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Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback

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NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE

Robyn Davidson's opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company 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."

Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia's landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation. 

“An unforgettably powerful book.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

Now with a new postscript by Robyn Davidson.

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1980

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About the author

Robyn Davidson

24 books234 followers
Robyn Davidson was born on a cattle property in Queensland, Australia. She went to Sydney in the late sixties, then spent time studying in Brisbane before moving to Alice Springs, where the events of this book begin. Since then, she has traveled extensively, living in London, New York, and India. In the early 1990s, she migrated with and wrote about nomads in northwestern India. She is now based in Melbourne, but spends several months a year in the Indian Himalayas.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,405 reviews
Profile Image for Kapi.
33 reviews6 followers
July 21, 2008
I was disappointed by this book. I felt that the author had a major chip on her shoulder that she never really got over. Her open contempt for anyone interested in her or her journey was not only tiring, but made for a strange read (being one of those interested in her journey). I felt tricked - like she'd invited me to read her story and then accused me of voyeurism. I was left with the feeling that this book was written out of obligation to some sponsor more than a desire to share her experience with the world. Wonh-wonh!
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,609 followers
December 26, 2015
This is an amazing outdoor adventure/travelogue/girl power memoir.

Robyn Davidson decided to get some camels, train them, and then walk across the Australian Outback.

OH MY GOD, SHE DID WHAT??

Yeah, she's a badass who walked 1,700 miles of the Outback, mostly by herself. She had a National Geographic photographer with her for a few days, and an Aboriginal guide a few other days, but most of the time it was just her, the camels and her dog.

 photo 05bc647b-bad8-413f-9b7b-8b5fbb0107c8_zpsxdkyvnfd.jpg
Robyn Davidson on the cover of National Geographic, May 1978

This book is beautifully written. Robyn took an amazing journey, but she is also a gifted writer and storyteller. Check out this description of an Australian ranch where she stayed to learn about camels:


"The ranch itself was fantastic and uncanny perched out there in the middle of the oldest rocks in the world. And it was perhaps the cold desolate lovelessness of the place that threw into sharp focus the magical and life-affirming qualities of the country around it. To enter that country is to be choked with dust, suffocated by waves of thrumming heat, and driven to distraction by the ubiquitous Australian fly; it is to be amazed by space and humbled by the most ancient, bony, awesome landscape on the face of the earth. It is to discover the continent's mythological crucible, the great outback, the never-never, that decrepit desert land of infinite blue air and limitless power."


On her long long long journey, Robyn experienced every human emotion possible. Joy. Sorrow. Fear. Guilt. Anger. Passion. And exhaustion.

"I entered a new time, space, dimension. A thousand years fitted into a day and aeons into each step. The desert oaks sighed and bent down to me, as if trying to grab at me. Sandhills came and sandhills went. Hills rose up and hills slipped away. Clouds rolled in and clouds rolled out and always the road, always the road, always the road, always the road."

Sometimes Robyn was so lonely she would talk to herself. But when people were around, she would get irritated and want to be alone again. She wrote of how being alone in the desert made her forget social niceties, and if she came to a town, she had trouble adjusting to company.

One of the things I liked about this book was that she took this trip in the late 1970s, and I enjoyed reading her views on feminism and sexism. To pay for the trip, she took on odd jobs, including waitressing, and she was repeatedly warned that women were often sexually assaulted in those back country Australian towns.


"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."


There are also some thoughtful discussions on the history and treatment of Aboriginal people, which is a subject Robyn is passionate about.


"Trying to describe Aboriginal cosmology briefly is like trying to explain quantum mechanics in five seconds. Besides, no amount of anthropological detail can begin to convey Aboriginal feeling for their land. It is everything — their law, their ethics, their reason for existence. Without that relationship they become ghosts. Half people. 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."


One comparison I made while reading this was to the memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed. In that book, Cheryl did a solo hiking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. Part of the reason she took the journey was because she went a little nuts after her mother died. Cheryl wrote eloquently and passionately about the emotional aspects of that journey. In Tracks, Robyn briefly mentions that her mother had also died, and some friends asked if she was hiking the Outback as a form of grieving. What I found interesting were the differences in tone between the two books; Robyn hardly mentioned her grief, but Cheryl wrote extensively on it. I wondered if it was combination of cultural differences (American vs. Australian) and a generational difference, since the two journeys were taken decades apart. Either way, it was interesting to compare the two outdoor memoirs.

The edition I read had a 2012 postscript by the author, in which she writes that the journey she took three decades ago would not be possible today, because there are too many people, too much red tape, too many fences, too many vehicles. Additionally, new technology would make it even more difficult to "get lost" in the outdoors and find some privacy.

There are so many fantastic quotes and stories in this book that I could probably max out my word limit. But to sum up, I really liked this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys outdoor adventures.

FAVORITE QUOTES
"Throughout the trip I had been gaining an awareness and an understanding of the earth as I learnt how to depend upon it. The openness and emptiness which had at first threatened me were now a comfort which allowed my sense of freedom and joyful aimlessness to grow. This sense of space works deep in the Australian collective consciousness. It is frightening and most of the people huddle around the eastern seaboard where life is easy and space a graspable concept, but it produces a sense of potential and possibility nevertheless that may not exist now in any European country. It will not be long, however, before the land is conquered, fenced up and beaten into submission. But here, here it was free, unspoiled and seemingly indestructible."

