Friday, 20 June 2014

Tracks (2013)

After I had been out walking for maybe two hours I came to a road and there was a bus standing. "Get in, I'll take you back to Kalgoorlie." the driver said. "No, I want to walk." I replied but he would have none of that. "No, I'm not leaving you out here, it's too dangerous." So I got on the bus and sat down. There was no charge. A good thing that driver was not around when I went for a much longer walk in Western Australia, north of Perth, just me, my hat and my water bottles, because I was out for almost the entire day (with a rest stop at a farmhouse) and that was probably even more dangerous. But that is one thing I like about it, the extremeness of it, the air so hot you can almost feel its texture. I have also been for long walks in the centre of Australia, past both Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (aka Mount Olga), sleeping on the ground and under the sky, sometimes awakened by humungous insects crawling down my back, and at one point walking barefoot through the desert after an unexpected rainfall.

Kata Tjuta

But none of my experiences, amazing as they were, can compare to Robyn Davidson's walk through the desert from Alice Springs due west to the Indian Ocean. It took nine months and she did most of it in the company of only her dog Diggity and four camels, and for one section of her trip she was guided by Mr. Eddie. Her walk took place in 1977 and it has since been told in various ways, including by herself in an article in National Geographic and then in a book. Now there is also a film, directed by John Curran and with Mia Wasikowska in the lead. A film I like a lot. Wasikowska is very good in her part and the film captures the Australian landscape and the desert beautifully; the cinematographer is Mandy Walker. The soundtrack could have been more imaginative, now it is mostly just an average score, and the brief flashbacks to Davidson's childhood were unnecessary I felt, but other than that I have no complaints. I like that they have not tried to make her out to be a saint, or hero or something, but a relatively normal person with sometimes poor people skills. 

In interviews made now Davidson has expressed her surprise and even hostility towards people asking her why she did it. "That's only because I'm a woman. Nobody would ask a man that." she claims, which is the kind of reply that might sound enlightened and true but is neither. As her endeavour is rather extreme it is a perfectly reasonable question, and many men doing such things have been asked why. Of course they have. Men who climb high mountains for example, and they usually have a default answer. "Because it's there." Davidson might have had her own personal reasons for going, reasons she wants to keep for herself, or she might not necessarily know why she did it, but it does not matter. Deserts are known to have a strange appeal to certain people. T.E. Lawrence is one of the most famous examples. Wilfred Thesiger is another. There are also many unfamous examples, such as myself. Maybe Davidson is one of us, or someone who could answer the question "Why?" with "Because it's there."

I have been told that whoever has seen water on three occasions in Todd River, which runs through Alice Springs, is a local and by that definition I am a local, although I would not like to live there. (Melbourne though is a different thing...) But the desert and the camels have lost none of their appeal. If you have once scratched a camel behind its ear while it rested its nose in your armpit you would probably agree. Until the next time I will be able to do that, rewatching Tracks will be a second best thing. It is definitely a film for me. And it reminded me that Mia Wasikowska should do a film with Jane Campion.


  1. What a lovely write-up! I get a little envious reading about your Australian adventures. All of a sudden I feel this irresistable urge to scratch a camel behind its ears. One day..
    And yes, I loved the movie as well (wrote about it a few days ago). t's relaxing to enjoy such an eventless stroll in the desert. And the company of Mia, the dog and the camels is just great. Now that you mention Campion, I can't help wondering if the movie wouldn't have been even a little better if she had been involved. She's got such an eye for the visuals.

    1. Thanks! Campion has got an eye for many things, she's remarkable. Although I think the film was fine the way it was.