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Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback (Anglais) Broché – 30 mai 1995


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1

I arrived in the Alice at five a.m. with a dog, six dollars and a small suitcase full of inappropriate clothes. 'Bring a cardigan for the evenings,' the brochure said. A freezing wind whipped grit down the platform and I stood shivering, holding warm dog flesh, and wondering what foolishness had brought me to this eerie, empty train-station in the centre of nowhere. I turned against the wind, and saw the line of mountains at the edge of town.

There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns-small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something correct for a change, when you think you are on the right track. I watched a pale dawn streak the cliffs with Day-glo and realized this was one of them. It was a moment of pure, uncomplicated confidence-and lasted about ten seconds.

Diggity wriggled out of my arms and looked at me, head cocked, piglet ears flying. I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there's no going back. It's all very well, to set off on a train with no money telling yourself that you're really quite a brave and adventurous person, and you'll deal capably with things as they happen, but when you actually arrive at the other end with no one to meet and nowhere to go and nothing to sustain you but a lunatic idea that even you have no real faith in, it suddenly appears much more attractive to be at home on the kindly Queensland coast, discussing plans and sipping gins on the verandah with friends, and making unending lists of lists which get thrown away, and reading books about camels.

The lunatic idea was, basically, to get myself the requisite number of wild camels from the bush and train them to carry my gear, then walk into and about the central desert area. I knew that there were feral camels aplenty in this country. They had been imported in the 1850s along with their Afghani and North Indian owners, to open up the inaccessible areas, to transport food, and to help build the telegraph system and railways that would eventually cause their economic demise. When this happened, those Afghans had let their camels go, heartbroken, and tried to find other work. They were specialists and it wasn't easy. They didn't have much luck with government support either. Their camels, however, had found easy street-it was perfect country for them and they grew and prospered, so that now there are approximately ten thousand roaming the free country and making a nuisance of themselves on cattle properties, getting shot at, and, according to some ecologists, endangering some plant species for which they have a particular fancy. Their only natural enemy is man, they are virtually free of disease, and Australian camels are now rated as some of the best in the world.

The train had been half empty, the journey long. Five hundred miles and two days from Adelaide to Alice Springs. The modern arterial roads around Port Augusta had almost immediately petered out into crinkled, wretched, endless pink tracks leading to the shimmering horizon, and then there was nothing but the dry red parchment of the dead heart, god's majestic hidy-hole, where men are men and women are an afterthought. Snippets of railway car conversation still buzzed around in my head.

'G'day, mind if I sit 'ere?'

(Sighing and looking pointedly out the window or at book.) 'No.'

(Dropping of the eyes to chest level.) 'Where's yer old man?'

'I don't have an old man.'

(Faint gleam in bleary, blood-shot eye, still fixed at chest level.) 'Jesus Christ, mate, you're not goin' to the Alice alone are ya? Listen 'ere, lady, you're fuckin' done for. Them coons'll rape youze for sure. Fuckin' niggers run wild up there ya know. You'll need someone to keep an eye on ya. Tell youze what, I'll shout youze a beer, then we'll go back to your cabin and get acquainted eh? Whaddya reckon?'

I waited until the station had thinned its few bustling arrivals, standing in the vacuum of early morning silence, fighting back my unease, then set off with Diggity towards town.

My first impression as we strolled down the deserted street was of the architectural ugliness of the place, a discomforting contrast to the magnificence of the country which surrounded it. Dust covered everything from the large, dominant corner pub to the tacky, unimaginative shop fronts that lined the main street. Hordes of dead insects clustered in the arcing street lights, and four-wheel-drive vehicles spattered in red dirt, with only two spots swept clean by the windscreen wipers, rattled intermittently through the cement and bitumen town. This grey, cream and hospital-green shopping area gradually gave way to sprawling suburbia until it was stopped short by the great perpendicular red face of the Macdonnell Ranges which borders the southern side of town, and runs unbroken, but for a few spectacular gorges, east and west for several hundred miles. The Todd River, a dry white sandy bed lined with tall columns of silver eucalypts, winds through the town, then cuts into a narrow gap in the mountains. The range, looming menacingly like some petrified prehistoric monster, has, I was to discover, a profound psychological effect on the puny folk below. It sends them troppo. It reminds them of incomprehensible dimensions of time which they almost successfully block out with brick veneer houses and wilted English-style gardens.

