Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson

In 1977, Robyn Davidson set off on a 1700 mile journey, which saw her trek through the Australian outback with four camels and her trust dog.

Davidson wrote a book about her adventure, and now that book has been adapted for the big screen starring Mia Wasikowska and directed by John Curran.

We caught up with Robyn to chat about the film Tracks, her experience on her trip, and how she has been finding the response to the movie, 

- Tracks is about to be released on the big screen and is based on your journey across the Australian desert. Can you tell us a little about the film for those who may be unfamiliar with your story?

It is based on the book that I wrote about the journey: it has the same title. It is the story of heading across half of Australia on my own, with three camels and my dog. It was a distance of about two thousand miles.

The first thing that people ask me is ‘why did you do it?’ However, if you could see that desert, you would understand why as it is so exquisite.

- That does lead me into my next question, as I wondered what did make you want to undertake this journey in the first place?

It was a different time then, and I think we were all quite adventurous in those days: it was the late sixties early seventies. Young people were doing all sorts of strange and wonderful things. Therefore, putting it in that context does explain it a little bit.

Also, I think that it is still very relevant, as I think it is part of our essential nature to want to get beneath the radar sometimes, and unplug from civilisation.

That does explain why people are still so interested in it. It was a great thing to do.

- I am reading your book at the moment, and just setting off on the trip was an achievement in itself as you faced so many set backs. Were there moments when you thought you might never get to achieve this?

(Laughs) Yes. I think I am just a stubborn woman really (laughs). In a way… part of it was stubbornness, and the more that people tried to stop me, the more adamant I became. You can trick yourself into doing things by doing it one-step at a time, and never letting yourself see the overall picture.

I could still fool myself into thinking that maybe I would do it, or maybe I wouldn’t: meanwhile, I would just get the camels, build the saddles, and do all the things that were necessary to make it happen. Somewhere down the line, I would make the decision to go or not go.

Of course, I always thought I would go. I don’t know how we do these things. I think there is a certain amount of self-deceit involved (laughs).

- How would you sum up your time in the desert when you look back on it now? How would you say you changed from the young woman that set off to the woman you were when you came back?

I think I changed fundamentally. I think the wiring changed in the head through physically doing that, being on my own, and having to overcome my own inadequacies. Also, entering into a desert like that, you do become more like the desert.

Coming out of the desert was actually more difficult that going in: when I came out, it seemed that the world I had come from was quite mad (laughs). I don’t think I have ever lost that perspective: that the sane world is in the desert and the slightly crazy one is out here.

- You said earlier that we all need to unplug from the world from time to time, how did you find the loneliness aspect of it?

I must have been lonely at times I suppose, however, that is not what is foreground for me. Towards the end of the trip, I felt so integrated into the place that I was in, that it was the opposite of loneliness.

Even thought I was extremely remote and extremely alone, paradoxically I felt more connected and at home than I can remember ever feeling.

- How difficult was it reintegrating yourself with people, once you got home?

It was very hard because it seemed to me, that all of us are involved in this mad endeavour and we very seldom take the time on who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it. It is like we are caught up in a storm.

One of the reasons that the book and the film still resonate with people is that there is that longing, deep within us, to go off somewhere, be with ourselves and work out who we are, away from all of the noise. 

- What is quite startling in the first part of the book is the treatment of the Aborigines at the hands of the white Australians. But how did you find your time with some of the Aboriginal tribes?

I was extremely privileged to spend time with people, both in Alice Springs and on the journey. Of course, they got what I was doing in a way that was completely straightforward. They called me ‘desert woman’ - that was my nickname.

I travelled with an old Aboriginal bloke for a month, which was really the heart of the journey for me, because he was going through his traditional country. His way of being in that landscape really rubbed off on me. After that, I was much more relaxed and much more confident, in a funny sort of way.

- Your story has now been adapted into a film, so how did that come about?

People have always been… it has gone to many producers over the years, but I have tried to keep it out of Hollywood: not because I don’t like Hollywood films, but I just felt that it was the wrong medium for this story.

I was very concerned about how Aboriginal people would be portrayed, and so I wanted an authentic… I didn’t want them to be turned into a romantic backdrop. It went though all of these various producers and for one reason or another it never came to fruition.

By the time it landed on Emile Sherman’s desk in Sydney, I was pretty jaded by the whole thing and just thought ‘they will never make the film, and if they do it will be embarrassing’. Then I got more and more involved with the people making the film, and I really liked and admired them, and ended up trusting them with the story.

I think that they have done a remarkable job and a very honourable job. Mia (Wasikowska) especially, I am very fond of her. I am very lucky: not very many writers can say that genuinely like the film of their book. However, I do.

- I was going to ask you about Mia Wasikowska. She plays you in the film, so how much time did you spend with her before and during the shoot? And what did you make of her casting?

I didn’t spend much time with her. I wanted her for the role as I had seen her in numerous things, and thought that she was a consummate young actress: that was the important thing. It wasn’t so much about whether she was like me or not, but whether she could do the job. I had pushed for her.

Then we met just before the shoot - we went out together, and I was to show her a few camel tricks - and I just felt immediately very close to her. I recognised aspects of her character that were not dissimilar to mine.

Then I went out on two of the locations, and we have spent time on the road together since then. I do feel a very particular affection for her; I think she is a terrific young woman and a startling actress.

- How involved have you been with the film? Did you get the chance to spend some time with director John Curran, for example?

We did, we talked quite a bit. I understood that it is the director’s film, and it is no longer my film. I understood that he really needed to… he would come to me if he needed advice on something; otherwise I didn’t want to be breathing down his neck (laughs).

Sometimes he took my advice on things and sometimes not: that seemed about right to me.

- How did you find your on set experience?

It was such fun, it was such fun. They were the ones who were slaving away and shooting out in forty-degree heat. For me, it was just fun and pleasurable.

It is always interesting being on films sets - I have done it before with other actor friends - and I just find it fascinating. I just love that collaborative film family that develops around a project. It was totally enjoyable.

- The movie has been playing on the festival circuit, so have you had a taste of the festival experience? And how are you finding the response to the film so far?

It is fascinating. Each festival has had a different quality of response: the first one we went to was Venice, and that was just great. Telluride was different, but still very positive.

Then we went to Toronto, where we got a standing ovation and people were weeping in the corridors. It was very intense.

I think each place and each viewing there is a different quality to each one: it is quite interesting to see that. 

- Finally, what is next for you?

I am meant to be finishing a book and my publishers are getting very anxious (laughs): I have had to put it aside due to all of this film excitement. That is what I go back to, finishing a book.

Tracks is released 25th April.

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