Book Review: Tracks

By David Hill

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'Tracks' by Robyn Davidson
'Tracks' by Robyn Davidson

Tracks by Robyn Davidson
(Bloomsbury $24.99)

Tracks is a re-issue of the 1980 narrative from an ex-Brisbane-bohemian-turned-Outback-girl and-Aboriginal-rights-supporter who trekked 2700km across the Gibson Desert from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels.

Davidson originally had no intention of writing about her astonishing odyssey, but a National Geographic inquiry - she accepted it reluctantly and gracelessly - led to an article that led to a book (written in Britain, in Doris Lessing's house).

The first half is the prelude to the journey, as she gathers knowledge, finances, disbelieving head-shakings. Aussie blokes, for whom "men are men and women are an afterthought", knew she was a fool.

Defiant, determined, off she sets, with 700kg of luggage stacked on her camels. She's a great fan of her ruminants: they're "affectionate, playful, witty, charming, haughty". They also regurgitate slimy green cud over you when piqued.

She has bad times: she dislocates a hip, has to shoot her poisoned dog, gets so lonely she weeps and screams at the sand dunes. She has brilliant times: the glorious, gaunt landscape, the Aboriginal people she meets on the way, who welcome her to dance ceremonies or guide her through the wilderness.

It was a remarkable feat and Davidson clearly was - still is: she's become a chronicler of nomadic peoples - a remarkable woman. She's sunderingly honest about her fears and inadequacies. Her admiration for Aboriginal people, plus her fury at their mistreatment and marginalisation, beats through the book.

But Tracks really should carry a "beware of stereotypes" warning. Nearly all white people are sexist, suburban and smug. The only thing worse than an Aussie white male is an Aussie journalist, or a tourist of any nationality. Narrowness of characterisation is matched by shallowness of philosophising. "You are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be." Gosh.

Disregard this and the occasional superior smirks that make you want to send the author to her room, and feel awed at what Robyn Davidson did.

Also, feel grateful she doesn't live in your street.

- NZ Herald

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