I had planned to camp in the creek with the Aborigines until I could find a job and a place to stay, but the harbingers of doom on the train had told me it was suicide to do such a thing. Everyone, from the chronic drunks to the stony men and women with brown wrinkled faces and burnt-out expressions, to the waiters in tuxedos who served and consumed enormous amounts of alcohol, all of them warned me against it. The blacks were unequivocally the enemy. Dirty, lazy, dangerous animals. Stories of young white lasses who innocently strayed down the Todd at night, there to meet their fate worse than death, were told with suspect fervour. It was the only subject anyone had got fired up about. I had heard other stories back home too-of how a young black man was found in an Alice gutter one morning, painted white. Even back in the city where the man in the street was unlikely ever to have seen an Aborigine, let alone spoken to one, that same man could talk at length, with an extraordinary contempt, about what they were like, how lazy and unintelligent they were. This was because of the press, where clich?d images of dirty, stone-age drunks on the dole were about the only coverage Aborigines got, and because everyone had been taught at school that they were not much better than specialized apes, with no culture, no government and no right to existence in a vastly superior white world; aimless wanderers who were backward, primitive and stupid.

It is difficult to sort out fact from fiction, fear from paranoia and goodies from baddies when you are new in a town but something was definitely queer about this one. The place seemed soulless, rootless, but perhaps it was just that which encouraged, in certain circumstances, the extraordinary. Had everyone been trying to put the fear of god into me just because I was an urbanite in the bush? Had I suddenly landed in Ku Klux Klan country? I had spent time before with Aboriginal people-in fact, had had one of the best holidays of my entire life with them. Certainly there had been some heavy drinking and the occasional fight, but that was part of the white Australian tradition too, and could be found in most pubs or parties in the country. If the blacks here were like the blacks there, how could a group of whites be so consumed with fear and hatred? And if they were different here, what had happened to make them that way? Tread carefully, my instincts said. I could sense already a camouflaged violence in this town, and I had to find a safe place to stay. Rabbits, too, have their survival mechanisms.

They say paranoia attracts paranoia: certainly no one else I met ever had such a negative view of Alice Springs. But then I was to get to know it from the gutters up, which may have given me a distorted perspective. It is said that anyone who sees the Todd River flow three times falls in love with the Alice. By the end of the second year, after seeing it freakishly flood more often than that, I had a passionate hatred yet an inexplicable and consuming addiction for it.

There are fourteen thousand people living there of whom one thousand are Aboriginal. The whites consist mainly of government workers, miscellaneous misfits and adventurers, retired cattle or sheep station owners, itinerant station workers, truck drivers and small business operators whose primary function in life is to rip off the tourists, who come by the bus-load from America, Japan and urban Australia, expecting high adventure in this last romantic outpost, and to see the extraordinary desert which surrounds it. There are three major pubs, a few motels, a couple of zed-grade restaurants, and various shops that sell 'I've climbed Ayers Rock' T-shirts, boomerangs made in Taiwan, books on Australiana, and tea towels with noble savages holding spears silhouetted against setting suns. It is a frontier town, characterized by an aggressive masculine ethic and severe racial tensions.

I ate breakfast at a cheap cafe, then stepped out into the glaring street where things were beginning to move, and squinted at my new home. I asked someone where the cheapest accommodation was and they directed me to a caravan park three miles north of town.

It was a hot and dusty walk but interesting. The road followed a tributary of the Todd. Still, straight columns of blue smoke chimneying up through the gum leaves marked Aboriginal camps. On the left were the garages and workshops of industrial Alice-galvanized iron sheds behind which spread the trim lawns and trees of suburbia. When I arrived, the proprietor informed me that it was only three dollars if I had my own tent, otherwise it was eight.

My smile faded. I eyed the cold drinks longingly and went outside for some tepid tap water. I didn't ask if that were free, just in case. Over in the corner of the park some young folk with long hair and patched jeans were pitching a large tent. They looked approachable, so I asked if I could stay with them. They were pleased to offer me shelter and friendliness.

That night, they took me out on the town in their beatup panel-van equipped with all the trappings one associates with free-wheeling urban youth-a five million decibel car stereo and even surf-boards . . . they were heading north. We drove into the dusty lights of the town and stopped by the pub to pick up some booze. The girl, who was shy and very young, suddenly turned to me.

