Towards the end of her journey in Tracks, Robyn Davidson writes about being mobbed by the press and dubbed as feminist icon. She writes, “I was now public property. I was now a feminist symbol. I was now an object of ridicule for small minded sexists…”(Davidson 236). She is indignant at this point. Her trip had already been hijacked the moment she accepted National Geographic’s sponsorship, and now the public had encroached on her space and they felt that they owned her. I thought the juxtaposition was fantastic. Robyn, who grew to loathe “tourists” during her nine month journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, was herself a tourist (although she never considered herself as such), who during several instances encroached on indigenous lands and ceremonies.
Where Tracks is meant to be Robyn Davidson’s retelling of her 1700 mile trek, and about the perseverance of the human psyche, what it actually tells is of the social, political and physical injustices committed against the Aboriginal populations in Australia, with Robyn serving as the prime example of everything wrong with white perception about Aboriginal society.
Why did Robyn Davidson in the late 1970s decide to trek across the outback? For three reasons: one, she was “vaguely bored” with her life at that time; two, she “had read a good deal about Aborigines” and wanted to get “to know them directly and simply”; and three because when someone had asked her “‘What is the substance of the world in which you live?’”, her subconscious answered “desert desert desert” (36-37). It was a fairly ridiculous reason, and for a woman who spent most of the trip crying, and complaining and going through intense highs and depressing lows (she once contemplated suicide), I don’t think she ever truly knew why she was doing it.
Two-thirds of the way through Tracks, Robyn realizes the futility of wanting to connect with the Aboriginal people. She writes, “I felt it as a symbolic defeat. A final summing up of how I could never enter their reality, would always be a whitefella on the outside looking in…I could not be with Aboriginal people without being a clumsy intruder” (Davidson 146). And yet, she continued to quote anthropologists and make claims generalizing the plights of the Aboriginal people.
In some way, her trek was her method of slumming it for a bit. I don’t know if through her suffering in the outback she felt closer to them, but even the Aborigines thought she was crazy for going at it alone. When she was looking for an old man to walk certain lands with her, she was surprised when none wanted to go. She had brought a photographer into their midst who stuck a camera in their faces and during their private ceremonies, and yet she wanted their help. Aboriginals were struggling with their own issues; housing, health and services, government services, even land disputes. And here was this woman trying to “connect” with them by spending days alone in the outback, only to come camp for a couple of weeks with the white people, sleeping in their beds and drinking loads of whisky and tea.
I found her entire trip absurd. She would spend hundreds of dollars on camel care, she treated them more as pets than as utility animals, and fly to Brisbane, Alice Springs and Sydney in between. She was never completely in the outback, as she would take leave every now and then. Her photographer friend Rick would leave tracks for her and follow along in a vehicle. And then whenever he was along, as he was only allowed for a couple days at a time, she would get angry at him for being there, for ruining her trip because on some level he did not understand.
The only time she was truly content in the outback was when an Aboriginal man, named Eddie, went along with her for a short period of time.
She writes of Eddie:
“It’s amazing how well one can communicate with a fellow being when there are no words to get in the way. Our greatest communication lay in the sheer joy in our surroundings” (Davidson 173).
“He was a dingo-dreaming man, and his links with the special places we passed gave him kind of energy, a joy, a belonging. He told me myths and stories over and over at night when we camped. He knew every particle of that country as well as he knew his own body. He was at home in it totally, at one with it and the feeling began rubbing off on to me. Time melted- became meaningless. I don’t think I ever felt so good in my entire life” (Davidson 174).
She was her happiest with Eddie, and felt at least during this moment of time, that she was better than the rest, that because she had Eddie, and because on some level he acknowledged her as a friend she had succeeded.
The most poignant thing that I took away from Tracks and Robyn Davidson’s trek across the outback had to be this: one cannot truly understand this Aboriginal land without an Aboriginal man.
For Robyn Davidson, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed her or her journey.
Davidson, Robyn. Tracks. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.