Robyn Davidson’s Tracks turns 40

Davidson is based in Chewton and set up one of the first pubs on the way to the goldfields. It was a love job: the top had burned down and only the stone walls were left. She loves the area and the community – and after six years of tough yakka, her house and garden. “It’s absolutely great, I feel really lucky.”

She says she partially adopted Victoria because the residents seemed genuinely interested in each other. After having been away from Australia for 30 years, she first bought in Sydney. “It felt nice, but brittle or something. So I came to Melbourne, which I didn’t know at all. Within a week I thought, ‘God, this is the place for me.’ “

Davidson usually spent several months in India each year, but not in 2020, and the irony of the anniversary of their great adventure book, which falls at a time when travel is difficult, is not lost.

Now that the restrictions in Victoria are lifted, she is wondering about the further consequences of the pandemic. “There could be this reassessment of what kind of life we ​​want and what kind of land we want and what kind of future we want to create together. I think people are really pretty concerned now. “

She is encouraged to see that the climate change discourse is also changing. “Poor people have always had to deal not only with climate change, but also with the great differences in wealth, but now it affects the people who have more power.”

Tracks was written two years after Davidson’s trip to Australia as the winner of the first Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. “I swear I remembered every single campsite on this trip, but then it’s funny when the book is finished. It’s like the book has eaten away the memories … I still have clear pictures from the trip, but somehow that complete recall went into the book. “

In 2013, Emile Sherman produced the film adaptation with Mia Wasikowska, who Davidson loves and considers a friend. It came after so many “hair-raising awful scripts” that she began to believe it would never happen; She is very happy about it and says it honors the book.

In retrospect, the 70-year-old author says that it is almost as if an extraordinary odyssey took place on another planet. “I know that I am very competent, I know how to be alone … but the journey itself seems to be in an almost mythical landscape. And of course the past is a mythical landscape.”

Actress Mia Wasikowska and Davidson on the set of the filming of Tracks.

What would she say to her younger self now? “Who are you? Give me some of what you have!” She says with a laugh. “Oh, that wonderful innocence and arrogance of youth. “

Tracks represents an era of her life; London and India were next. Davidson famously lived with the writer Doris Lessing and dated Salman Rushdie in London during those years before moving to the subcontinent. “In a way, they are more present to me than Central Australia. I was in India for 30 years; My partner was Indian. “

During her trip through Australia, Davidson said she got an in-depth look at Aboriginal culture. Her strength and wisdom remain with her. “They had solved deep, human questions … and the beauty of dreaming, the splendor of it and the tremendous intellectual achievement of this way of understanding your own place in the world, the poetry of it.”

She now finds it “grieving” to go into the desert. Where previously native animal tracks existed, species are introduced instead; Many native grasses have disappeared. “And depending on where you look, things aren’t much better for Aborigines. All of that makes it pretty complicated for me. “

While Davidson doesn’t romanticize nomads, he believes her philosophical approach to the world offers great insight. Nomadic cultures tend towards humanistic values, where people and knowledge are more important than the accumulation of goods. “It also means better understanding your place in nature,” she says. “That you are not this unit that is somehow outside of nature, you are embedded.”

Kerrie is a senior cultural writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald

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