Tracks by Robyn Davidson


The account of Robyn Davidson's travel from Alice Springs across the desert to the sea in 1977 by camel is the story of a woman discovering her strength, a tale of camels, a paean to the desert, and an appreciation of Aboriginal culture.  The trip was six months long and she traveled 1700 miles.

Davidson, who was born in 1950, grew up in Queensland and was a member of the Push in Sydney.  The Push, according to Wikipedia, was a radical subculture existing from the 1940s to the early 1970s and included Germaine Greer and Clive James.  She moved to Alice Springs to learn the skills to undertake this trip, taking several years to learn to handle and care for camels, and then to acquire some for the trip.  She grew to love the camels, appreciating their intelligence and sense of fun.  

It's hard to understand her sense of herself in relation to others and what she wanted from this trip; on numerous occasions she rants about others being kind to her and helping her.  Just before she was to begin the trip her family and her friend Rick, a National Geographic photographer who helped her get funding for the trip, gathered in Alice Springs and offered her, among other things a two-way radio.  Her reaction was interesting.

It was another tiny symbol of defeat.  Of the trip not really being mine at all.  I stashed it away with all the others.

And later, about Rick, she says

On the one hand I saw him as a blood-sucking little creep who had inveigled his way into my life by being nice and by tempting me with material things.  On the other hand I was confronted with a very warm, gentle human being who genuinely wanted to help me and who was excited by the prospect of an adventure, who wanted to do a good job, and who cared.

She writes intensely about the desert, including her first look at Uluru.

After that the tourists became just too much, so I set a compass course for the Rock and headed off across the dunes.  Trudging across that solidified sea of sand was exhausting me, so I decided to ride Bub.  And then I saw the thing.  I was thunderstruck.  I could not believe that blue form was real.  It floated and mesmerized and shimmered and looked too big.  It was indescribable.

I slid down the sandhill and pushed Bub quickly across the valley through a forest of desert oaks and up the next incline.  I held my breath until I could see it again.  The indecipherable power of that rock had my heart racing.  I had not expected anything quite so weirdly, primevally beautiful.

She writes convincingly about coming to see the desert as a whole interconnected world, rather than this rock, that beetle, or this plant.  "Everything in the universe is in constant interaction with everything else," she says.

And then the camels.  She tells the story of being with old friends who visited her along the way.

As we ate dinner that night, we were entertained by Dookie, who kept trying to get at the large tin of honey he knew was hidden in a pack-bag just near where I was sitting.  I told him to piss off.  There followed a game of, 'See how far you can push Rob without getting a clout.' He inched forward ever so nonchalantly. Had he been human the parallel behaviour would have been hands behind back, eyes gazing up at the sky and whistling.  We pretended to keep eating but we were all watching him out of the corner of our eyes.  He made a dive for the bag, I flicked him on the lips and he retreated about six inches.

This attack and feint continues throughout dinner to the amusement of all.

She writes with appreciation of the Aboriginal culture, with the acknowledgement that the white culture cannot understand it.  She attempts to convey their connection to the land. She gets to know people active in the Aboriginal rights movement in the area around Alice Springs and along her route.  For a time, an Aboriginal elder traveled with her and she greatly appreciated what she learned from him.

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