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. 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 hidey-hole, where men are men and women are an afterthought.
Excerpted from Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Copyright © 1995 by Robyn Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Davidson will sign copies of Tracks at Brigadoon.
TRACKS | Australia, 2013, 110m | Director: John Curran | Starring: Adam Driver,
Mia Wasikowska Based on a memoir by Robyn Davidson