“The trip wasn’t conceived as an adventure, in the sense of something to be proved or conquered. And when people asked me why I’m doing it, my usual answer is why not?”
Robyn Davidson (as played by Mia Wasikowska in Tracks)
Robyn Davidson did not set out to write the book ‘Tracks’, nor did she want to talk about her walk of seventeen hundred miles across mostly Australian desert. And she did not want to have to pose for photographs every five or six weeks. Even with the wise words received while training the camels that would eventually join her on the journey in the movie adaptation, “You don’t have to be unlucky to die out there”. That does not deter Robyn in the slightest: “I just want to be by myself.”
Like what you might call the sister-movie Wild (with Reese Witherspoon), there are personal and redemptive motivations for such a hazardous and remote journey. But that is not the central exploration to the movie Tracks, adapted from Robyn Davidson’s book – though this is a much stronger part of the narrative in Cheryl Strayed’s big screen story. In Tracks it is primarily the steps taken themselves (plenty of shots here of the feet of the camels and the dog, as well as Robyn).
“I’d always been drawn to the purity of the desert. If my trip was inspired by anyone, it would be my father. He trecked across East Africa, in his youth, and was happiest on his own out in the bush.”
Robyn was twenty-seven on day 1 of her near 200 day west Australia trek. Her trusted and loyal companions were her black dog Diggity, and her four camels – Dookie, Bub, Zeleika, and the young Goliath. More to aid the funding of her trip, Robyn was also sporadically accompanied by photographer Rick Smolan, whose pictures were the inspirational vision for the famous National Geographic magazine coverage.
From there, Robyn went on to write the book Tracks – in turn further accounts were published, including From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback. The film from 2013 then, adapted by Marion Nelson, was directed by John Curran, and the casting of Mia Wasikowska (who is Australian) as The Camel Lady was a truly inspired move.
It is clear from the opening of the movie Tracks, that Robyn (Wasikowska) is focused on venturing across Australia on her own, solitary terms. She turns down offers of assistance and responds meekly to advice. “You’re an odd girl, Robyn Davidson”. This is most definitely due to drive and determination, rather than a sheer stubborn-as-a-mule outlook, or a willingness to rely on blind luck.
“I am well aware of the hardship I will be facing. And the first to admit, I’m remarkably unqualified for such a hazardous undertaking. But this is precisely the point of my journey.”
During the journey, Robyn befriends, and engages culturally, with aboriginal people. The vast differences in language and ways-of-life emphasize the solitude and distance from the reality she is accustomed to – but they seem to be on the same wavelength. “Words are overrated” says one character when she expresses a longing to talk to these people properly.
Those sacred sites Robyn was aware of, but learns about as she goes, are essential to parts of her journey, realizing there are still functions and places (this is 1977) that are forbidden to women. They are, though, her guides and friends. I don’t want to delve too deep in the movie and how it affected me (perhaps as much as our traveler herself is portrayed – to not have to explain, but just to let the journey unfold).
That said, it is a remarkably captivating movie. Shot to perfection by Mandy Walker, with sweeping landscapes or burning close-ups, never lingering. But there in front of your eyes enough for you to appreciate the vastness of the great outdoors. You can see the heat, and just about feel it.
The score by Garth Stevenson is a majestic companion, and landscape appropriate – that is, it does not depend on an overuse of “Aussie” sounds. You are there by Robyn’s side the whole journey. Sometimes you’re dizzy with the wilderness, and sometimes you have a longing to be there too. Every part is intoxicating.
Mia Wasikowska has never been this good (and she generally impresses). Her character’s refusal to not let people help or join her soon becomes understandable. She disregards the human society she knows of (not so much the aborigines), but has an unparalleled love and respect for her dog and four camels. We know she is not malicious. “I can deal with pigs really easily, but nice people confound me.”
The character Robyn is partly defined by the smaller, sweeter moments. When she appears lost, she demands her dog Diggity “Go home! Go on!”, relying on that strong canine sense to find home. Or the ground being too hot for one of the camels, Robyn simply wraps up the feet, and on they go. “You got new shoes.”
The drawing sent from a child of The Camel Lady and her black dog, as though she were now a role model or national hero. These are moments I can describe with much more detail, but nothing can beat simply experiencing it for yourself. When the final titles begin, merging actual photos of the real Robyn Davidson during that time, the truth of the story hits home even more poignantly than it maybe already had.
There is an ample amount of pain and heartache too, nowhere near as much that can be depicted in a two hour motion picture as there was in the real life journey. Robyn has to deal with consequential sacrifices, the sort of suffering she would not surely experience back in the city life she longed to escape.
The movie brushes over each of the heavier moments, which is to its advantage. Director Curran and editor Alexandre de Franceschi allow enough time to emotionally impact the audience, then flow the story along. Robyn, you see, simply must walk on.
“My only thought now was to push on to the end of my route. The country passed unnoticed beneath my feet, and I recall little of that time.”
Robyn Davidson (from her book Tracks)
As the film closed, I gulped down a hefty amount of water from the bottle, somehow subconsciously grateful for that, as though I myself had walked a small part of the Australian desert. But it was the cinematic journey I am thankful for. I suspect not all will be engrossed by this as I was (I gladly feel I did not have a choice), but this is a beautiful film, inspired by a great story. A journey I would be willing to take again.
I recommend you read all the literature and view all the photos of this incredible story. A Telegraph article containing extracts from the book Tracks is worth browsing, as is a piece from last year in National Geographic relating the movie to the original material. But, really, go explore that, and the film, for yourself.
“I like the freedom inherent in being on my own, and I like the growth and learning processes that develop from taking chances.”