Table of Contents
- STYLE, TECHNIQUES AND METALANGUAGE
- ANALYSIS OF THE THEMES
- Human company and relationships
- ANALYSIS OF THE CHARACTERS
- IMPORTANT QUOTES
- Essay 1 : ’In Tracks, Davidson shows that preparation and determination are essential to survival.’ To what extent do you agree?
- Essay 2 : ’Robyn Davidson’s journey in Tracks is motivated by political reasons as well as personal reasons.’ To what extent do you agree?
- Essay 3 : ’Tracks depicts the natural world as a beautiful but potentially deadly place.’ Discuss.
- Essay 4 : Discuss the conflict between individualism and community in Tracks.
- Essay 5 : ’In Tracks, Robyn Davidson is pushed to the limits of her endurance.’ Discuss.
- Essay 6 : “… it seems to me that the good Lord in his infinite wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable – hope, jokes and dogs, but the greatest of these was dogs.” In Tracks, Davidson discovers what is truly important in life. Discuss.
- Essay 7 : Discuss the role of minor characters in Tracks.
- Essay 8 : Discuss Davidson’s use of literary techniques in Tracks.
Tracks is a work of creative non-fiction by Australian Robyn Davidson, published in 1980. It describes her epic trek across the Gibson Desert, from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to the west coast – a journey of around 1700 miles – with only her supplies, camels, and dog Diggity for company. The trek took place in the late 1970s, a time of great social change in Australia. The feminist movement, environmental movement and land rights movement were in full swing. Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party was Prime Minister, ushering a more politically conservative era of government than that of the previous Labor leader, Gough Whitlam. Whitlam’s reign was a radically progressive era in Australian politics, which saw the introduction of Indigenous land rights, free tertiary education, the official end to the White Australia policy, and many other landmark political achievements. Tracks is set after this time of extraordinary social change; Davidson makes no secret of her political leanings, describing the Fraser government’s attitude towards Indigenous Australians as “genocidal.”
The journey, for Davidson, is primarily a personal experience – she describes the female realm as an “internal” one which they are more used to looking into than men, who are raised to be more confident. The journey is a test of her own resourcefulness, an epic task which gives meaning in its own right. However, there is a strong political edge to many of her observations. She makes no attempt to conceal her righteous fury at the systematic mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous people, and her contempt for the “brutal” and archaic “Australian cult of misogyny” (a cult which becomes terrifyingly evident in Alice Springs) is vividly portrayed.
Her political views are not the only things which are vividly depicted. Although a work of non-fiction, essentially a memoir, Tracks is written in a highly subjective and often very poetic style. A deep love of nature runs through the work, and Davidson writes in a frequently rhapsodic style, describing the astonishing shapes and colours of the country she walks through. This adoration of nature is combined with her fierce love of animals. She has an intense bond with her camels and her dogs, and the moments when she must kill a sick camel or when Diggity dies are devastating for her. On a deeper level, the book explores the interactions between humanity and the vast wilderness. As she moves through the wild, Davidson enters a realm where time is entirely elastic, where all things interact in profound and complex ways with all other things. She associates this interconnected view of the world very closely with traditional Indigenous philosophies, and professes a great admiration for Australia’s original cultures.
Davidson does not see her fairly extreme experience of the natural world to be an essential way of entering this sort of wilderness of the mind. Rather, she argues that massive journeys such as the one she embarks on “do not begin or end, they merely change form.” The ability to enter into a vision of reality in which you are a part of everything else, neither greater nor lesser, can be found anywhere; it is an internal rather than an external process. Although Davidson resents being cast as a feminist hero, or indeed anything other than a woman who wanted to go on a trek, there is a distinctly feminist vein running through her philosophy. The deep knowledge of the self which she achieves is, she argues, denied to women, who are from birth labelled and taught to be weak and submissive. She argues in a postscript, written some thirty years or so after the initial publication of Tracks, that her one true belief is in individualism: “one person’s conformity is often in the interests of another person’s power.” The inner knowledge and rejection of societal expectations which characterised her trip are, for her, possible in any setting.
Tracks was met with critical and commercial success upon publication, and won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980.
STYLE, TECHNIQUES AND METALANGUAGE
Tracks is a work of creative non-fiction. Specific genres which it touches on are travel writing and memoir. The account is non-fiction but unfolds like a novel, rarely jumping forwards or back, and following Davidson’s time in central Australia in a linear fashion. The book is written in a highly subjective first-person narrative style which allows Davidson to capture events not just as they objectively occurred, but as she experienced them.