'Oo, look at them, aren't they disgusting. God, they're like apes.'

'Who?'

'The boongs.'

Her boyfriend was leaning up against the bottle-shop, waiting.

'Hurry up, Bill, and let's get out of here. Ugly brutes.' She folded her arms as if she were cold and shivered with repulsion.

I put my head on my arms, bit my tongue, and knew the night was going to be a long one.

The next day I got a job at the pub, starting in two days. Yes, I could stay in a back room of the pub, the payment for which would be deducted from my first week's wages. Meals were provided. Perfect. That gave me time to suss out camel business. I sat in the bar for a while and chatted with the regulars. I discovered there were three camel-men in town-two involved with tourist businesses, and the other an old Afghan who was bringing in camels from the wild to sell to Arabia as meat herds. I met a young geologist who offered to drive me out to meet this man.

The minute I saw Sallay Mahomet it was apparent to me that he knew exactly what he was doing. He exuded the bandy-legged, rope-handling confidence of a man long accustomed to dealing with animals. He was fixing some odd-looking saddles near a dusty yard filled with these strange beasts.

'Yes, what can I do for you?'

'Good morning, Mr Mahomet,' I said confidently. 'My name's Robyn Davidson and um, I've been planning this trip you see, into the central desert and I wanted to get three wild camels and train them for it, and I was wondering if you might be able to help me.'

'Hrrrmppph.'

Sallay glared at me from under bushy white eyebrows. There was a dry grumpiness about him that put me instantly in my place and made me feel like a complete idiot.

'And I suppose you think you'll make it too?'

I looked at the ground, shuffled my feet and mumbled something defensive.

'What do you know about camels then?'

'Ah well, nothing really, I mean these are the first ones I've seen as a matter of fact, but ah . . .'

'Hrrmmph. And what do you know about deserts?'

It was painfully obvious from my silence that I knew very little about anything.

Sallay said he was sorry, he didn't think he could help me, and turned about his business. My cockiness faded. This was going to be harder than I thought, but then it was only the first day.

Next we drove to the tourist place south of town. I met the owner and his wife, a friendly woman who offered me cakes and tea. They looked at one another in silence when I told them of my plan. 'Well, come out here any time you like,' said the man jovially, 'and get to know the animals a bit.' He could barely control the smirk on the other side of his face. My intuition in any case told me to stay away. I didn't like him and I was sure the feeling was mutual. Besides, when I saw how his animals roared and fought, I figured he was probably not the right person to learn from.

The last of the three, the Posel place, was three miles north, and was owned, according to some of the people in the bar, by a maniac.

My geologist friend dropped me off at the pub, and from there I walked north up the Charles River bed. It was a delightful walk, under cool and shady trees. The silence was often broken by packs of camp dogs who raced out with their hackles up to tell me and Diggity to get out of their territory, only to have bottles, cans and curses flung at them by their Aboriginal owners, who none the less smiled and nodded at us.

Revue de presse

“Beautiful, thrilling and ferociously brave, Robyn Davidson’s timeless story of her astonishing journey gripped me from the first page to the last. Tracks is an unforgettably powerful book.”
—Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild

“Vivid and vivacious. . . . Davidson is as natural a writer as she is an adventurer.”
The New Yorker

“Engrossing. . . . Lyrical and salty. . . . Candid. . . . Best in her accounts of her days alone in the desert and what they did to and for her. . . . Her states of mind . . . veer between feelings of being at one with the cosmos and feelings of being utterly crazy.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Saucy and unsparing. . . . A strong book, the kind that clings to your back after you’ve read it.”
—Chicago Sun-Times

“Every bit as witty as her camels—and a first-rate writer besides.”
Newsweek

“What continues to resonate with readers isRobyn Davidson’s honest introspection throughout the journey. It prompts the reader to ask herself, ‘Would I do this?’ and ‘Could I do this?’”
A Traveler’s Library

“The integrity of this articulate and impassioned account is evident in the fact that Robyn Davidson does not find glib solutions to inner or outer conflicts. Like her camel companions, she seems temperamental, insatiable, and slightly crazy, but also determined, direct, vulnerable, and splendid.”
500 Great Books by Women


