Robyn Davidson, the author of Tracks, was tired of city life. In 1975, she set off on her 1,700-mile journey from Alice Springs to the shores of the Indian Ocean in Western Australia in order to find some privacy. I was aware of the fact that almost 90% of the population lives in urban areas before I came to Australia, so it was not surprising for me to read that the routes Davidson traveled were rarely used. I think the book said some were used by as little as four vehicles a year. But I think for most people, visions of an Australia so deserted that a person could go miles without seeing a soul, is a new one. The kind of privacy she was looking for is uniquely Australian in that it relies on the continent’s thousands of miles of empty land. In the United States many people road trip across the country and marvel at the open spaces, but Australia’s open spaces are on another level. I have mentioned the Australian bush myth before, but I think that her ability to see the barren Australian outback as a place of peace and tranquility instead of as one of the harshest landscapes in the world that could easily kill her is a reflection of the bush myth’s pull on society.
Davidson brought four trained camels to accompany her on her journey, however, I was surprised to learn that camels were her animals of choice. They were brought to the continent to do hard labor in central Australia because they could handle the harsh, arid climate. Once the trains were built, they were useless and so they were set free. But instead of dying, they thrived and helped Australia achieve the largest population of feral camels in the world. Davidson moved to Alice Springs and worked with camels for two years in order to prepare for her journey. I was surprised to learn that her journey was so planned out, mostly because I assumed a person enamored by the bush would attempt such a trip on a whim. I admire that she understood the landscape and took years to learn how to work with the camels. Davidson received a grant from National Geographic in order to complete her journey and with that, she received a visit from a photographer, Rick Smolan, every few days. She faced numerous struggles along the way. Her most trusted companion, her dog, died, she had to shoot dead a few feral camels in order to prevent them from attacking hers, and every time she encountered another human, even Rick, she would become roaringly upset.
When I first learned about Davidson’s story I was unimpressed to say the least. I thought it was a publicity stunt, some random act performed by an attention-seeking young adult for no rhyme or reason. But after reading her story, I learned that she was a young woman looking for something, the way all young people do. In order to discover herself, she needed to go on this journey. She says, “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.” She set out on this journey and intended to complete it, but similar to the study abroad experience, there is so much that happens along that way that the end destination becomes unimportant. It is a symbol for the journey, not the end goal. As all of us young adults go into our next chapter in New York, whether we are juniors or seniors, I think that Robyn Davidson has some great advice. “The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”
- Camels in Broome: ABC