Davidson includes traditional literary techniques to craft her account. She presents the natural wonders she encounters on her trip in vivid descriptive language – describing, for example, a “twisted freakish wasteland of sandstone break-aways, silent, and seemingly aloof from the rest of the earth’s evolution.” She also uses metaphors, in describing the landscapes through which she passes but also in describing human relationships. She presents her complex relationship with her family thus: “Between us, it seemed, there had always been invisible ropes and chains that we had chafed at, fought against, thought we had escaped from only to find them as strong as ever.” These literary devices make the work engaging and meaningful in the way that a straight, objective, no-frills account of the journey never could. Another traditional fictional technique Davidson employs is sharp and memorable characterisation. She records Kurt’s dialogue in his accent, for example, replacing his Ws with Vs.
Tracks may be written in a largely subjective, personal style, but it describes real places, people and events. It also touches on sensitive – and vitally important – social and political issues. In describing the state of affairs for Indigenous Australians, for example, Davidson gives detailed descriptions of life in the Aboriginal communities she visits, and quotes sections of other, academic and non-fictional accounts of the Indigenous experience. This allows Davidson to draw sharp distinctions between her opinions and hard facts. Finally, Tracks is laced with frequent and often self-deprecating humour, which fits with Davidson’s thesis that she is not some super-human who did what no-one else could, but simply a determined and deeply fallible woman who attempted what most people assume they could never do.
ANALYSIS OF THE THEMES
Robyn Davidson’s epic journey across the desert is a remarkable feat of survival. Over the course of her trip she is attacked by enraged bull camels, must endure almost unendurable heat, and manage four highly temperamental camels, on whom her very life depends. She must navigate according to gut instinct as much as her maps, which are rudimentary, and must keep herself and her animals alive in terrain which has often been devastated by intensive agriculture or mining. For all of this, however, Davidson maintains that “the trip was easy.” Fundamentally, the trek, for Robyn, was a matter of sensible preparation and most importantly mental resilience: “you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.” Robyn quickly learns that it is crucial to learn how to subdue panic or despair; one can think one’s way out of a bad situation but only if one’s head is clear. Robyn frequently beats herself into mental clarity when things look bad; when she loses track of a road, early in her trip, she forces herself to stay calm: “Take it easy, be calm, she’ll be right, mate, settle down settle DOWN.” The other crucial mental skill Robyn develops is the ability to lose herself entirely in the desert. She describes a certain mental “fragmentation,” an uncertainty and reluctance to “melt” into the desert, which she (and, Robyn concludes, most Australians) instinctively felt towards the wilderness. “Survival in the desert,” she argues, “requires that you lose this fragmentation, and fast.” Survival hinges on finding her little role in the desert, one tiny part of a vast and eternal web of actions, causes and effects.
This form of mental resilience is largely learnt outside of the desert – and it is no coincidence that Robyn does not actually start on her trip until almost halfway into the book. Her ability to withstand crisis and make the most of opportunities is fostered through her terrifying stint serving potentially violent patrons at the local pub and working for the psychotic camel-trainer, Kurt. Some of her worst experiences in the book occur living in Alice, and she has several despairing episodes. The interest the books holds in her pre-trek preparations is symptomatic of Robyn’s worldview, that the real journey is not a physical one but a mental one. The journey, for Robyn, consists in total self-reliance and freedom from societal constraints, and the “most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step.” By the time she is ready to stride out into the desert, she is already well and truly on her journey.
The central aim of Robyn’s journey is to give herself the opportunity take control of a project and to lose herself in it. It is essentially emancipatory; in the desert she will be alone, and entirely self-reliant. In the final pages of the book, and a much later postscript, Davidson makes it clear that there is a political edge to her personal journey. Her desire to prove that “one really could act to change and control one’s life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward” has implications for her attitude towards the constant pressure to conform to society’s expectations. “One person’s conformity,” she notes, “is often in the interests of another person’s power.” Thus, the trip is justified largely through the fact that she cannot really justify it to other people.
Davidson is acutely aware that her ability to waltz off into the desert, although she puts significant effort and huge amounts of her own resources into it, is itself the result of a degree of privilege she holds, and is shaken to the core when accused by a Marxist of being a “bourgeois individualist.” However, she notes that the passionate young Marxist working to help the inhabitants of the Aboriginal camp they visit is rather too set in his opinions, as well-intentioned as they are, and not very good at listening to the opinions of the people he claims to be working for. Davidson sees the total isolation of her journey and subsequent opportunity to become intimately familiar and comfortable with herself as a necessary part of political engagement – she hopes it will make her better at understanding her own thoughts, opinions and biases than her politico colleagues. She also stresses that part of her desire is to meet Aborigines, and hear first-hand from them about their experiences, rather than project her own pre-formed opinions on them. Thus, her individualism has a sharp political edge to it. At the heart of her journey is the longing for freedom: “The freedom to make up your own mind, to make yourself.”