[Robyn received some unwelcome fame after completing her journey]
"It would seem that the combination of elements — woman, desert, camels, aloneness — hit some soft spot in this era's passionless, heartless, aching psyche. It fired the imaginations of people who see themselves as alienated, powerless, unable to do anything about a world gone mad ... I was now public property. I was now a kind of symbol. I was now an object of ridicule for small-minded sexists, and I was a crazy, irresponsible adventurer ... But worse than all that, I was now a mythical being who had done something courageous and outside the possibilities that ordinary people could hope for. And that was the antithesis of what I wanted to share. That anyone could do anything. If I could bumble my away across a desert, then anyone could do anything. And that was especially true for women, who have used cowardice for so long to protect themselves that it has become a habit."

"The two most important things 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."

NOTE
This book was just made into a movie last year, but I have not seen it yet. I am curious about it, but I am also in no rush to watch it. I enjoyed the book so much that I am sure the film will be a disappointment because so much of the story naturally gets left out.
Profile Image for Lyndsey Page.
141 reviews6 followers
December 11, 2014
I really thought that I would love this book. It has aspects that I love in a memoir including adventure and a female perspective. I quickly realized that Robyn Davidson has absolutely no problems with animal abuse. The treatment of the camels that she claims to love and spoil is disgusting. If camels are not easy to train or socialize, DON'T USE THEM! It's so sad that the camels had no choice in any of this and were taken from the wild only to be forced into a trek that I'm sure they had no desire to partake in and then to suffer beating after beating when the author decided they weren't doing something to her liking. I understand that she was worried about being injured or having the camels abandon her in the desert, but again, she was not forced to make this journey. To quote her in the memoir "How animals ever forgive us for what we do to them, I will never understand." Beyond the abuse of the camels (and occasionally her dog) I found Davidson to have an air of superiority to everyone she encountered along the way with the exception of Aboriginals. I could not relate to her in any way and found her rants exhausting and confusing as she often didn't have a clear point of view. The ONLY reason I gave this book 2 stars was because I was interested in the information regarding the Aboriginal population of Australia and the years of abuse they have suffered in their own country. This was a disgusting book and I regret having read the entire thing.
Profile Image for Owlseyes .
1,634 reviews257 followers
June 8, 2021



“Tracks” is a phenomenal travelogue of a 2700 km voyage through the Australian desert; by Robyn Davidson and four camels. It’s the proof that a single (lunatic?) idea, a seemingly fuzzy project (a woman crossing the desert with camels) can be accomplished. As Davidson put it at the end of the trip, she learned two most important things: (1) we’re as powerful and strong as long as we want; (2) the hardest part on “my” enterprise is the first step, to take the first decision.

Evidently, it was a trip against all odds. People said that she wanted to commit suicide; that the trip was a sort of penalty for her mother’s suicide; that she wanted publicity and it was a way to prove a woman can cross a desert.

It was about learning the “tenacity lesson”. It implied learning on how to shoot a gun; even her own dog Diggity, when she found she had been poisoned while crossing the desert. Or: when she was confronted with wild camels, to shoot some of them; and yet spare one huge, beautiful one: Aldebaran. Or: when she had to spank/punish camel Bub in the desert. Davidson took with her Zeleika: a 4 ½ year old female (wild) camel; very young, considering that camels can live up to 50 years.

1977. Coming from Queensland, 27 year-old Davidson arrived to Alice Springs penniless. To be more precise: with 6 dollars and a dog. She had to work in a pub and two ranches first… to raise money for the trip. She had a hard time at the ranch of cruel Kurt; and also at the ranch on afghan Sallay. After two years of hard “training” on how to deal and treat…and raise camels, she finally came to “trip time”. Planned: a 6-8 months travel. 30 kilometers per day. 6 days a week. Ideally, to end before year-end. Load: 750 kg of “luggage”. Set-off date: March.



She wanted to go it alone; but money was important. She wrote a letter and she managed to get $4,000 from the National Geographic Society and a flight ticket to Sydney; there, she met with those “extraordinary Americans” who told her: ”we hope to see you in Washington”. After that interview she felt euphoria,…and then depression, self-doubt and hate. She met with photographer Rick Smolan, a Jew from New York. They had arranged he would show up intermittently in the voyage in some spots (first in Red Bank…then in Ayers Rock etc).. For some time she hated him: he took photos of a secret ceremony of the aboriginal people. Hate didn’t last long. Davidson was very suspicious about photographs: the camera lies: photos never tell the truth. Rick made an abundant collection of the departure, and other moments.




I’ve found of particular interest her anthropological view (she’s been called a “social anthropologist”) of the aboriginal people. She supplies the reader with plenty of data that astonishes any outsider. Especially touching is the problem of the land. Davidson considers: “their land is everything to them; without this relationship they become ghosts”; it’s a racial genocide, she accuses, being perpetrated for long, in Australia. She points the finger at the mining corporations (like Conzinc Rio Tinto) and the aboriginal reserves being coveted. She mentions the high mortality rate (200/1000), the diseases …the fact that most elder people are blind.

