John Curran’s ‘Tracks’ recounts epic Aussie trek

VENICE, Italy (AP) — Robyn Davidson’s 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) foot journey across Australia accompanied by four camels and a black dog has never really ended.

Her 1977 trek catapulted Davidson into an unexpected media storm, from which came a book deal a few years later and a career as a writer and traveler. More than 30 years on, her book recounting the journey, “Tracks,” has been turned into a film starring Mia Wasikowska and directed by John Curran.

“I think even writing the book all those years ago changed the journey,” Davidson, now 62, said in an interview Thursday before the world premiere of the “Tracks” in competition at the Venice Film Festival. While writing it in “this horrible, pokey flat in London” two years after the fact, Davidson said she experienced an incredible feat of memory.

“I swear I remembered every single campsite over a period of nine months. As soon as the book was finished, it was gone. It was as if the book ate the memory,” she said. “I wonder now if the film is going to coopt the book in some sort of way, so people, and even I, remember it in some weird confused way.”

The book, which was translated in to 18 languages and has been part of the Australian school curriculum, had been optioned many times for films that were never made.

Davidson said she is “delighted” other filmmakers didn’t get to make their versions of the film and that it went to Curran, an American who has lived in Australia, saying his film “is the good one.” Her only condition was that she wanted Wasikowska, a fellow Aussie, to play her.

The two women met on a trip to the desert so Davidson could show the young actress a few things about camels.

“I thought, ‘Oh, she is she is so tiny and frail. How is she going to muster the sort of earthiness?’” Davidson recalled. “The next time I saw her was at a shoot at Ayers Rock, and she was transformed. She was wearing my clothes, she had hairy legs. She was a little toughie. It was amazing.”

Tiny and frail is exactly how many viewed Davidson when she showed up in Alice Springs in 1975 to prepare for the trek eastward to the Indian Ocean. She spent more some two years scraping together money and learning to train the camels that would accompany her. Eventually she sought sponsorship from National Geographic, which set a condition that a photographer would capture images at intervals.

Along the way, Davidson had to face down charging feral camel bulls, track down her own camels when they went missing, suffered the loss of her faithful dog, and eventually faced a growing media circus as word of her feat spread. She also was befriended by Aboriginals, including one elder, Mr. Eddy, who accompanied her through sacred lands, and was taken in for brief respites by the few white settlers living in the outback.

Davidson also developed an enduring friendship with National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, played in the film by Adam Driver, despite her initial resentment at his periodic intrusions.

She still is at a loss to explain why she undertook the journey. “I suppose the most I can say is I had a kind of instinctive understanding I needed to do something very demanding of my life in order to make an individual of myself, in order to pull all these rather unprepossessing bits together, and forge a person.”

Davidson went on to become a prolific writer and lived two years with nomads in India, which she said, was “the most extreme and difficult” thing she has ever done. “That made this look like a cakewalk,” she said.

The bonds she forged with those she met on her on her trans-Australian journey, including the camels, remained strong. Mr. Eddy, she said, made her an honorary wife.

And the camels retained their loyalty years after. She visited them once in western Australia. After playing and cuddling them for an hour, she turned to walk back 10 miles (16 kilometers) to the homestead.

“They fell in line behind me, following me all the way,” she said.

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