Connected intimately to Davidson’s desire to escape social mores is the repressive gender climate of Australia in the 1970s. Women, Davidson argues, are particularly constrained, and spend their life adhering to rules and regulations not of their own devising. A woman is categorised and forced into a set of social conventions as soon as she approaches adolescence, “And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to quelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.” For Davidson, the trek is an opportunity for her flee these expectations and conventions in the most dramatic way possible. Out in the desert, Robyn dances, strips off, cries out into the sky, plays in the dirt with her dog – does all sorts of things, essentially, which she is not expected to do in the “real” world.
Her experiences before and after the trip confirm ger views. In Alice Springs, she must endure the “brutal” manifestation of the “Australian cult of misogyny,” serving patrons at a pub who revel in the most gratuitously sexist displays they can manage. Indeed, one of the first encounters with another person to be described in the book is of a sleazy old man interrupting her train journey and staring at her lasciviously. She encounters a different form of gender-categorisation after the trip. She becomes the “camel lady” in the popular press, a feminist idol to some and a sexist archetype of a madwoman to others. She longs to be an individual, to be approached and understood as Robyn Davidson, and nothing else.
Tracks is deeply concerned with race relations in Australia. The first half of the 1970s, under the Whitlam Prime Ministership, saw a number of positive measures taken to restore some form of political power to the original inhabitants of Australia. However, these measures, such as the granting of Indigenous and rights, were up against centuries of genocidal oppression, and what little progress was made was met with reactionary force under the Liberal government of the later 70s. Davidson describes in some detail the struggle for Indigenous Australians to achieve any sort of sovereignty, and calls out the catch-phrase of “assimilation” as an attempt to take yet more land of the Indigenous community. Racism is endemic in Alice Springs. Racial slurs abound, and Davidson is disturbed to find even young, hip tourists disgusted by the Indigenous “brutes.”
There are other, more subtle forms of racism Davidson uncovers. She worries that the National Geographic article detailing her journey will do a disservice to Indigenous Australia, fearing Indigenous Australians as depicted by the magazine “would remain quaint primitives to be gawked at by readers who couldn’t really give a damn what was happening to them.” She is similarly shocked by Rick’s well-intentioned but also misguided attempts to photograph what transpires to be sacred women’s business.
Davison herself has a profound respect for Indigenous Australia, and delights in the company of Eddie, an Indigenous elder who guides her for part of her journey. She finds European attitudes towards nature and land management to be “archetypally paranoid, grasping, destructive” in comparison to Aboriginal attitudes. She is also deeply moved by the resilience and irrepressible good-humour of Eddie, and reflects on his and his people’s ability to keep their dignity and strength in the face of devastating adversity.
Human company and relationships
Ostensibly, Davidson’s desire to escape society and be totally solitary, along with her professed preference for animals over people, indicates a deeply private, even misanthropic personality. However, Tracks is full of intensely rewarding relationships and friendships forged by Robyn. She enjoys the company and support of her friends to an almost spiritual degree, stating that she “never uncovered anywhere the same bonds of friendship as I found in certain small sections of Australian society.” Whilst in Alice Springs she forms a deep friendship with Kurt’s long-suffering wife Gladdy, along with Ada Baxter and Jen and Toly. She develops a fierce respect also for Sallay Mahomet, an old Afghan camel trainer. Although she initially resents the company of Rick Smolan, she also develops as very deep friendship for him also, describing him as an unusually sensitive and self-aware man. On the road, she relishes the company of Aboriginal elder Eddie, a man whom she finds positively inspiring. She enjoys her time at most of the inhabited areas where she stays.
Davidson appears to have a somewhat more complex relationship with her family. Although she loves her father and her sister, the death of her mother seems to have led to an unspecified difficulty in the remaining family unit: “Between us, it seemed, there had always been invisible ropes and chains that we had chafed at, fought against, thought we had escaped from only to find them as strong as ever.” One of the many unintended meanings which Davidson’s trip takes on, not entirely according to her will, is as a sort of healing process, a way of exorcizing feelings of guilt or resentment between her and her surviving family members.
