahead.


Once arriving in Inuvik, I was so thankful for just seeing a couple of families who I had got to know in my time in the North. The incredible way of saying goodbye to my line manager through the front window of his house in snow in Inuvik gently tapping the glass with a virtual fist pump and a smile was just surreal as I said goodbye to the Arctic. He was just so encouraging and appreciative of my time in the north I have made a lifelong friend there for sure. Of meeting another family who let me stay in their spare room – whose young toddlers call me uncle Rich and saying goodbye as the mercury plummeted during the clear Saturday morning.


Clutching some really dodgy black coffee before I knew it I was Flying out on a 737 out of Inuvik with the other 4 passengers – it felt like -44 C was freezing as we took off in a snow storm that had rolled in on cue as if to remind me of the rugged nature of living in the this harsh yet beautiful land of the North. I then spent the next 2 hours gazing down on the incredible frozen tundra with its millions of lakes, the patterns of ice and snow swirled by an incessant blowing of an Arctic wind just truly mesmerising to say the least.


Having the experience of going through the first of many of security checkpoints (in Yellowknife) – where a young Canadian bloke from southern Ontario held the plane up. You see…. he had a piece of a weapon (the bolt of his .270 hunting rifle) in his carry-on luggage and was about as dangerous as a piece of metal could be really I thought to myself – the police officer said if it had been an auto part there would have been no issue ( I guess you could kill someone with a shock absorber) … How ironic in this day and age that it has come to this ….the upshot of this amusing yet serious episode was that it delayed our plane an hour and half and I made 4 new friends including the said hunter who was nice guy and they now follow my Instagram!!


I was so thankful to the two air hostesses whilst we were parked on the Tarmac ( in spite of the security concerns …not!!!) at Yellowknife allowed me to go back out on the steps (it was 32 C below) and take some photos of a Canadian Air force C 17 giant of a plane taking off in a maelstrom of snow kicked up by its huge turbines. It was great sight to see in the frigid sunshine.


Before we knew it (I have fallen asleep) we were flying into Edmonton looking down through the snow flurries the 10 people preparing for landing on the 737 sparsely spread out looking down on a wet slushy city with me.


Talking of guns, It was so quiet ( it was such a contrast to the Edmonton airport of 8 months earlier) you could have shot a shot gun down the arrival hall in Edmonton International airport and not hit a person when I collected my bags at the luggage carousel.


Then off to a hotel to stay for two nights it was minus 9 Celsius as my Ethiopian cab driver Ahmed asked,


“Where are you off to?” – I replied to him, “Australia mate,” to which he said,


“Why would want to go to Europe stay in Canada it’s so much safer!!”


“No Australia not Austria you know where kangaroos are from,” I replied thinking of those corny real estate ads Big Arnie Schwarzenegger had done a few years ago.


“Oh right” he said still not really understanding me I’m sure.


I then settled in for two nights in my new digs a one room apartment with a separate toilet bathroom and a huge king size bed. When I get home I’ll have to get used to sharing a smaller queen size double bed, knowing that I will fighting with two cats and a now almost 2 year old boxer dog named Rosie for room to get some sleep not to mention my wife!!


One of the highlights of the trip home has been so far, the quite incredulous event of having to walk through the drive through lane at Wendy’s 500m from the hotel ( there was no room service at the hotel) wandering behind a car in which a young lady was trying to ignore this crazy Australian smiling like a Cheshire cat in her rear vision mirror who was pretending to be driving a car was fantastic and made me laugh on the inside.


I was obeying the fact that there was a sign saying pedestrian customers please use the pick-up window to order. I duly ordered my bacon double cheeseburger combo feeling absolutely freezing even though it was nowhere as cold as in the north of the country of which I had spent just over 7 months. The whole area was covered with wet slushy snow with patches of ice on the roads and the fact that I thought I didn’t need to wear my long johns under my RM Williams pants was a major mistake as my legs felt they would snap off at any moment.


The look on the young guy’s face was one of shock when he heard my accent and that he had to ask me twice what I would like to order not understanding my accent.


I joked, “do you like my set of wheels it’s a 1998 Ford Falcon!!”


“Pardon me,” he politely interjected, “was that extra ketchup with your fries,” completely displaying a non-presence of the sense of humour I was trying to engender with the unique situation I found myself in.


As I was eating in my absolutely alfresco setting whilst it was blowing a gale I saw my first ducks flying their V formation high up in the Alberta gloom – it was 9-00pm at night – they no doubt were heading north unaware of the pandemic that has affected the whole planet as they head up to enjoy their summer break going to lay eggs in an area where I had just flown from.


