Road ain’t what it used to be

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

ON MY book­ing form, the warn­ing: “Take bus or taxi in case of po­lar bears.” Maybe we should do the same, but ours could say: “Take bus or taxi to colder beers.” So I took the bus to the base camp trap­per’s hut, unique ac­com­mo­da­tion in Longyear­byen, Svarl­bard.

It’s the mid­dle of sum­mer, sun’s shin­ing, in fact it stays shin­ing for months, 24 hours a day ( talk about day­light sav­ing). Bloody hard to sleep if the cur­tains don’t make it all the way over the win­dow. Though in win­ter they have the Arc­tic night – no sun at all and maybe glimpses of the danc­ing green lady ( I’d love to see her) The Aurora. So re­ally they have two sea­sons like us – we have man­goes and no man­goes, they have sun and no sun.

This place is way over the Arc­tic Cir­cle and they take ad­van­tage of the fact. The sign in the small bank is “wel­come to the most north­ern ATM in the world”. Tech­nol­ogy every­where, po­lar bears prob­a­bly have iPhones, or Ice phones ( sorry).

But this is cer­tainly not the out­back town I’d dreamt about 33 years ago. It now has stuffed po­lar bears and husky skin mats, all to en­ter­tain the tourists from ships on the way to Green­land and Iceland. I hope I see as many live po­lar bears as I’ve seen stuffed. Su­per­mar­kets, jew­ellers ( Barb would have liked it af­ter all) and Wi- Fi every­where.

When I was back­pack­ing, you would go to a pub or cafe and sim­ply write let­ters, some­times tak­ing days, then you would find a stamp, post it, and maybe beat it home. But that was the magic and you would meet peo­ple; now it’s screens and Wi- Fi. You can even do free video calls! What hap­pened to do­ing a Jack Reacher and go­ing off the grid? If I don’t call Mum ev­ery night I’m in the po­lar bear poo. Google Svarl­bard, it’s the fur­thest you can get from our glo­ri­ous par­adise, yet I can video live to Mum.

I’m sur­rounded by Nordic folk, I’ve not seen an Aussie yet, and I have to ad­mit I am a bit lonely. Years ago you just met mates on the road, but the road is dif­fer­ent now. In fact, no one says g’day; I did, copped frowns. Per­haps they just didn’t un­der­stand.

It may be a tourism en­clave now, but it was a whal­ing town and more re­cently, coal – and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Adani. Happy days.

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