Robyn Davidson

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Robyn Davidson
Born (1950-09-06) 6 September 1950 (age 66)
Miles, Queensland, Australia
Occupation Writer

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.[1] She received a music scholarship but did not take it up. In Brisbane, Davidson shared a house with biologists and studied zoology. Later, she went to Sydney and lived a bohemian life as a member of the Push.

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.

For some years in the 1980s she was in a relationship with Salman Rushdie, to whom she was introduced by their mutual friend Bruce Chatwin.[2]

Davidson has moved frequently, and had homes in Sydney, London, and India.[3] She currently resides in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia.[4]


In 1977,[3] 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).[1] She had no intention of writing about the journey, but eventually agreed to write an article for National Geographic Magazine. 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[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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".[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

In 2013, a film adaptation directed by John Curran and starring Mia Wasikowska was completed. The film Tracks screened at the Venice Film Festival.[11]


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".[3] Davidson's experiences with nomads include traveling on migration with nomads in India from 1990 to 1992. These experiences were published in Desert Places.[12]

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.[3] 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."[3]

References in popular culture[edit]

Davidson is the subject of a song written by Irish folk singer and songwriter Mick Hanly.[13] The song, "Crusader", was recorded by Mary Black on her 1983 self-titled album.

The film Tracks is based on Davidson's memoir of the same name.



  1. ^ a b Davidson, Robyn (30 May 1995). Tracks. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-76287-6. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Jane (2006) "The wonder of wander", The Age, 7 December 2006
  4. ^ The Age, GoodWeekend, 8 Feb 2014.
  5. ^ Davidson, Robyn (May 1978). "Tracks". National Geographic Society. 
  6. ^ Davidson, Robyn, 1950- (1980), Tracks / Robyn Davidson, J. Cape 
  7. ^ Smolan, Rick; Davidson, Robyn, 1950- (1992), From Alice to ocean : alone across the Outback / photographed by Rick Smolan, Viking in association with Against All Odds Productions 
  8. ^ Falkiner (1992) p. 120
  9. ^ Warakurna Artists
  10. ^ Warakurna history paintings, National Museum of Australia
  11. ^ Mia Wasikowska stars in film of Robyn Davidson's book 'Tracks' playing Robyn Davidson (10-year-old Lily Pearl plays Robyn as a child in numerous flashback sequences throughout the film), which also features Adam Driver (from TV's "Girls") as Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer who covers Robyn's camel journey across Australia Daily Telegraph
  12. ^ Davidson, Robyn, 1950- (1997), Desert places / Robyn Davidson, Penguin Books 
  13. ^ Crusader lyrics, Mary Black website
  14. ^ Mail Order Bride, IMDb
  15. ^ Peter Blazey Fellowship, University of Melbourne


  • Falkiner, Suzanne (1992) Wilderness (Series: Writers' Landscape), East Roseville, Simon and Schuster

External links[edit]