Into the Desert

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 11. Second book, Sydney by ElianaLeave a Comment

I’ve always loved reading adventure/memoir type books, like  Eat Pray Love or Into the Wild, because they never fail to inspire me to get up and make a change in my life instead of settling into an easy routine. Recently, I got the chance to take a road trip to the Stockton Sand Dunes a few hours outside of Sydney, to help film a documentary for my internship. Without knowing what to expect, I could not believe my eyes as we arrived at Stockton Beach and I took in the raw beauty of the place; the way the ocean met the earth, with the crashing blue waves and the endless rolling sand dunes made me feel as if I was on a different planet, especially since there were no signs of human habitation anywhere.

As my boss Sophie, her friend, and I climbed up the dunes, she started telling me about a story she had read last year. Apparently, back in the 1970’s, a woman had traveled on foot all the way from Central Australia to the Indian Ocean, with only some camels and her dog for company. At this point, I had been walking up the dunes for maybe less than ten minutes and I was already losing energy, so the thought of this woman’s journey was impossible to comprehend. I asked Sophie to tell me more of the story but she couldn’t remember much else, other than the fact the National Geographic had funded the journey and produced a feature on her in return. That night, I got back to my dorm and looked up the story, only to realize the book, Tracks, was on the reading list for Sydney.

Tracks, by Robyn Davidson,  is a gripping and harrowing story, at time frustrating to read because I found myself wondering again and again why Davidson would put herself through such extremes to experience solitude. She opens the memoir with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.” In the first part of the story, Davidson explains how she arrived in Alice Springs, a rough, redneck town, looking for work to pay for her trip, and took on a waitressing job where she was warned that women in that area were often sexually assaulted. I really enjoyed reading her views on feminism and sexism, as she wrote, “One does not have to delve too deeply to discover why some of the world’s angriest feminists breathed crisp blue Australian air during their formative years, before packing their kangaroo-skin bags and scurrying over to London or New York or any place where the antipodean machismo would fade gently from their battle-scarred consciousness like some grisly nightmare at dawn. Anyone who has worked in a men-only bar in Alice Springs will know what I mean.”

As she spends more time in Alice Springs, she is deeply bothered by the racism the people there have toward the Indigenous people who are living in poverty, and becomes passionate about the issue, writing, “…They are not separate from the land. When they lose it, they lose themselves, their spirit, their culture. This is why the land rights movement has become so essential. Because, by denying them their land, we are committing cultural, and in this case, racial genocide.” After two years spent saving money, she finally saves up enough to buy four camels, and National Geographic agrees to partially sponsor her, sending a photographer named Rick along to document the journey at certain points. As she begins her walk across the desert, she is faced with unimaginable dangers and there are many dark moments (poisonous animals, heat and exhaustion, lack of water) but at the same time, her journey serves as a catharsis, especially after the loss of her mother as a child. She writes, “ I had dredged up things that I had no idea existed. People, faces, names, places, feelings, bits of knowledge, all waiting for inspection. It was a giant cleansing of all the garbage and muck that had accumulated in my brain…”

After finishing Tracks, I would highly recommend it to anyone. Although reading it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, it is well worth it. I loved the way she wrote almost as if she was jotting down her stream of consciousness, and her words were authentic, vulnerable, and honest.  I learned so much about the Aboriginal population of Australia and the abuse and mistreatment they’ve faced through Robyn’s encounters with them (especially Mr. Eddie), and I was inspired by the emotional strength, resilience and self-reliance she possessed along her journey. I only wish she had included more information, both about her motives for going, and the details of everyday life in the desert.

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(Image: Stockton Sand Dunes ; Source: Eliana Arian )

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