IT’S THE OLDEST CULTURE IN THE WORLD, OF WHICH THE REST OF THE WORLD DOESN’T KNOW (OR CARE) ABOUT:…THEY DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME: THEY’RE DYING.

Davidson questioned for several times the European culture: “once again I compared the European society to the aboriginal one; one so archetypically PARANOID, GREEDY and DESTRUCTIVE, the other so HEALTHY”.

“I wish I could understand better their language”.

She opens a certain exception to the PITJANTJARE people: better off than other ones, because uranium not being extracted from their reserves.


AFTER 160 YEARS OF NON-DECLARED WAR, THE LAST SLAUGHTER HAPPENED IN 1930 IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY. (*)


Davidson seems to agree with the solution proposed by Kevin Gilbert to the land problem: “That white Australia to give the blacks a just parcel of land for their self-sufficiency”. The author reminds us about the Australian apartheid: “A so deep rape of the soul that disease remains in most blacks;… a psychological disease”.


Some of the best moments (of fun, of chewing Pituri, of laughter and parody) of her trip are in the company of little Eddie; a warm aboriginal man. A self-transformational section of her journey: “after weeks with Eddie I became a different person…to my eyes I was becoming normal ,balanced, healthy, though, to others eyes, I looked crazy”.



Why, the change?

-Because the subconscious mind became more active and important…in the form of dreams and sensations. Because, rocks and animals and other natural phenomenon had a special meaning. Because, for a while, Davidson may have believed, too, in an epoch of dreams : “when earth was crossed by ancestral beings with supernatural energy and power; these beings were biologically different from contemporary men; some were a synthesis of animal and man, plant or force like fire and water”.

While in the desert, now alone, she wrote a letter to a friend (Steve): “I would give anything for a friendly face, even for an unfriendly one,… even human noise would be good”.

>“THIS IS PARADISE; I WISH I COULD GIVE YOU A PIECE OF IT”.

There are dark moments, nevertheless; like when she cannot find water; and starts having auditory hallucinations: voices she hears; one nasty one who tells her “you’ve gone too far this time, you’re worthless, now you’re mine, caught you!”; and a calm voice: “be calm, lay down”; or voices screaming.

She tried her own voice. She cried, yelled stupidly at the dunes….but finally found a well of water and greenery for the camels. Dark also: when she got her hip dislocated; and camel Dookie could not walk due to an infection.

Near the end of the trip Davidson had seen the most impressive and surrealistic piece of landscape. She had escaped the hyenas of the Perth press that wanted her story for $1,000.

By November she reached Carnarvon. She wrote that by the seaside “you could see the sunset showing over the Indian Ocean, past the last dune”….”so white a beach that left me blind…camel Goliath went straight to the bath...I felt free”.




(*) I have made my own research on these issues and found elucidating the work of Marcia Langton (actress, activist, academic, political agitator) on “Indigenous exceptionalism” (audio tape); she refers that only in the 1967 referendum the aboriginal people became citizens.

UPDATE



Now that a movie has been made, it's interesting to read both author and actress together commenting on. Robyn saying:"...it's kind of schizophrenic [the movie is based on her life,but not exactly "my life"]...it's quite bizarre...disorienting".

Mia W.(actress) said about the camels, they are "incredible sensitive... and intelligent".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqxW8l...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o-mbY...
http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/20...
(...it's unrealistic to translate the book into a movie...)
Profile Image for Daren.
1,266 reviews4,356 followers
July 8, 2021
Robyn Davidson doesn't consider herself incredible or inspirational, although she completed a journey that few other people could have contemplated, let alone completed.

In 1977, from Alice Springs, which is smack bang in the middle of Australia, and is surrounded by deserts, she undertakes an (*almost) solo trek to the Western Australian coast, 1700 miles away, accompanied by her four camels. I say almost, because she is visited periodically by a photographer to capture images of her journey for National Geographic, and is accompanied by an Aboriginal elder for a part of the journey.

This books is divided into four parts. The first part describes Robyn's arrival in the Alice, and her trials and tribulations around trying to get work, make money, and learn enough about camels to even consider her journey. This was difficult process for her, low paid work, sometimes on a camel station with a strange overbearing man named Kurt, who despite his shortcomings, and underhand dealings with verbal contracts, taught her a lot about camels.
After writing to them on a drunken whim, National Geographic agree to partially finance her trip in return for the story, and the photographs. This gives Robyn the final cash to purchase what she needs to make a serious start to the journey.

The second part of the book covers her travelling as a trial, the first part of the trip, to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and on to Docker, an Aboriginal settlement. This is a difficult time, and a steep learning curve for Robyn. It is at Docker that she meets up with Mr Eddie, the Aboriginal elder who accompanies her for a part of her journey, and shares a lot of Aboriginal knowledge with her in the third part of the book, which chronicles their journey as far as Warburton, where Eddie heads back East.

The final part of the book is Robyn's final leg from Warburton to the coast.

