Robyn Davidson grew up on a cattle station in Queensland, Australia. At a young age she got fascinated by nomads and the nomadic lifestyle. After boarding school in Brisbane she moved to Alice Springs in the 1970s 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.

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Then in 1977 Davidson set off from Alice Springs for the west coast, with a dog and four camels named Dookie (a large male), Bub (a smaller male), Zeleika (a wild female), and Goliath (Zeleika’s son).

At the time, much to her dismay, her journey made headlines all around the world, creating media scrums in remote Aboriginal communities waiting for her to pass through. But with the help of Aboriginal trackers and red herring radio messages, the young Robyn had managed to avoid the scrums and reappear in almost solitude at the end of her journey, at the water’s edge. She traveld 1700 miles or 2500 km across the desert with just her five animal companions.

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Robyn learned not to rely on maps, as in those days, they were often wrong; She knew the constellations and the stars guided her through the desert. She always had a sense of where she was and learned to read the bush.

“You know how far away from water you are by what sort of birds there are. If there are animal tracks that start gathering together, you know you’re heading towards a water source. And I could track a bit. There are levels of ability. I was competent enough to feel secure about tracking my camels in the mornings. I let them go at night. They had to eat. I had a calf with me, so I tied the calf up with me, so I could be pretty sure the mother would come back, and if she came back, the two boys would come back.”

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Initially, Robyn had had no intention of writing about the journey, but after all the publicity, she 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. Rick, 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.

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The National Geographic article was published in 1978 and attracted so much interest that Davidson decided to write a book about the experience. She traveled 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.

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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”

Whatever the reason, it was a kickass trip to the max!

In 2013 the Tracks movie will hit the screens

Another great camel supported travel documentary is Expedition Yemen: 126 Degrees In The Shade. It is the story of Mikael Strandberg’s camel journey across the deserts of Yemen. If you have an interest in modern day exploration (by camel), Middle Eastern culture, or simply want to see an alternative take on Yemen, then you won’t want to miss this film. It is a refreshing take on a part of the world that is largely misunderstood, despite some of the challenges that the Yemenis face.

UPDATE May 2014:

The ‘Tracks’ movie has been hitting the screens to positive acclaim of most movie websites:

7.3/10-IMDb
84%-Rotten Tomatoes
80%-Metacritic

“What Tracks lacks in excitement, it more than makes up with gorgeous cinematography and Mia Wasikowska’s outstanding performance.”

Movie poster Tracks

Movie synopsis
Director John Curran (THE PAINTED VEIL, WE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) and the producers of THE KINGS SPEECH bring you the film TRACKS, which tells the remarkable true story of Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who in 1977 undertook a perilous solo trek across 1,700 miles of stunning Australian outback. Abandoning city life, Robyn arrives in Alice Springs and declares her ambition to cross the desert to the Indian Ocean to the amusement of the locals. However after months of camping out and working on a camel farm people begin to take her seriously. A chance meeting with National Geographic photographer Rick Smoland provides her with the necessary financing for her expedition under the condition that he be allowed to photograph parts of her journey for the magazine. With only her dog and four unpredictable camels for company, she embarks on an inspiring and life changing journey of self-discovery.

Mia and Davidson

Robyn Davidson & Mia Wasikowska pose together

Sources: ABC, Dumbofeather, Wikipedia, Amazon