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62 internautes sur 63 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
If she could do this, anything is possible! 2 juin 2001
Par Linda Linguvic - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Subtitled, "A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback," this 1980 book by Robyn Davidson, then 30 years old, is now considered a classic. She did it alone, with four camels, a loyal dog, and all the self-doubt and introspection that make her very human. Ms. Davidson grew up in Adelaide, a city in Southern Australia, but she traveled to the Central Australian town of Alice Springs, arriving with just $6 in her pocket and a desire to learn about camels. She worked in a bar and apprenticed herself to a camel owner, performing menial jobs and learning all she could. It took two years and half the book, but finally she was ready to pursue her dream.
She never was able to accumulate the funds needed to outfit her camels and so she applied for and received a grant from National Geographic. Throughout the book she questions that decision because this meant she had to meet with a photographer on several parts of her journey as well as an onslaught of unwanted publicity. In her mind, the trip became less the pure expedition she had envisioned and there is much soul searching about this. This is not the only thing she constantly reflects about though. Throughout her 7-month trip, she questions everything, even at times, her own sanity. I learned not only about the harsh Australian Outback, the pleasures and problems of living with camels, and the plight of the Aboriginal people she met along the way. I also shared every nuance of her fears and inner journey, which was as complex and richly landscaped as the harsh and beautiful land around her and found myself laughing out loud at times at her offbeat sense of humor. And I watched her change from self-conscious timidity to a woman who gives up so many trappings of civilization that towards the end of the book she walks naked next to her camels, her skin browned and thickened to a leather-like consistency, heavy calluses on sandaled feet from walking 20 or 30 miles a day, and so far from the former civilized accouterments, that she doesn't care that menstrual blood is dripping down her legs.
There's little background information that explains why Ms. Davison undertook her journey and I never really understood her reasons for doing it. That didn't matter though. What did matter, however, is that she is a living example of someone who made choices to follow her own personal dream. And for that, she is an inspiration. Upon finishing the book I was left with the thought that if she could do this, anything is possible and I applaud this her for reminding me of this. Recommended.
28 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Inspiring -- really! 12 janvier 2000
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
It's a cliche to call books "inspiring," but this one really is -- not because Robyn Davidson is heroic, but because (as she points out repeatedly) she's an ordinary woman from a rather sheltered background, but with extraordinary determination, persistence, and resourcefulness. To her, the meaning of her journey is that anyone can achieve whatever they want to. But, she tellingly points out, many of the reporters who dogged her steps portrayed her as crazy because that blunted her message -- which, if women took it seriously, would rock the foundations of society. She's completely frank about her feelings, her doubts about her journey, and the excuses she makes to herself when she's tempted to quit; but, to me, this made her accomplishment even greater because she was fighting herself as well as external obstacles. The internal journey she underwent was as important as the external one, and those readers who complain that there's too much of the former and not enough of the latter are, I think, completely missing the point of the book.
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
20 Years Old And Still Rocking 15 janvier 2003
Par Gordon Hilgers - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Who really knows why Robyn Davidson--a woman who describes herself in "Tracks" as a disaffected refugee of the superficiality of Sydney's and Melbourne's urban culture of the late 1970s--sold her belongings and trekked to Alice Springs, a tiny town nearly in the center of the Australian continent? Sure, plenty of us have trekked to Nowheresville in our youths, but from the first page of "Tracks," readers will immediately recognize that Davidson is not only leaving something, like Hemingway, she is searching for something as well. In light of a renewed interest in Aboriginal rights--and in the rights of Native Peoples everywhere on the planet--Davidson's seminal account of a grueling (and also rewarding) journey across one of the world's most forbidding wildernesses should prove to mainstream thinkers and commentators that Davidson had it right all along. Like Beryl Markham's "West With the Night," another account of a pioneering woman taking on what at the time was reserved for the so-called men of the world, Davidson's "Tracks" is not only filled with useful information (did you know "whoosh!", a word almost everyone in the English-speaking world, is actually an Afghani word that means "sit!"?), it is also one of the most readable adventure and travel books written in many years.
Davidson's commentary on Aussie society is sometimes as snide as she wants it to be, but it's always on the beam, and it's all telling too: Her observations of Aboriginal life, her plaintive advocacy for better treatment for a valuable human resource hidden away in the Southern Hemisphere and her descriptions of how Aboriginal religious beliefs are idiosyncratic to both the terrain and the atmosphere are things never written before, at least not without the help of abstractions and scientific jargon. In essence, then, this is a personal account, and a truthful one. Davidson was a young woman when she wrote "Tracks," but her wisdom at the time of writing was far beyond her years.