This was a fascinating read for me. As well as being an excellent story of a young woman who, despite some major misgivings about her own mental state, is driven and incredibly mentally strong; it is also a covers a lot of ground with the historic and current (of the time) mistreatment and human rights abuses of the Aboriginal people, as well as extolling some of their amazing culture. As you can imagine, it is one sided commentary, but I don't doubt its accuracy.

For me, the balance is all perfect. The balance between preparation and journey; the balance between the amount of history and political treatment of the Aboriginal people interspersed with the time Robyn spends with Mr Eddie and his compatriots; the balance between the authors internal thoughts and her physical journey. .

So in summary, no hesitation with five stars for me.

Incidentally, I happened to stumble across the film made of this story recently. Despite missing the start and the end, there were some fairly obvious rearrangements of the timelines (taking some of the events of her work on the stations and experiences in learning, and showed them as part of her journey), but the story was largely authentic.
Profile Image for Sps.
592 reviews8 followers
September 5, 2018
Really liked it (four stars), but two things keep me from giving it the full four:
1. camel beatings
2. my own priggishness about the conservation of stars. [I.e. a book probably won't be a five star book until I am certain it has had an enormous effect on me and short-circuited and rewired something, conjured something, become necessary. A four star book is usually a slightly-less-important-but-still-brilliant book by a favorite author. Four stars still means basically flawless. Which means three stars has to encompass everything from 'Sure, I liked it' to 'I liked it so much I couldn't stop talking about it and definitely want to read other books by the author.']

Back to camel beatings: there are a lot of them in this book. That violence is only the most obvious reminder of a larger concern, namely, why make camels do this? What's in it for the camels? I've lost the thread of justifying any human use of any animal just because we're smarter and we can make them do it. They aren't ours, they never were, and for Davidson not to draw some parallels between domesticated (beaten) animals and colonized (beaten) Aboriginal peoples is appalling. Especially given how thoughtful and canny she is about most other things, including Aboriginal rights.

But Davidson gets across the crazy enormous beauty of the desert, and solitude, and transformation, and learning how to do something really hard. Furthermore, her anecdotes are hella funny.

"I returned to my little dungeon in the wee hours of the morning to find a large, well-moulded lump of excrement snuggling almost lovingly on my pillow. As if it belonged there really. As if it had found its final resting place at last." (35)
Profile Image for Paul.
2,101 reviews
November 21, 2014
Australia is a big country.

A very big country.

And a lot of it is hostile, unforgiving desert. So to set out to travel across half of the country from the centre to the sea, with a dog and four camels is a monumental achievement for Robyn Davidson. Not only is this a tough journey in a physical sense, from the relentless heat, the whole menagerie of nasty & poisonous creatures that exist there, fending off unwelcome advances of men, whilst travelling with the camels, a belligerent species at the best of times, takes a resilience and toughness that many men could not achieve.

And that is not the hardest thing she has to endure her apprenticeship with a camel trader, a particular unpleasant man makes for uncomfortable reading at the beginning of the book. She then moves to another who is far more helpful, and makes if possible for her to achieve the journey.

All the way through she endures constant battles with the animals, the environment and with the photographer, Rick Smolan, provided by National Geographic to record her journey. She spends time with an Aboriginal man called Eddie and understands his deep love and respect of the land that protects him and feeds him.

Along the way she reaches into the darker recess of her mind, and experiences the entire suite of raw emotions in her journey, and I think that this makes her as a woman too. The ending is an emotional roller coaster, as she realises her achievement, tries to avoid the press pack, far worse than any dingoes, and reaches the Indian Ocean.

Well worth reading, as this is a personal journey as well as a travelogue of a fascinating country.
390 reviews3 followers
February 3, 2014
I think what Robyn accomplished is truly amazing. I think the tasks she took on - training her camels and travelling so far across inhospitable, though amazing, country is to be more than admired. I think the relationship she had with her camels was touching and lovely and the book was informative about them. I think the relationship she had with her dog was very much like one many of us have with our dogs and she talked about it well.

However, I didn't enjoy Robyn herself at all. I know what she did was gruelling and she was entitled to bad moods, but she was so 'down' on so much that I found it hard to get through the book, but I did. Her bringing the plight of aboriginals and the environment is to be commended and if that's what she wrote the book for, well done.

In other reviews I read that people wanted to know WHY. So did I. I know she didn't want publicity during or at the end of the trek, but afterwards she wrote the book and invited it in, and the big question that people want answered is left unsaid, which I found a little disappointing.
Profile Image for Colleen.
372 reviews18 followers
July 3, 2017
The biggest question in my mind before, during, and after reading this book was, WHY? Why would she do this? (I equate it with people who climb Mt. Everest. Why?) We are plunked right down into the story with no explanation of why she undertook this journey. I think she learned a lot about herself and her capabilities along the way, but what would possess a woman to train some camels (she'd never even been exposed to a camel before) and head out into the hostile desert? I actually think there are many reasons. One that is not mentioned in the book is that Robyn Davidson's mother committed suicide when she was 11. She hints at her mother's death and her "traumatic childhood" but never says why. I think it haunted her. As a member of a politically left-wing group I think she wanted to bring attention to the plight of the Aborigines. I was horrified at how they were treated, similar to the Native Americans in the U.S. I think she wanted to prove a woman could do it. But most of all I think she wanted to learn what she was capable of. I loved her stream-of-consciousness ramblings (sometimes hard to follow), her descriptions of the beauty of the desert, and her love for her hilarious camels and her dog, Diggity. I would love to learn what happened to her after this journey but it's difficult to find information. She said she was not after publicity with this journey and I believe her. But she's truly a fascinating woman and I wish I could learn more about her.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,686 reviews203 followers
August 12, 2018
Non-fiction about Robyn Davidson’s 1977-1978 trip across the Australian desert, accompanied by four camels and a dog. During this trip, she developed capabilities she did not know she possessed as she crossed over 1700 miles, mostly by walking and occasionally riding one of the camels. She started her trip in Alice Springs and ended at the Indian Ocean. Along the way, she interacts with various people, animals, and pests.