And then out of the corner of my eye as I was trudging back I saw the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen – it was snow white fluffy and furry and just hopping around the snow-covered field enjoying life before it dodged the cars trying to stay alive while avoiding the big V8s screaming along the avenue past the local Costco super store ( it looked just like the one just opened in Ipswich last year ) and went back into its burrow on the edge of the car park. The unique and ironic thing was that in seven months or so in the heart of the Arctic wilderness I never really saw any wild animals except for the occasional fox and here I was in the heart of Edmonton and I see one.


Yes this is a sporting website so here’s where I place my one sporting reference – I then for several enjoyed for several hours (until 1am in the morning) a replay of a Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals rematch replayed by TSN from 2015. This was the year when the Jays had the team to win it all. I watched as the likes of Josh Donaldson, Hose Bautista, Edwin Encarcion, Sanchez Troy Tulowitzski, Kevin Pillar and other big names strutted their stuff at the Rogers Centre setting the crowd wearing T shirts and enjoying a balmy Toronto afternoon.


The next day it was time to commence the next leg of my big trip home halfway across the planet, Raj at the hotel front desk (originally from Hyderabad) wishes me good luck as he orders my free personal shuttle bus to the airport.


Arriving at the airport after unloading my luggage, I get completely blindsided by the rotating doors at the front of the airport like a solid Steve “blocker” Roach tackle as my cart with my big bags loses its balance and the door swings around knocking the cart and I flying.


I curse under my breath trying to navigate this difficult obstacle with the cart with typical “Coles or Woolies” standard wheels making it impossible to control. Eventually I’m through after several attempts not before a security guard no doubt chuckling under his breath comes to my aid. It made me think of that TV show from the 80s early 90s It’s a knockout where teams had to avoid obstacles or end up in the swimming pool with Billy J Smith ( of Rugby League Channel 10 Brisbane commentating with Darrel Eastlake like fervour) yelling, “Oh there goes another competitor what a beauty,” as he laughed at someone’s misfortune making sure the ratings stayed high with the hype.


I now found myself on the short hop from Edmonton along with about 15 others spread out in the Air Canada air bus A 320. As we took off into a huge bank of snow laden cloud, I thought I would never see any scenery and then after about 40 minutes of flying a caught a sudden glimpse of a rocky crag sticking its ahead above the cumulus …. I got to see for the first time the mighty Rocky Mountains – I even was able to see the town of Kamloops. This was so cool for me as a lover of maps, Geography and just the curiosity of understanding where places are on this planet. I love being able to work just where I am by looking at the shape of the valley’s mountain ranges etc from 37 000 ft up just so much fun to do and then I could confirm my diagnosis by consulting the moving map on the back of the headrest in front of me just pure magic.


It was a pleasant diversion from all the drama that is enveloping the planet right now. Just life giving and empowering as a I looked down on the fantastic chain of mountains looming below.


Then for me I knew I was in Canada finally, when I saw in the rivers around the metropolitan area of Vancouver, Log jam after log raft sitting in the water waiting to be turned into wood . It reminded me of that great 60s early 70s show about a BC family living a log filled river I think it was called “the Beachcombers” – all I remember it that they had a float plane that they used to tie up out side the house on the river bank when it was time for dinner ( or supper as they say in Canada) and they enjoyed the beauty of the rivers and the mountains all around.


Arriving in British Columbia and then being told by the airport officials not by the airline that we would only be served light meals – meant that the intending passengers for Australia began this game of find a shop that was open walking around the ghostly Vancouver airport ( 90 % of the shops were closed) looking for decent coffee.


I found a foot long from Subway to supplement the food eventually given by the flight staff which comprised a small chicken wrap and 2 tiny bottles of water for the 15 hours of silence across the huge expense of the mighty Pacific. We swapped numbers and messenger names so we could communicate knowing we would be isolated in a Sydney Hotel for the next fortnight upon arrival.


There were about 40 of us on the pride of Seattle engineered Boeing 777 Dreamliner making our way back to Oz.


After a sleepless uncomfortable journey of 15 and half hours I looked out and saw the beginning of April, the bright orange contrasting with the indigo hue of space above the plane as we flew at 540 knots ever closer to the smell of gum leaves.


Before I knew it, we were on our final approach and I was greeted with the vison of the terracotta coloured Sydney basin sandstone cliffs of the Royal National Park looming on the left of the plane. It reminded me of the feeling that Bomber Command crews must have felt returning shot up from a yet another sortie over the flak filled skies of Europe looking for those white cliffs of Dover. Then with my mind racing thinking of all the history that has happened in this part of Australia as we flew over the Cook memorial at Kurnell we were with a gentle bump on the runway back on Aussie soil.


I got to see the last QANTAS 747 Jumbo having flown the last flight just 2 days before sitting forlornly on the tarmac along with a moth balled (barely run in) A 380 and a host of other flying Kangaroos waiting for this crisis to end. All of the Air Canada crew were on their last to second last flight and were all going to be laid off within the week. They had all volunteered to do this last handful of flights across the Pacific to make Aussies and Canadians going the other way could get home.