Ultimately, human connection and love is extremely important to Davidson. Her solitary venture is a means of expressing ad affirming this fact; by being alone, she can focus on what life truly requires. Her final contention that fleeing society – and people – is not necessary for emancipation; one merely needs to ensure they are not defined by the people and society they associate with.
Running throughout Tracks is a deep love of the natural world. The vast mountain ranges of the desert inspire a deep sense of the sublime in Robyn: “They have an awesome grandeur that can fill you with exaltation or dread, and usually a combination of both.” Davidson frequently rhapsodises over the beauty of the landscape she walks through, and its singular, dwarfing immensity. As she progresses through the desert, however, she begins to develop a deeper sense of appreciation for it than mere aesthetics; she starts seeing it as a vast, interconnected, living network. Instead of looking at a rock and merely seeing a rock, for example, Robyn starts to think “This is part of a net, or closer, this, which everything acts upon, acts.” Her sense of self evaporates until she essentially feels herself to be part of the desert through which she walks.
Robyn is frequently dismayed by human destruction of the landscape, particularly through over-use and intensive farming practices. She develops a profound respect for Indigenous attitudes towards nature, and finds it baffling that the majority of her fellow Australians could be so indifferent as to what happens to their natural environment.
Davidson also has a strong love for animals, particularly camels, onto which she happily projects human characteristics: “They are affectionate, cheeky, playful, witty, yes witty, self-possessed, patient, hard-working and endlessly interesting and charming.” She also has a strong love for her dog Diggity, and is utterly broken when she has to kill her canine companion after she eats from a carcass of an animal killed with a strychnine bait. Her love of animals stems partly from their inhibition, and lack of interest in arbitrary social laws, obeying a natural logic of the sort she hopes to find out in the desert.
ANALYSIS OF THE CHARACTERS
Tracks is Davidson’s account, written entirely from her own first-person perspective. The “lunatic idea” which drives her to attempt the long and hazardous journey across the desert is the result of a sense of exhaustion she feels for daily life, for work and abortive attempts at study. Davidson makes it clear that her determination to set of on her odyssey is not because she is a “brave and adventurous person” – quite the opposite, in fact. If Davidson were a bold and heroic adventurer then crossing the desert single-handedly would not be a remarkable feet. Rather, it is her ordinariness – and her growing contempt of ordinariness – which impels her. She consistently rejects the notion that there was some political or motivational message behind her increasingly well-publicised journey; the only one real motivation was to prove to herself that “One really could act to change and control one’s life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward.”
This is not, however, to suggest that Davidson is in any sense apolitical. On the contrary, her character is shot through with passionate political beliefs. She has a profound respect for Indigenous Australians and frequently lambasts the attitudes and policies of most Australians as “racist” or “genocidal.” She has a similarly fierce aversion towards the “Australian cult of misogyny,” an unpleasant national trait which is most evidently on show in the pubs she works in in Alice Springs, where the atmosphere is characterised by the constant threat of violence. She is eloquent and insightful in the history of sexism which she posits as an explanation for the “brutal” men she encounters in the Northern Territory.
Davidson also exhibits a fierce love of animals. She is greatly attached to her dog Diggity and is traumatised by the violence she occasionally must use against angry bull camels. She frequently puts this down to the fact that she prefers animal company to human – however, she also has many close friends, and speaks of the centrality of human relationships to any fulfilling life, even if she is temporarily attempting to be truly alone. Her family life, from what little of it she discusses in the book, is loving but complex; she speaks of “invisible ropes and chains” which have bound her to her father and sister since the death of her mother. One of the many unexpected symbolic qualities her trip takes on is as a sort of healing process for the family.
Over the course of Tracks Davidson evolves from an uncertain but determined woman with little knowledge of what she is about to attempt to an expert, knowledgeable traveller and adventurer. Her ultimate contention is that all people must fight to break loose from societal trappings and expectations in whatever form they may.
Rick Smolan is a talented young photographer who talks Davidson into asking National Geographic to fund his trip. Rick represents a threat to the total seclusion and privacy which Davidson hopes for, and she finds his role as photographer inherently difficult. It means that the trip she undertakes can no longer be entirely hers, as it will be experienced both by him and then ultimately the readership of National Geographic. Further, there is a tension between her desire not to be in any way exploitative of the Indigenous communities she visits and his need to take exotic photos for the magazine. They frequently clash over this.