Filled with novelties such as:
- How to train your camel
- What it’s like to own a pet crow (not recommended!)
- Surviving in the Australian Outback

And more traditional themes such as:
- A woman confronting a machismo culture
- Finding the inner strength to deal with external perils
- Self-discovery through suffering
- The nature of solitude
- Transcending social and self-imposed limitations

One of my favorite parts of the book is her descriptions of how she adapted to the vastness of the desert, the isolation, and the dreamlike state induced by endurance in an extreme environment. She developed creative solutions to the setbacks that inevitably occurred. She seemed to intuit at some level that her journey into the desert would change her for the better. I recognized her evolution from a somewhat immature and vulnerable person to an agent in her own life. I enjoyed reading the reasons she undertook such a trip, what she learned, and how it changed her. One of her goals was to become more familiar with the Aboriginal people, and she cogently illuminates their plight. Although she was not an author at that point, the book is filled with striking imagery of the desert.

Be advised that it includes a significant amount of abuse and harm to animals, along with racism and sexism. Recommended to fans of memoirs about personal challenges, travel-related adventures, endurance tests, or self-discovery. Overall, I found it an inspirational tale of a remarkable journey, both physically and psychologically.

Memorable quotes:
"To be free is to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe. I had learnt to use my fears as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks..."

"Capacity for survival may be the ability to be changed by environment."
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,878 followers
September 21, 2008
At the age of twenty-five, the author got the wild idea that she wanted to travel solo with camels across the Australian Outback. She moved from Brisbane to Alice Springs where she spent two years learning how to handle camels, figuring out how to obtain camels of her own, and otherwise preparing herself for the trip.

In 1977, she was finally ready, and spent about eight months making her way from Glen Helen Tourist Camp in the Northern Territory to Hamelin Pool on the Indian Ocean.

This was not only an interesting exploration of the Australian desert, but also an education for me about Australian men and their attitudes toward women. (Atrocious!) I also learned about the appalling treatment of Aboriginals by white Australians, which parallels in many ways the American experience of both blacks and Indians. And also, you get to find out a lot about camel behavior and habits. Quite amusing and exasperating creatures.

I appreciated the way the author kept the story moving as she made her trek. She left out large chunks of time where not much happened, rather than anally boring us with details. I especially liked the section where Eddie, the old Aboriginal, traveled with her for awhile. You can't help but fall in love with the guy.

Traveling alone through the desert inevitably makes one introspective, but I thought even her "self-absorbed" moments contained some excellent observations about society and how and why we behave as we do in relation to the people around us.

The book is definitely more interesting after she leaves on the trip than while she's preparing for it.
Profile Image for Bloodorange.
655 reviews179 followers
December 7, 2017
A fast, restorative read for depleting times. The author shows a mix of resilience and vulnerability; the desire to test her limits and the need to question the very macho society she lives in; and - which is the most interesting - the desire to get lost in the spiritual trance of the isolation and the awareness that she should not try to maintain this state among other people.
...I honestly could not remember, or put into context, etiquette. Did it matter, I would think to myself, if all the buttons had gone from my shirt and trousers? Would anybody notice or care? And what about menstrual blood? From my position, it didn't matter a damn whether it followed the natural laws of gravity and ran down my leg, the way it was meant to do, but would others feel the same way?
I was surprised to find the Davidson/ Chatwin/ Rushdie link (in a rather horribly paragraphed article here: https://m.ruralweekly.com.au/news/bru... ) - and from what I heard, Davidson was the cool person Chatwin got introduced to.
Profile Image for Rochelle.
110 reviews5 followers
December 23, 2014
I quit this book about half way through after a series of references to beating her camels senseless. She is devastated after having to shoot one of her sick camels, but shows no remorse whatsoever for beating them. I have worked with animals far larger than camels and I know from personal experience that there are better ways to control them. I couldn't keep reading this and I think some animal lovers may be uncomfortable reading this as well.
Profile Image for Lee at ReadWriteWish.
594 reviews77 followers
December 8, 2020
This book, although written in the 80s, gained new popularity when it was adapted into a movie starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver. I thought it sounded great -- an Aussie woman, trekking with only her camels and dog from Alice Springs to the Western Australian coast, via the harsh Aussie desert. And it probably would have been great, if not for Robyn Davidson.

Davidson is completely and utterly unlikeable. She’s contrary, selfish, judgmental, egotistical and opinionated. I spent most of the book pretty much just being cranky with her. Examples, you ask?

