Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tracks - Robyn Davidson

Tracks is like Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, except that Robyn Davidson trekked across the Australian desert with her dog, Diggity, and three camels.  She also went on her trip about fifteen years before Strayed walked the Pacific Crest Trail.

In late 1977, when she was twenty-seven, Davidson, an Australian, decided to set off with some camels to cross the Australian desert alone, a trip of about 1,700 miles.  First, she had to learn about camels.  She discovered that they are 'the most intelligent creatures I know except for dogs and I would give them an I.Q. rating roughly equivalent to eight-year-old children.  They are affectionate, cheeky, palyful, witty, yes witty, self-possessed, patient, hard-working and endlessly interesting and charming.  .... extremely bright and perceptive ... can be quite dangerous ... like great curious puppies.  Nor do they smell .... they are highly sensitive animals, easily frightened by bad handlers ... they are haughty, ethnocentric, clearly believing they are god's chosen race.'

Davidson had strong opinions about feminism, the poor treatment of Aboriginal Australians, and 'typical' Australian men, who she thought were sexist clods who were always drunk and peeing in inappropriate places.  That may have changed in the thirty-five years since this book was published.  (The copy I read was a recently published tie-in to the movie Tracks, which was out last year and is now available on AppleTV.)  Davidson finds herself straddling a line between being a white woman and socializing with Aboriginals.  Sometimes they accepted her and sometimes they didn't.  A respected elderly Aboriginal man traveled with her for part of her journey.

The author accepted a sponsorship from National Geographic magazine.  They sent a photographer,  Rick Smolans, to meet her at various points during her trek.  First, she didn't want him there, didn't want him upsetting the Aboriginals by photographing them, and didn't want him on what she had hoped would be a solitary trip.  But they became friends in the end.

I wish some of those thousands of photos were in the book.  The edition I read had none.  Not one.  I did a quick Internet search and found some photos, but I'd like to see the National Geographic article and photos.  The descriptions of the Australian desert were tantalizing  -  especially since there were no photos!

Tracks and Wild are similar in many ways, but I thought Wild was more compelling and moved at a faster pace.  Both women were walking, but Strayed kept walking.  Davidson stops for days or weeks at a time when her camels are injured or sick, or when she needs a break.  There's a rhythm to the desert that I don't think I picked up.

Here's a quote from Davidson with which I totally agree:  '  the good lord in his infinite wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable  -  hope, jokes and dogs, but the greatest of these was dogs.'


  1. I've always thought that camels looked down their noses at the rest of us! It's a shame their are no photos. I'm not sure about things having changed much in Australia in that time as my niece is a nurse and went out there for a year recently but could only stick it nine months as the men were so uncouth - and she's no shrinking violet.

    1. I've never known a camel, so don't have any first hand opinions about them. I'd love to know one. They sound fascinating, like most animals if you spend any time with them.

      I'm sad to hear that Australian men may still be the louts they're portrayed to be in the book. It's also sad that Australia, like the U.S., doesn't seem to protect and value it's natural beauty. Very sad. Once it's destroyed by mining or drilling or any of those industries, the magic is gone.