17 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Soul on sand and scrubland - a camel trek across the outback 18 juillet 2003
Par Govindan Nair - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This book is a true story by a determined Australian woman who crossed one of the most inhospitable stretches of land in the world - a wide swathe of treelees dry scrubland which is most of Australia's center and its northern half.
I especially enjoyed this Australian classic, having just visited the remarkable and idyosyncractic town of Alice Springs where the early part of the book is set. This is where the author learns how to tame, care for, live with, and depend on camels for survival, as she prepares for the dramatic trek which lies ahead.
The rage against the male photographer who keeps showing up - the compromising aspect of her compact with her sponsors at National Geographic - is at times shocking, leaving one to wonder whether the author has more sympathy for her camels than fellow human beings. But this impression is deceptive. The mostly male characters who populate her book hardly seem caricatured, while the camels do emerge as a woman's best friend in the outback. "One does not have to delve too deeply to discover why some of the world's angriest feminists breathed crisp blue Australian air during their formative years, before packing their kangaroo-skin bags and scurrying to London or New York or any place where the antipodean machismo would fade gently from their battle-scarred consciousness like some grisly nightmare at dawn. Anyone who has worked in a men-only bar in Alice Springs will know what I mean."
The rage, courage, vulnerability, determination, and other emotions and qualities which this trek depicts, almost seem like a metaphor for the complex place of the outback in the Australian experience. "It was delicious new country but it was tiring. The sand dragged at my feet and the repetition of the dunes lulled me into drowsiness when the first excitement wore off. The stillness of the waves of sand seemed to stifle and suffocate me."
Even without seeing the photos from National Geographic, the reader is left with graphic inmages of a remarkable landscape and the unusual qualities it takes for a transplanted urbanite to survive it.
Beyond character and landscape descriptions, the books offers some inspirational passages. Consider this extract from the final paragraph: "As I look back on the trip now, try to remember how I felt at that particular time, or during that particular incident, try to relive those memories that have been buried so deep, and distorted so ruthlessly, there is one clear fact that emerges from the quagmire. The trip was easy. It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts. The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision...."
Another bookshelf recommendation for those who are serious about Australiana or about unusual human endeavors.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
the outback, a faithful dog, 4 camels and aboriginal magic 29 mars 2004
Par Janice M. Hansen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
There are few adventurous people that by-pass the luxury of their diesel-pushers to experience the likes of what Robyn Davidson embarks on as the challenge of a lifetime. That is precisely what makes this book so phenomenal.
Granted, this adventure took place in 1980, but the age of the event changes nothing of the experience.
Roughly structured, and for her reasons only, she embarks on a 1,700 mile trek across the outback to the ocean from Alice Springs. Her transportation? Camels!
The most fascianting part of this trip is she must learn about these amazing creatures from scratch. She moves to Alice Springs and sets forth to find those that are willing to teach her the camel business. Some of these teachers are of worthy content and impart essential knowledge. Robyn, however appears to be a natural with these animals, and a relationship with them developes that draws the reader into the story and through every foot of the trip. Her chosen camels have strong personalities. Her unique writing style capture their wonderful, quirky attitudes that lures the reader in a feeling of acquiantance. It is not difficult to feel her fondness of these creatures and her heartbreak when difficult times develope. Her sincere appreciation and love for the camels provides delightful distraction and imparts great humor and solice on her desert quest.
Special mention must be made to her best female friend, Diggity. This incredible dog was her lifeline and her mainstay through many trying days and nights in the bush. Diggity's personality was beautifully captured by Robyn's recollections and will tweak the heart of any dog lover.
Robyn's ability to bring the aboriginal people and outback to life as she treks across it's vastness is truly astounding. After I finished her book, I immediately went back to amazon.com and ordered every single book and reference she wrote. Her amazing zest and appreciation for the life in th outback of Australia was exhilarating. I urge you to read a truly moving, tear jerking, humorous, insightful and generally captivating novel that bespeaks of the ultimate travel experience one can ever hope to conjure. Thank you Robyn!!
Highly recommended for an enhanced reading experience:
_From Alice to Ocean; Alone Across the Outback_ photographed by Rick Smolan; with excerpts from Robyn Davidson's bestselling _Tracks_
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