She expects everything for free. She’s going to get wild camels and train them so she doesn’t have to pay. She’s mad when the local caravan park want to charge her for a site. She’s mad when the pub wants to take meals and board out of her wages. She’s mad when the camel guy won’t teach her all about camels for free. The list goes on. Meanwhile, she sells her story to National Geographic.

Davidson doesn’t like many people. She claims everyone in Australia (other than her, obviously) is racist. All men are drunks, sexist and want to rape her (wtf). On that last point, there’s a couple of incidents early in the book that make zero sense. I seriously think she imagined half the stuff she apparently endured when it came to the local men.

Her most loathed group of peoples on earth, however, are tourists. Not just the couple of bad apples, all of them. She doesn’t want to let them take photos of her or her camels. She doesn’t even want talk to them. Ever. They’re ruining Australia. They have no affinity with the land like she has. Yes, she is doing wonders for Australia by grabbing a couple of feral camels and going for a walk and raising money for charity and… Wait a minute.

Davidson didn’t go on the trip to raise money. She didn’t go on the trip because she lost someone close to her and it was their suggestion. She didn’t go on the trip because she wanted to photograph or map the land. She didn’t even go on the trip to highlight any particular cause. No, she went on the trip because she took some drugs one night and whilst hallucinating, she kept thinking the word ‘desert’ over and over again. Isn’t this how we all make our major life choices?

If I ignore Davidson’s personality, the book doesn’t even offer me much. There's no real messages which made me look at life differently. The descriptions of the Australian landscape are nothing special (pretty much just lots of mentions of mulga and spinifex and cockatoos). Actually, the one thing I will take away from this book is how mistreated camels are. I’ll probably never look at a camel train again and not imagine them being hobbled and beaten and having holes shoved in their faces to run a rope through.

I did finish the book; probably because it's quite short. I can see that it might have made a good movie (no, I haven't seen it). I'm sure they might have changed a few things. At least offered us some sort of purpose for the trip. I wouldn’t recommend this book, however. 1 ½ out of 5
Profile Image for Katherine.
340 reviews143 followers
September 1, 2016
The question I'm most commonly asked is 'why?' A more pertinent question might be, why is it that more people don't attempt to escape the limitations imposed upon them? If Tracks has a message at all, it is that one can be awake to the demand for obedience that seems natural simply because it's familiar.

After watching the film Tracks twice I immediately ordered the book and promptly read it. Something about the movie stirred a feeling a wasn't familiar with within, and that feeling continued with the book. This may not sound believable, but it wasn't the journey itself that led me to learning more, but Robyn Davidson herself. Portrayed in the film by the incredible Mia Wasikowska, I immediately felt connected to the desire for privacy that she craved. Not just the stay-at-home-and-binge-on-Netflix type of privacy that our society is comfortable discussing, but something that makes others uncomfortable, a privacy almost impossible now.

And in Davidson's postscript, she says something along those lines - that pure privacy is unattainable, or at least evolving into something new. But reading about her journey over thirty years ago is powerful and feels strictly modern, as is her perspective. I had to laugh at her almost apologetic disposition when it came to describing her relationship to her dog, Diggity. If she could have only known how society would rise to find absolutely nothing strange in that kind of attachment to an animal.

But in the end, my love for this transformation is because of Robyn herself. Who she was when she started, who she was after, and who she is now as she looks back on herself. I was trying to talk to my partner about this - and I came to the conclusion that what drew me in to the book is what initially sparked my interest in the film. I saw someone I could finally relate to - with similar desires and contradictions - someone who made small steps at first, but for herself.

Through reading this book I've begun to make small steps. I've always been a big picture person, which has it's highs and lows. I'm completely at risk of sounding like a self-help dialogue - but that natural obedience we have, whether inside or outside ourselves, is easier to shirk once we see it. And knowing what you want doesn't have to mean taking a trek across the vast wilderness. This book has a higher rating than perhaps it deserves at face value, but it's importance to me at this time feels spectacular.
Profile Image for Becky.
827 reviews157 followers
December 2, 2015
I am so at a loss for this book. I read it sandwiched between Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Mother of God by Paul Rosolie, both of which were fantastic and amazingly well written. Davidson, however, lacked the talent to write as well as the other two. The narrative style was too choppy for me, occasionally hard to follow, and random. It lacked flow the majority of the time, whereas there were other moments in which Davidson discussed her friendship with Aborigines or how the desert necessarily expands your “mind” as ultra-connection is required for survival that were beautiful, if not refined.

I am wildly impressed with this woman’s resolve, her skill, her compassion and love. I will say that. Her journey is amazing, as is the environmental destruction of the outback and the plights of the Aborigines, both things that I am thankful she discussed at length in the book. It’s just that, at every point, I wanted more. I understand her desire to keep the motives and deeply personal lessons to herself, but I would have liked more description of her actual journey, 1700 miles only made up half of the book! I despaired over Diggitty, fretted over bull camels, but still don’t feel like I really know her journey, the daily life in the desert, how she made her plans, the sunrises and the sunsets, etc. I feel like most of the things that we get to know about her journey, like her annoyance with National Geographic, are superficial, superfluous, and take up space where we should have been invited into the Outback with her as the reader.