Then as we waited in the plane for the all clear and the air conditioning was turned off the windows filled with the resultant condensation. We looked around taking off layer after layer as we started to sweat our bodies conditioned to the harsh Canadian winter we had endured – the reality of Australia filling our nostrils before we had even got off the Boeing.


And then after 40 minutes or so (one at a time) we walked guided by yellow security tape stuck on the floor through back alley ways and passages in the giant edifice temple to Tourism that is Kingsford Smith International Airport. I was part of this ramshackle humble group of Air Canada passengers to become the latest people who have conquered the expanse of the Pacific like it’s famous name sake who flew the three engine southern Cross or the “ole Bus” as Smithy called his faithful sturdy Fokker back in 1929.


Staggering in a Jetlagged haze our spirits were lifted as we were greeted by at least 20 different people (some sporting welcome to SYD T shirts kind of like a tribute to those “Choose Life” bold font George Michael shirts of the 80s ) young grunts in their army cams saying hi, grizzled greying security people with about 5 tags hanging around their saying welcome home, ladies with a smile offering us bottled water, moustachioed seasoned police officers saying hi G’day as they busied themselves with a clip board full of information in their left hand.


We then lined up to have our temperature checked, it was so hot and stuffy inside the room we were in (yes I was sweating profusely so subsequently I was worried that it would affect the reading but “no your temperature is fine” the young light green bio suit clad nurse said– we then were directed by more floor mounted tape to an “X marks the spot” on the floor to then conduct our short interview with a nurse checking where I had been for the last 10 days.


After that hurdle and more checking, we then signed our declaration cards before going for another 300m walk to get our bags at the carousel with yet more greetings from a couple of tough tattooed security guards … then on to customs … to declare my treasured muskrat fur hat given by a Gwitchin hunter back in October (which was duly inspected and passed to my relief)… to then finally be able to get closer to being outside followed by even more people who said G’day all of them looking me in the eye and being genuine in their concern for our plight.


Given all the stuff that has been in the news about the lack of scrutiny across the world this was really pleasing for me to see that the Government is finally taking seriously this health crisis and that in spite of all the extra steps I couldn’t be a prouder Aussie going through the process.


As I breathed in the Sydney water laden air through my surgical mask a young army bloke said, “Hey mate can I help you with your bags?” – that simple gesture bought tears to my eyes …at least people were trying to help us “in the now” knowing the burden of isolation on our own that lay ahead.


Then we were herded onto the series of buses, the drivers all equipped with masks so we couldn’t see that knowing smile – we were spread out socially distanced within the bus with a burly security guy holding court in the front half of the bus placing security tape all around the front of the bus. We all then as curious passengers hypothesised and began to wonder where we were going to end up.


We all thought of the options of the impending accommodation as we drove along the eastern distributor –would it be the Hilton? the Star? – we had heard rumours of people being put up in 5 Star hotels in the centre of Sydney.


The Bus turned down Macquarie street heading north for the Circular Quay region ah we are going into the city …


Then after waiting for an hour on a (by now particularly uncomfortable) hot humid bus we were processed one at a time into the hotel just a short well struck nine iron shot from Circular Quay.


Helping carrying my bags I was escorted by a Canberra Raiders fan (who looked about 20 years old at the most) in his camouflaged army uniform, proudly wearing his Aussie symbolic slouch hat the rising sun glinting in the down lights of the hotel corridor in the air conditioned atmosphere.


On floor 27 the door to the lift opened “Here we are mate” he exclaimed excitedly. He shuffled my bags along the corridor and opened my door saying “enjoy your stay” with an ironic grin.


Then clunk!!!! the door shut behind me – official letters were then placed under my door with the printed-out threat of a 11000 dollar fine hanging over me if I decide to even venture out in the other world into the hall.


Now as a guest at the pleasure of the Australian Government for the next 14 days or so, I am literally above the actual spot ( on the site of the Tank Stream) where people of my cultural background 232 years ago were also guests of His Majesty’s Government for 14 years – their criminal minds no doubt full of the uncertainty of what the future held in this strange land and with its harsh hot winters, thunderstorms that come and go quickly, bugs that bite, giant rats that hop and no beautiful soft grass of Ireland or England to lay down on. Their accommodation also surrounded by military types holding sway of influence. No doubt as they were ensconced in their canvas tents in the Aussie hot sun their minds would be wondering what the future would hold for their lives that have been turned upside down whilst “down under”.


How ironic that I am now in exactly in the same situation having come across the sea not knowing what will happen day to day with the threat of financial penalty or incarceration should I break the rules. At least I won’t have the pleasure of having the cat of 9 tails available for discipline if I should cross that line.