Nevertheless, the pair quickly become very close friends. In him Davidson finds a “kind of introverted sweetness and perceptiveness that is rare enough in men.” He finds him After a rocky start, they forge a friendship which was “there to stay.” Although he is technically there on a job, he exhibits real and passionate friendship with Davidson, even driving hundreds of miles up and down the country whenever the trip falters and requires emergency aid. Rick seems, as a character, to be torn between his friendship with and understanding of Davidson, and his professional duty. He understands, more or less, the problems inherent in his role, but it is still ultimately a role he must play.
Eddie is an Aboriginal elder who guides Davidson through a stretch of her journey. He is an irrepressible old man with whom she forms a deep bond, despite his limited English and her equally limited Pitjantjara. As they walk to Warburton he guides her through Indigenous cosmology and mythology. Eddie is an inspiration to Davidson, and stands for the ability of Indigenous Australians to retain their humanity, kindness and generosity of spirit even after centuries of deprivation and attempted genocide. She is incredibly impressed at the way in which he sees off insensitive tourists, and finds herself thinking “about how [Indigenous Australians had] been slaughtered, almost wiped out, forced to live on settlements that were more like concentration camps, then poked, measured and taped, had photos of their sacred business printed in colour in heavy anthropological texts, had their sacred secret objects stolen and taken to museums, had their potency and integrity drained from them at every opportunity, had been reviled and misunderstood by almost every white in the country, and then finally left to rot with their cheap booze and our diseases and their deaths, and I looked at this marvellous old half-blind codger laughing his socks off as if he had never experienced any of it, never been the butt of a cruel ignorant bigoted attempt, never had a worry in his life, and I thought, OK old man, if you can, me too.” Some tension is caused when Rick insists on taking Eddie’s photograph, but ultimately Davidson and Eddie part on excellent terms.
Kurt and Gladdy
One of the more eccentric characters Davidson encounters is the unhinged camel-trainer, Kurt. Despite his inane and vitriolic hatred, and the psychological and verbal abuse he regularly subjects her to, Davidson is compelled to spend months at a time at his ranch, enduring his frequent, utterly psychotic screaming fits. However, as much she despises the “arrogant prick,” she begins to “masochistically appreciate” his constant berating. It teaches her to be hardworking and diligent. Indeed, a certain paranoid, distrustful attitude is exactly what she needs to survive as a single woman alone in the Alice, and ultimately as a lone voyager out in the desert. She also develops a friendship with Kurt’s long-suffering wife Gladdy, and comes to understand the bizarre relationships formed by the intense isolation and remoteness of the city. Essentially, she concludes, anyone who lives in the Alice must eventually go “troppo.”
An infinitely more sane camel trainer is Sallay Mahomet, who is descended from the original Afghan camel herders who worked in the Australian desert when telegraph lines and railways were first being constructed. He eventually takes Davidson on under generous terms as recognition of the hellish nature of working with Kurt. He teaches her many skills for training and equipping camels. His assistance is invaluable to Davidson, who regards him as “an endless mine of such information.” Although slightly patronising to towards “what he would always consider the weaker sex,” he is one of the many examples of kindly, decent people Davidson encounters on her travels.
Diggity and the Camels
Davidson’s love of animals and her sense of connection with them render the creatures in Tracks characters in their own rights. She frequently waxes lyrical about her beloved animals, and describes the species as “affectionate, cheeky, playful, witty, yes witty, self-possessed, patient, hard-working and endlessly interesting and charming.” She gives detailed character descriptions of each of them. She also deeply loves her dog, Diggity. When Diggity eats a poisoned dingo bait, Davidson is utterly distraught; “Diggity had become a cherished friend rather than simply a pet.” Davidson’s attitude towards the animals she encounters is reflected in her deep love of natural beauty, and her horror at the amount of damage humans are capable of and happy to inflict on the precious natural world.
· “There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you think you are on the right track.” (3)
Davidson’s account is characterised by this sensation, of feeling, intuitively, the need to attempt something. The fact that this “confidence” only “lasted about ten seconds” is also characteristic, and sets up a struggle which becomes central to Robyn’s time in the desert – between intuitive urges and feelings, and the constraints of the logic and reason which dictates her society.
· “They are affectionate, cheeky, playful, witty, yes witty, self-possessed, patient, hard-working and endlessly interesting and charming.” (14)
Robyn’s affection for camels, and her close relationship with her dog Diggity, is a central element of her character. Whilst she repeatedly emphasises the importance of human companionship and company, animals represent intelligent life unrestrained by the codes and expectations of society.