2.5 stars that I bumped to 3 simply because I couldn’t have done what she did, and I have made respect for her threatening drunks of her property with an empty rifle.
61 reviews7 followers
October 23, 2013
Tracks is a cult classic, recently republished, about a woman's solo walk across 1700 miles of the Australian outback. I learned a great deal about camels, Alice Springs Australia, the mentality of Australian men, Aborigines, and Robyn Davidson from this book. It is a book about life on the frontier, self reliance, being a woman in an ultra-macho culture, about tourism in the outback and the savage mistreatment of native peoples of the outback. One of the most interesting and to me edifying aspects of the book was in Davidson's accounts of the treatment of Aborigines and her encounters with them. She struggled hard to see the other in people very different from her. One side of prejudice is ignorant hatred that sees the Aborigines as near sub-human completely without redeeming qualities existing only to be exploited and treated as vermin. On the other side there are the well meaning who try to help them and to see into their culture. The first mistake is to seem them as "all alike" when they are from many tribal groups, sometimes opposed to each other. Many tribes have been forced onto lands with groups to which they have long histories of conflict.

Camels were first introduced into the Australian outback early in the 19th century. Many escaped captivity and they thrived and greatly multiplied in the outback, an ideal setting for them. I admit I never until I read tracks saw Camels as having much personality but Davidson taught me a lot about camels. They are hard to manage, very bonded to their herd, and each has their own personality.

As Tracks unfolds we see a spiritual journey unfold as Davidson tries to learn the skills needed to trek the outback with Camels. Her preparations take up the first third of the book and were fascinating. We meet a lot of interesting people in Alice Springs (Alice Springs is a very touristy town where people go to experience the outback.

All in all a fascinating journey and an excellent book. There is a new postscript in the Bloomsbury edition. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,083 reviews147 followers
August 13, 2017
Full review at TheBibliophage.com.

Originally published in 1982, Robyn Davidson’s travel memoir, Tracks: One Woman’s Journey of 1,700 Miles Across the Australian Outback, is a unique picture of life in the bush. To call it a travel memoir doesn’t do it justice. It’s really an adventure story, with camels, a dog, lots of sand hills, and a variety of indigenous people.

When Davidson took this journey, Aboriginal Land rights had just been legislated. The world was afraid of nuclear bombs and the Cold War. Women were just finding their feminist voices. And the Outback was entirely different than it is today.

For that matter, so was Davidson. She was a young, idealistic, and somewhat naive woman. Having been raised on a cattle ranch as well as lived in cities, she envisioned a journey from Alice Springs to the Western coast of Australia.
Profile Image for Kristin.
306 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2014
More of 1.5 stars really. I wanted to like this book a lot more. This book lacked a lot for me. For starters, while I appreciate her need to keep a lot of her motivations and revelations private, it makes it difficult to relate to someone on this type of journey with so little to go on. What makes these books good is knowing why someone chose to do this type of journey, and how it changed that person. I didn't get either in this book, which made me not invested at all in the story. Also, she wrote far more about her annoyances than she did her joy, which made for a lot of complaining and grumbling. There were a lot more general observations than personal, which was unsatisfying for a personal account. A lot of readers have been left wondering why she did this journey, I was left not really caring why she did it, but wondering more why she bothered to write a book about it.
Profile Image for Noëlibrarian.
186 reviews27 followers
June 23, 2014
Perhaps I should have given this book one more star, because there were short passages of transcendent beauty when Davidson describes lovely, remote, and impossibly hostile stretches of Australian outback desert. The author trekked 1,700 miles with four camels and a dog, in a journey of self-exploration and transformation.

Davidson has a great story, with a breathtaking backdrop, but it suffers in her telling. Often she refers to friends as though the reader already knows them, and several times alludes to a troubled life (à la a coy Facebook poster) without giving any back story. So we don't really know why she is attempting this life-changing trek, only that she is, and she does her level best to take us along, only so many things that happen to her are so beyond words, that the chasm between what she wants to say and what she does say is quite wide.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,646 reviews434 followers
February 11, 2016
Robyn Davidson was a young woman who had a dream of traveling with camels through the bush of the northern and western areas of Australia. She arrived in Alice Springs with her dog and six dollars, hoping to find work and learn to train camels. After two years she still did not have the funds to start on her trek, so she signed a contract with "National Geographic" to allow a photographer to spend a few days with her several times during the trip.

Davidson was a hard working, tenacious woman who loved the camels and her dog. She felt that she enjoyed being around animals more than people. It did occasionally make me cringe when she had to discipline the animals to keep them in line, but the camels were tricky, intelligent, and stubborn. The "camel lady" set off from Alice Springs and traveled six months through the Aboriginal Reserve areas and the desert, westward to the Indian Ocean.

Davidson tended to overreact to the presence of Rick Smolan, the camera man. The trip would not have been possible without the National Geographic sponsorship. He was also very helpful obtaining water and food for the camels so she could continue across the desert. She wanted the trip to be a personal journey, and had a hard time compromising during the three times Smolan drove out into the desert to photograph. By the end of the trip, she valued his friendship.