Therefore, as my ongoing odyssey has unfolded with so many twists and turns having being in a raw cold but breathtaking “aurora borealis lit” wonderland in the far north of the Arctic Tundra to then having a tease of the sight of the mighty Rockies below my airliner as it was winging its way west to Vancouver I now am faced with a new reality.


I now find myself in a kind of purgatory, looking out over buildings at the bottom end of George St including the Australia Square Tower (where this time last year I gave my fingerprints as part of the work permit visa process to get to Canada) which now seems like a lifetime ago. Now I am so near and yet so far realising that that I am still a 12-hour drive away from Bris Vegas surviving in an uncertain yet certain in-between place between heaven and hell awaiting the final judgement. The big question is “How will I adjust?”


What will Australia be like post Pandemic? – how will the economy deal with this issue what will happen with my job? How long will this happen for? What about overseas?


Will newfound positive attitudes to the environment (post fires) be threatened by what has happened in the last 6 weeks? Will self-interest raise its head as more toilet paper disappears from the shelf or will true community rise up and deal with the presenting challenge. Fox Sports (thank god I have it in my room) has been playing ads saying that we are all in this together – lets hope so for the planet’s sake that we truly demonstrate this that we find the good in humanity and in each other!!


The bush fire crisis seems like a lifetime ago and yet its only 3 months since Australia was on its knees coping with a major crisis and I was online above the Arctic circle (in my heated little Batchelor pad cacoon in a minus 47 degree world) looking a fire spread maps and staying touch with family through the miracle of technology.


And then before I knew it, I was alone in a room – it’s now early Day 4 ( 4 40 am in the morning to be precise) in my enforced sojourn and I’m beginning to get used to the fact that I am apart (for yet more time) from my loved ones. How Ironic is it, that I go from a one room apartment with a separate toilet bathroom in the Western Arctic of Canada to the same accommodation in Australia (one room apartment with a separate toilet bathroom) using the power of the internet to converse – sitting at the only desk with one comfy chair and a bed in my little Monastic cell of grace.


Due to the global nature of communication I may as well be 12000 km away not just a 12-hour drive away from home but hey I’m in Australia which is wonderful to say the least.


So, what does the immediate future hold?


Writing sorting out my photos


Do some editing reading


Working on my website to update it


I Realise that this an opportunity to slowly transform back to the country of my birth and take this as an opportunity to reflect and write enjoy my own company ( which is hard for an extravert I can tell you!!!) – which is exactly and kind of what I have been doing for the last 8 months


“Another few weeks isn’t Gonna kill ya Rich,” I say to myself quietly…


I have lived in a setting for the past 8 months without a range of shops ( just a Co-op ) no coffee shops, no pubs and hotels ,no restaurants of any kind, no take away, no newsagents, no community hall, no sporting facilities that are open, no pharmacies ,no movie theatres, parks to walk in, family , etc so what’s new?


To me, it brings into focus that being a consumer is not the thing that makes us happy but rather good relationship, honesty with ourselves and the chance to see that the little yet so important things of being loved accepted and not being pushed to consume are more important than the latest fashion or fad or food that is sweeping the world


I have realised as the sober in the country website (what a great initiative) has proclaimed,


“That I am not stuck but safe.”


The arrival of a comfort pack courtesy of my brother was just so… so life lifting I cried with excitement like a kid getting the Christmas present out of Santa’s sack at 5 o’clock in the morning – just the process of eating my first mint slice biscuit in 8 months was truly the most satisfying taste sensation for ages – reminding me that the little things are what make life bearable!!!


The one thing I am really going to find hard is not having fresh air – I can’t wait to literally lie on the grass in my back yard, scratch my dogs tummy and smell beautiful humid Queensland fresh air without having to worry about the process of running through the inevitable check list to go outside.


Mmmm,      now what do I need?


Have I put on my long johns?


Undershirt on?


Checking I have my neck warmer.


Have I got my gloves?


Snow Pants?




All in order to enjoy the Arctic outdoors.


More to come ….a lot more


Going to enjoy Fox footy recall of past great games should be cool to watch.


Having a chance to stop before the inevitable next hurdles t arrive that I will have to surmount.


But at least I am safe, and I can talk to my loved ones.


Good to be in Australia.



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About Richard Marlow

a humble middle-years teacher in a “middle of the road” private school in Brisbane having being a pastor, a youth worker, a school chaplain, a bank johnnie – 3 different banks, worked in Jails, driven a cab and been in bands amongst other things.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    What a trip Richard! Got to be a book there!

  2. Mark Duffett says


  3. Peter Fuller says

    Wonderful narrative, Richard. Given that the trip home was such an adventure, you’ll have stories for a lifetime from the year’s experience.
    Good luck on your forthcoming release.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    It’s good to know that you are back safely Richard.

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