All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Tracks – Robyn Davidson

on January 24, 2014

Robyn Davidson
Bloomsbury Publishing
2012 (originally 1980), eBook
Bought for my kindle

In the mid-1970’s. Robyn Davidson arrived in Alice Springs with little more than her dog and a few dollars in change. She had a dream to trek across some of Australia’s most inhospitable territory with camels to carry her gear. For several years Robyn lived and worked in the Alice, learning how to handle camels and often suffering verbal abuse by the man who employed her. She witnessed horrible things including shocking displays of racism and misogyny towards women. But finally in 1977 Robyn was ready to begin her journey. Going along for the ride would be camels Zeleika and her bull-calf Goliath, Bub and Dookie. In order to fund the trip Davidson accepted some money from National Geographic magazine on the proviso that a photographer meet her at certain points along the way to record her trip for their readers. This would come to be an uncomfortable agreement for Davidson for much of the beginning of the trip.

Davidson’s chosen journey would take her 1700 miles (2700+ km) through the Australian desert a lot of the time relying on maps that were possibly inaccurate and roads that were often little more than tracks in the dirt that hadn’t seen traffic for years. Enduring sweltering heat and chilly desert nights, Davidson would often go long stretches without sighting another person, having just her dog and her camels for company. Often her camels would wander far in the night during their search for food and she would have to retrieve them each morning. Each camel needed a large amount of feed to maintain their condition and be able to carry the packs Davidson had designed for the journey and often, scrub was scarce. She had to make sure that her camels remained healthy and uninjured and often had to fight off wild camels, particularly the aggressive male bulls. She visited remote Aboriginal communities and traveled with some of their elders, communicating in a mix of English and the local dialect, her desire to experience life as they do a driving force behind her trip from the center to the sea.

Although it was published before I was born, I didn’t know a lot about Tracks until I started hearing news of it recently because they made it into a feature film. I love epic journeys and stories about them and I’m also trying to add a little more non-fiction, biography and memoir to my reading pile. Add in that this was recently one of the Australian Kindle bargains and I had to snap it up.

I was surprised that this is not an easy book to read in some ways. It’s not always an uplifting and warm and fuzzy story. In fact there’s a lot of the story that’s very dark, both before Davidson leaves on her journey and during it. When she lands in Alice Springs she needs to learn how to handle camels and get to know them if she’s going to trek with them for months across some of the world’s most inhospitable landscape. So she works for a man who regularly screams at her and belittles her and also beats his camels, something that Davidson finds abhorrent to witness and later is even more horrified when she sees herself repeating some of this behaviour toward her own camels. They are stubborn animals and need to be contained but you can tell that she later very much regrets things she has done when they enrage her. She also witnesses horrible attitudes towards the local Aboriginal population – this was the seventies when intolerance was more common than grains of sand in the desert. Some of the way in which Aboriginals are described and belittled (not by Davidson, who has an unusually developed sense of empathy for them) are very hard to read. There’s such a lack of respect and such stereotypical judgement going on that it makes you sort of ashamed to be associated with the people saying it, even if just by way of sharing a country.

The bleakness doesn’t end there. Davidson often suffers from crippling black times and there are times on the journey where she comes across a borderline insane – and maybe she is. After all she was mostly alone except for her camels and her dog in sapping heat for weeks on end. She seems a slightly reclusive person anyway, even before undertaking the journey and it’s like parts of the journey just amplify what’s already there. She begins to overwhelmingly resent the presence of the photographer into her life and journey, although she took the money to help fund the trip and knew that there’d have to be something given in exchange. At times Davidson’s narrative is a bit of a struggle because it feels like she dislikes basically everyone and everything that exists. There were times when I felt for her (her dog, the relentless pursuit by photographers etc) but there were other times when I found it quite wearying.

However this is a warts-and-all portrayal of a journey, both spiritual and physical. Davidson’s desire to experience the life of the Indigenous Australians because of a genuine curiosity and empathy for them shines through but doesn’t come across as gimmicky. I imagine at the time it would’ve been quite an eye-opening publication as many people in the southern and eastern parts of Australia would’ve been quite unaware of what life was like for Aboriginals in the remote missions and camps in the north and center. This is an honest, raw experience and a great read because it’s not always a comfortable one.


Book #20 of 2014


Tracks is the 9th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 and my 2nd non-fiction title.

2 responses to “Review: Tracks – Robyn Davidson

  1. perkinsy says:

    I haven’t read this book but after reading your review I am struck by the desire a reader has to enjoy a read and like the narrator and on the other hand to get a realistic insight into the journey and the person. This sounds like a more honest tale of the epic journey than a lot of others, but the results of the honesty would deter some from reading it.

  2. […] epic camel journey through Central Australia was the focus of the book, Tracks, reviewed by Bree. In this book Robyn Davidson tells the story of how she travelled nearly three thousand kilometres […]

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