6 September 1950|
Miles, Queensland, Australia
Robyn Davidson (born 6 September 1950) is an Australian writer best known for her book Tracks, about her 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of west Australia using camels. Her career of travelling and writing about her travels has spanned over 30 years.
Robyn Davidson was born at Stanley Park, a cattle station in Miles, Queensland, the second of two girls. Her mother died by suicide when Davidson was 11, and she was largely raised by her father's unmarried sister, Gillian. She went to a girls' boarding school in Brisbane. She received a music scholarship but did not take it up. In Brisbane, Davidson shared a house with biologists and studied zoology. In 1968, aged 18, she went to Sydney and later lived a bohemian life in a Sydney Push household at Paddington, while working as a card-dealer at an illegal gambling house.
In 1975, Davidson moved to Alice Springs in an effort to work with camels for a desert trek she was planning. For two years she trained camels and learned how to survive in the harsh desert. She was peripherally involved in the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.
In 1977, Davidson set off from Alice Springs for the west coast, with a dog and four camels, Dookie (a large male), Bub (a smaller male), Zeleika (a wild female), and Goliath (Zeleika's son). She had no intention of writing about the journey, but eventually agreed to write an article for the magazine National Geographic. Having met the photographer Rick Smolan in Alice Springs, she insisted that he be the photographer for the journey. Smolan, with whom she had an "on-again off-again" romantic relationship during the trip, drove out to meet her three times during the nine-month journey. The National Geographic article was published in 1978 and attracted so much interest that Davidson decided to write a book about the experience. She travelled to London and lived with Doris Lessing while writing Tracks. Tracks won the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980 and the Blind Society Award. In the early nineties, Smolan published his pictures of the trip in From Alice to Ocean. It included the first interactive story-and-photo CDs made for the general public.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons Tracks was so popular, particularly with women, is that Davidson "places herself in the wilderness of her own accord, rather than as an adjunct to a man".
Davidson’s desert journey is remembered by indigenous Australians she encountered along the way. Artist Jean Burke remembers Davidson in a painting called The Camel Lady which was produced for a Warakurna Artists' exhibition in Darwin in 2011. Burke’s father, Mr Eddie, had trekked through Ngaanyatjarra lands with Davidson, guiding her to water sources along the way. Davidson mentions Mr Eddie in Tracks.
The majority of Davidson's work has been travelling with and studying nomadic peoples. Jane Sullivan in The Age writes that 'while she is often called a social anthropologist', she has no academic qualifications and claims to be "completely self-taught". Davidson's experiences with nomads include traveling on migration with nomads in India from 1990 to 1992. These experiences were published in Desert Places.
She has studied different forms of the nomad lifestyle—including those in Australia, India, and Tibet—for a book and a documentary series. Her writing on nomads is based mainly on personal experience, and she brings many of her thoughts together in No Fixed Address, her contribution to the Quarterly Essay series. Sullivan writes about this work:
One of the questions we need to ask, if we are to have a future, she says, is "Where did we cause less damage to ourselves, to our environment, and to our animal kin?" One answer is: when we were nomadic. "It is when we settled that we became strangers in a strange land, and wandering took on the quality of banishment," she writes, and then later adds: "I shall probably be accused of romanticism."
References in popular culture
The film Tracks is based on Davidson's memoir of the same name.
- Davidson, Robyn (1980). Tracks. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-76287-6.
- Davidson, Robyn; Thomas Keneally; Patsy Adam-Smith (1987). Australia: Beyond the Dreamtime. Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1922-3.
- Davidson, Robyn (September 1993). Travelling Light, a collection of essays. Harpercollins; Paperback Original edition. ISBN 0-207-18034-2.
- Writer, Mail Order Bride (1987 feature film for Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Davidson, Robyn (1990). Ancestors. Australian Large Print. ISBN 1-86340-292-6.
- Davidson, Robyn (1 November 1997). Desert Places, Pastoral Nomads in India (the Rabari). Penguin. ISBN 0-14-026797-2.
- Davidson, Robyn (5 July 2002). The Picador Book of Journeys. Picador; New Ed edition. ISBN 0-330-36863-X.
- Davidson, Robyn (2006). "No Fixed Address: Nomads and the Fate of the Planet". Quarterly Essay (24).
- Davidson, Robyn Self Portrait with Imaginary Mother (a work-in-progress which won the Peter Blazey Fellowship in 2011)
- Lodderhose, Diana (23 May 2012). "Mia Wasikowska heads Down Under for Tracks". Variety. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
- Davidson, Robyn (30 May 1995). Tracks. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-76287-6.
- Krien, Anna. Robyn Davidson is a nomad. Interview at dumbofeather.com, 1 January 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2018
- "Robyn Davidson, the 'Camel Lady'", Australian Museum
- Bruce Chatwin, letter to Ninette Dutton, 1 November 1984, in Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin, ed. Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare, p. 395
- "The wonder of wander" by Jane Sullivan, The Age, 9 December 2006]
- "Travels of the heart" by Amanda Hooton, The Age, GoodWeekend, 8 February 2014.
- Davidson, Robyn (May 1978). "Tracks". National Geographic.
- Davidson, Robyn (1980). Tracks. J. Cape.
- Smolan, Rick; Davidson, Robyn (1992). From Alice to Ocean : Alone Across the Outback / photographed by Rick Smolan. Viking in association with Against All Odds Productions.
- Falkiner (1992), p. 120.
- Warakurna Artists
- Warakurna history paintings, National Museum of Australia
- "Mia Wasikowska stars in film of Robyn Davidson's book Tracks, about camel journey across Australia", The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
- Davidson, Robyn (1997). Desert Places. Penguin Books.
- Crusader lyrics, Mary Black website
- Mail Order Bride on IMDb
- Peter Blazey Fellowship, University of Melbourne
- Falkiner, Suzanne (1992). Wilderness. Writers' Landscape. East Roseville: Simon and Schuster.
- No Fixed Address – transcript of a talk by Davidson in December 2006 on Perspective program, ABC Radio National
- Robyn Davidson in conversation – MP3 download of conversation with Richard Fidler ABC Local Radio 6 December 2006
- Nomadic cultures, journeys and coming home, Robyn Davidson joins desert archaeologist Mike Smith for a discussion about her travels in Australia, India, China and Tibet, National Museum of Australia, Historical Interpretation series, 16 September 2007
- Robyn Davidson at talking heads, 1 September 2008.
- Participation at Germaine's Legacy – After The Female Eunuch – session at Adelaide Writers' Week, April 2008
- Official website
- Robyn Davidson on IMDb