· “The modern-day manifestation is almost entirely devoid of charm. He is biased, bigoted, boring and, above all, brutal.” (19)
Davidson’s incisive historical contextualisation of Australia’s “cult of misogyny” is a savage indictment of the much-romanticised image of the Aussie outback bloke. Her undisguised contempt for and revulsion at the men of Alice Springs is fitting given the era of social change in which she is writing.
· “I have never uncovered anywhere the same bonds of friendship as I found in certain small sections of Australian society.” (36)
Although Davidson at times claims to feel a closer bond with animals than with people, and embarks on a highly individualistic journey expressly designed to set her apart from society, she also repeatedly stresses the centrality of friendship and company in human existence.
· “One really could act to change and control one’s life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward.” (37)
The “process” of attempting to assert control over her life is in itself the most rewarding element of the journey for Robyn, reinforcing her view that her real journey is internal rather than external.
· “Between us, it seemed, there had always been invisible ropes and chains that we had chafed at, fought against, thought we had escaped from only to find them as strong as ever.” (98)
Although Davidson does not explicitly state what the metaphorical “chains” between her family are, she makes it clear that the death of her mother has irrevocably altered the relationship she has with her father and sister. Although she loves them dearly, they represent one of the many obligations she hopes to escape from for some months.
· “They have an awesome grandeur that can fill you with exaltation or dread, and usually a combination of both.” (122)
The outback, for Davidson, possesses the quality of the sublime, a simultaneous sensation of joy and terror. The intense emotional experience of the desert helps her forge a new sense of self.
· “They would remain quaint primitives to be gawked at by readers who couldn’t really give a damn what was happening to them.” (141)
Davidson’s concern that her trip will be compromised by the reportage of National Geographic develops a new intensity when Rick attempts to photograph Indigenous Australians. She sees the alienated indifference of National Geographic readers as essentially no better than the overt, hateful racism of the bigots she meets on the road, as it allows the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality of the world in regards to Aboriginal affairs to flourish.
· “Please please let me be there before night. Please don’t let me be here in the dark. It will engulf me.” (153)
Although she later describes the trip across the desert as being fundamentally “easy,” there are also many moments in the text where Davidson is almost overcome with despair.
· “Thought about how they’d been slaughtered, almost wiped out, forced to live on settlements that were more like concentration camps, then poked, measured and taped, had photos of their sacred business printed in colour in heavy anthropological texts, had their sacred secret objects stolen and taken to museums, had their potency and integrity drained from them at every opportunity, had been reviled and misunderstood by almost every white in the country, and then finally left to rot with their cheap booze and our diseases and their deaths, and I looked at this marvellous old half-blind codger laughing his socks off as if he had never experienced any of it, never been the butt of a cruel ignorant bigoted attempt, never had a worry in his life, and I thought, OK old man, if you can, me too.” (179-180)
Eddie becomes emblematic of the strength and resilience of Australia’s first nations, and through the survival of him and his people against the worst possible odds, helps inspire Davison and put her own troubles firmly into perspective.
· “When this way of thinking became ordinary for me, I too became lost in the net and the boundaries of myself stretched out for ever.” (192)
The desert seriously reconfigures Davidson’s conception of herself. She finds herself part of a vast, cosmically interconnected network of beings, animate and inanimate, which interact in countless and complex ways. This allows her to break out of the “conditioning” of her own society.
· “And once again I compared European society with Aboriginal. The one so archetypally paranoid, grasping, destructive, the other so sane.” (197)
The experience in the desert leads Davidson to feel that the white Australian approach to the land is deeply flawed and destructive. She advocates the mindset of the traditional owners, one of interconnectedness and profound respect for the land.
· “To break the moulds, to be heedless of the seductions of security is an impossible struggle, but one of the few that count.” (220)
For Davidson, the “seductions of security” are cloying, parasitical, and enchaining. Only by embracing the fear of the unknown can we be truly free.
· “And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to quelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.” (237)
Despite her strongly feminist beliefs, Davidson rejects being labelled as a feminist icon. Her argument is that she is being lionised as an especially strong and powerful woman in order to justify other people’s reluctance to emulate her; if she is unique, almost magical, than no wonder no one else can follow her. Her philosophy, however, is that anyone can escape society, and it is society which tries to convince them that no such thing is possible.
· “Camel trips, as I was about to have confirmed, do not begin or end, they merely change form.” (254)
Davidson argues that the process of abandoning society’s shackles and allowing the development of the self can occur anywhere, not necessarily by trekking across a desert. The real journey is internal, and once started, it never ends.