I went to see Tracks on Friday – the film that tells the story of Robyn Davidson’s 1700 mile solo trek across the deserts of Australia with four camels and her dog. It’s a slow, beautiful film with haunting music that left some of the audience restless, but captivated and moved me.
In the film, Davidson wants to be independent but she needs money to undertake her trek, and so she strikes a deal with National Geographic. They sponsor her on condition that their photographer, Rick Smolan, will come and join her at different points to document her journey. She agrees because she has little choice but is a rude and reluctant participant in the photos for most of the trip, and has few qualms about using Smolan for her own ends when it suits her.
Davidson is happy in her own company and seems to find interaction with people genuinely quite difficult and irritating. She carries the deep grief of losing her mother to suicide when she was a child, and her beloved dog shortly afterwards when she has to go and live with her aunt. Her motivation for the trek is that she wants to be on her own, and she seems remarkably self-contained and self-sufficient.
But it seems it is impossible to be entirely self-sufficient in the desert, and I loved the way her chance encounters with others on her journey brought her life and healing because she needed them. As a woman she is not allowed to go through the sacred lands on her own and so she plans a 140-mile detour. While she is washing her clothes by a river, four aboriginal men walk past and stop to share the rabbits they have caught with her, cooking them on her fire. One of the men, Eddie, agrees to accompany her through the sacred lands. Even though they share little language, it is a life-giving experience for both of them, where two people from completely different worlds discover what they have in common. Later she comes across an older couple who live in the middle of nowhere. They invite her in for the night, giving her food and playing Scrabble together. There is a wonderful scene where the woman gives her a bath, tenderly washing her hair and cleaning her ears, an encounter where each gives and receives something far deeper than physical cleanliness, where they are somehow mother and daughter to each other.
There’s something in Davidson’s retreat from loud company and her desire to be self-sufficient that resonates with me. I am challenged by the invitation that there is in encounters with others to be enriched and healed, if we will only let ourselves step over fear and become vulnerable. I hope that when I need an Eddie, I will allow myself to be accompanied, rather than taking a stubborn, long and lonely detour on my own.