In addition to her interesting travel story, she also wrote about the sexism and racism that was present in 1970s Australia. She was especially concerned about the treatment of the Aborigines who had been rounded up into special areas (similar to the way the Native Americans were treated in North America). My favorite part of the book was when she walked with an older Pitjantjara man for several weeks, gaining a close connection with the environment. Davidson was a daring, gutsy woman who set a goal, and although she was not the most organized person, she reached it. I enjoyed this colorful memoir set in the bush of Australia.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,699 reviews737 followers
April 25, 2015
In 1977 Davidson in her 20s took her dog Diggity, four camels and set off across the 1700 miles of the Australian outback. Davidson starts her story in Alice Springs learning about camels. She obtains four camels called Dookie, Zelly, Bub and Goliath.

She wrote the story for the National Geographic Society that had helped subsidize the trip and paid for the photographer. Because the National Geographic provided the money she had to meet a photographer at various locations on her trip for photographs. The trip took seven months; she met interesting aboriginal people along the way.

Davidson describes how enjoyable and watchable the camels are. She writes beautifully of the majesty of the land. There is a great description of scenery such as “At times, the sand rolls on and on like an endlessly unfurling, magically variegated carpet that shifts from blood red to burnt sienna, pale pink and dung brown. At other times, it violently rises off the desert flood, swirling and churning into dusty whirlpools.”

The book is well written and is full of information and trivia such as the word whoosh means sit in Afghani. Davidson writes with an offbeat since of humor that makes the book a joy to read. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Angie Milliken narrates the book.
Profile Image for Andrea.
434 reviews151 followers
February 7, 2017
An inspiring journey of solitude and self-discovery, which I can relate to greatly. Because of her contempt for media and myth-making that had surrounded Davidson throughout her journey, she doesn't indulge into too many personal details. She often felt disgruntled at others as they invaded her privacy, and it shows through her writing even toward the reader. It seems that she is somewhat forced to open up this personal odyssey to prying eyes, and to conserve at least some secrets she discovered along the way, she chooses to omit important explanations. For example, there is very little evidence to what moved her to undertake a perilous crossing of a desert by herself. The movie has a few more hints on Robyn's motivations, but the book keeps mum. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the author's philosophical descriptions of Australian nature, the plight of indigenous population, and her relationship with the camels and the dog she took along.
Profile Image for Rosemary Atwell.
344 reviews18 followers
August 12, 2020
Davidson’s account of her solo trek from Alice Springs to Hamelin Pool in Western Australia is very much a book of its time (it was originally published in 1980, some two-and-a-half years after the event). Such a journey could not be undertaken today, and therein lies much of the book’s magic. There’s a high-minded but very real idealism concerning the possibility of political and social change that infuses the pages with a mix of passion, anger and determination. Although Davidson’s rants feature rather too frequently throughout, ‘Tracks’ remains a one-of-a-kind memoir: fierce, eloquent and moving in its observations and detailing.
Profile Image for Sabina_bere.
823 reviews53 followers
August 7, 2021
Poti so neverjeten in brutalno iskren potopis mlade ženske, ki se nekega dne odloči, da bo sama prečkala avstralsko divjino s kamelami. Že sam začetek je težaven in negotov, ko pa se pot začne, bralcu avtoričina pripoved vzame sapo. Na trenutke je zgodba neusmiljena: še posebej me je presunilo včasih res kruto ravnanje s kamelami. Avtorica hkrati tudi izpostavi zelo zaničevalen odnos Avstralcev do staroselcev in kup drugih tem.
Skozi divjino pa tudi sama Robyn počasi spoznava sama sebe in svoje meje. Dih jemajoče branje, res.
Profile Image for Mary.
259 reviews12 followers
March 12, 2017
As a young woman Robyn Davidson moved to Alice Springs with a dream of picking up some camels and heading across the desert. Of course, it just was not that easy. Although she had 1700 miles to cross, first she had to catch a camel... and learn to look after it, and train it and keep it alive.

The story of preparing for the crossing is as interesting as the crossing itself. I remember when she was actually doing it and the great stir it caused. Reading this book is a shattering reminder of what Australia was like in the late 1970s, particularly how misogynistic it was, and just how hard it was for Robyn Davidson to go against the mores of the times to follow her dreams.

This is an amazing story. It is often umcomfortable; both because it touches on uncomfortable subjects and because it is written in a different era with different sensibilities. It is absolutely worth reading.

Recommended.
Profile Image for Cynda .
1,238 reviews140 followers
February 17, 2018
I had recently told friend that I would read a Bill Bryson travelog about Australia, and then I read this one instead. I am glad I did. I had watched the movie a year or two ago which was good and which had no time to tell a fuller, truer story. I was mesmerized by Davidson's honesty and fiercosity.
I too have stepped out of so-called civilized society and too have found its overwhelming burdens of stuff and status. When I p was sick and went to ICU, hospital, and then rehab center, I too found that physical modesty was a social mask and that stuff is a social game of one-up manship. So I related to Davidson about the human essentials and some strengthened values. She helped me remember a more true nature of humanity. While Davidson experienced a different type of physical hardship, the lessons are related.
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