During his darkest times, it was a glance down at his boots that sustained Tim Husband.
Sitting in a smelly Abu Dhabi jail cell with 17 other men and one wash basin, the Taralga man wondered how he got there.
'Home' was a world away, a fact that normally wouldn't have bothered Mr Husband, who had helped establish many international safari parks and zoos.
In 2014 he was headhunted as technical director of the 500-hectare Dubai Safari Park and spent several years travelling the world buying animals at the UAE monarchy's expense.
But "the best thing he'd ever been involved in" took a forgettable twist towards the end.
Asked to write an exit report before taking up his next appointment in Saudi Arabia, Mr Husband said he gave an adverse but honest account of a manager.
"I had mentioned that this particular lady had no management skills and needed to be closely monitored, removed or replaced by someone with a willingness to be taught the principles of zoo operations," he said.
Mr Husband wrote that the woman, who was 'well connected', had treated most staff with "contempt" and actively undermined them.
A week before he and wife, Wendy, left Dubai in January, he was called to Rashidiya Police Station to answer a complaint the woman had lodged about the report. Mr Husband said he fully explained his reasoning and told police that every report was sent to the municipality and State Security, as requested.
"After reading her statement and listening to my side of the story the officer informed me that there was no case (to answer), apologised on behalf of Dubai, said she did not represent the people and told me I could go," Mr Husband said.
He and Wendy returned to Australia and Taralga for several weeks before going to Saudi Arabia where he was to build the safari park with her.
But on showing his ticket for a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi, a CID officer took him aside and informed him that a case had been filed against him.
"I later found out this is not a legal thing to do but was very common in the UAE," he said.
Mr Husband told his wife to go on to Saudi Arabia and that he would catch the next flight.
I never knew what time it was because there was no way of seeing the sun.Tim Husband
It was not to be. Instead, he was taken to police cells where his phone, wallet, belt and glasses were taken away.
"I was placed in a cell (12 metres by 6m) with 17 other men," he said.
"There were no windows, two toilets, one wash basin and no shower. It turned out this was my home for the next eight days, with no way of cleaning myself, staying in the same clothes, no way of brushing my teeth.
"I never knew what time it was because there was no way of seeing the sun. The place always smelt of sewage mixed with the body odour of men sharing the same confined space.
"The beds had a thin foam mattress and two dirty blankets on them.The first night I got into a fight when someone tried to steal my boots."
They weren't just any boots. They were Baxters, bought in Goulburn. As he looked down at them each morning Mr Husband said he thought of home and walking around his and Wendy's Taralga district farm.
"I used my boots as a way of grounding myself and keeping my mind firmly on home and not on the unpleasantness surrounding me," he said.
Meantime, after arriving in Saudi Arabia, Wendy contacted the Australian Embassy who sent a representative to see her husband. The official told him a safari park employee had made a complaint about him. The representative expected he'd be freed within two days.
Eight days later, Mr Husband faced the charge in Dubai. It was summarily dismissed and, according to Mr Husband, "seen as a spiteful way of causing me problems."
"He apologised and explained that...this woman's actions should not be seen as an example of all locals. He told me to go back to Abu Dhabi, collect my belongings and continue to Saudi," he said.
"As I left the police station, a funny thing happened. A police officer asked about my boots and whether I'd bought them in Dubai. I just smiled and said 'no, I got these from home.'"
Back in Abu Dhabi he booked into a hotel and had his first shower and change of clothes in eight days.
But the next day as he tried to leave for Saudi Arabia, Mr Husband discovered that all flights had been stopped due to coronavirus and that he would need to wait a few weeks. During that time, Australia also closed its borders.
There he remained for the next five months, waiting for restrictions to be lifted. He worked on the Saudi safari park remotely before deciding that staying in the UAE without a visa wasn't safe.
This week, Mr Husband flew into Sydney where he's quarantined in a motel for 14 days. Wendy remains in Saudi where she's working closely with a government seed bank to propagate rare plants.
He said the entire experience had taught him that forthright opinions weren't always welcome in Dubai.
"This whole episode has left me with bad memories that I would rather forget," Mr Husband said.
"(But) I won't let the actions of one person affect the way I do my work as a director of a zoo or safari park."
Nor did it wipe away the rich experiences and lifelong friendships made. Many had stayed loyal despite being threatened with the sack by park management if they contacted him after the first complaint was filed, Mr Husband said.
Now firmly back on home soil, Mr Husband plans to return to his Taralga property and work on the Saudi park remotely until the borders re-open.
He'll be putting his feet up for a while, with boots on, of course.
"I never go without them. I have worn my Baxter boots around the world," Mr Husband said.
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