Back at the pub, Davidson is troubled by how badly the Aboriginals (“blacks”) are treated, noting that they’re not allowed in some areas of the pub. Although she writes letters home pretending to be happy, Davidson feels herself getting depressed at how difficult it is to get camels and proceed with her journey.
The more time she spends in Alice Springs, the more Davidson understands that the town’s racism is irrational and extreme. Meanwhile, her attempts to impose order on the chaotic process she has assigned herself begin to result in depression at the task’s difficulty.
Davidson also writes angrily about the treatment of women in Alice Springs, which she sees as an especially disgusting manifestation of Australian machismo and misogyny. She delves into the history of gender relations in Australia, describing the development of the hyper-masculine way of being a man that Australians still view with sentimentality. Although she is friendly to her male customers at the pub, one night a regular warns her that she should be careful because some of the men might be targeting her for rape. Davidson is devastated by her lack of power and feels “really frightened for the first time.”
Here, Davidson situates her own journey in the context of widespread Australian gender dynamics. While women with ambitious goals are suspect, quintessentially “strong” men are idealized and revered. Davidson’s sense of frustration at the social limitations of being a woman turns to genuine danger when she is threatened at the pub, illustrating exactly how dangerous it is to be a woman in a context like Alice Springs.
Meanwhile, Kurt stops by occasionally to try and convince Davidson to come back to his ranch. Although she does not want to subject herself to Kurt’s abuse, Davidson thinks that she might need to return if she’s ever going to learn enough about camels. Gladdy also comes to visit her and they become friends, with Davidson occasionally staying the night at the farm. One morning, she returns to the pub and finds a piece of poop on her pillow, and this incident pushes her to decide to return to Kurt and Gladdy’s farm.
Stuck between her fear of staying at the bar and her fear of returning to Kurt, Davidson realizes how all-encompassing the misogyny and sexism around her is. Still, if she wants to complete her trek, Davidson has no choice but to join forces with Kurt once again, showing that interconnection is often unavoidable, even when it is an oppressive force on the individual.
Davidson is initially happy upon her return to the ranch. She enjoys working with the camels and spending time with Gladdy, and she is glad to be away from the pub. She gets to know all of the eight camels who live there and describes each one in detail. She also appreciates the beauty of the land around the ranch and finds that it reduces her other anxieties. However, Kurt contains to behave cruelly, especially when Davidson makes mistakes. She thinks back on how impossible it was to understand Kurt, and how silly she was to believe that he was good under the surface.
Davidson’s joy upon getting to know the camels hints at the beauty and balance hidden within outwardly chaotic situations, especially where the natural world is concerned. Working with the camels gives Davidson a sense of mastery over her circumstances and helps her begin to let go of her fixation on controlling small details. At the same time, her friendship with Gladdy shows how important interpersonal connection can be, especially for women in a sexist society.
Over time, Davidson develops a close bond with a young bull camel named Dookie. Because of this, it is especially hard for her to witness Kurt’s occasional cruelty to the camels. She begins to become depressed again and thinks sometimes about going home, but she stays when Kurt promises her that she can have gear and three camels at the end of eight months. Still, he refuses to sign anything confirming the deal.
The complexity of the situation with Kurt is one of the book’s earliest indications of exactly how fraught connections with others can be. On the one hand, Davidson requires Kurt’s support to progress, but on the other hand, she is reluctant to ally herself with him. This uncertainty around the role that other people play in her trip will follow Davidson throughout the book.
At Davidson’s request, Kurt helps her capture a young crow to keep as a pet, but several other crows die in the process. Davidson again finds herself devastated over the pain caused to the animals. Still, Davidson continue to settle in and makes friends with some neighbors at a nearby farm called Basso’s. She begins to spend more time with them, but at the same time, she becomes less connected with other people in the town. One night after drinking, she has a vision of her three camels saddled and ready for the journey.
By finding a few close friends and becoming less involved with the broader culture of the town, Davidson stumbles upon a model in which other people can be an effective support system rather than an oppressive force. That this social change coincides with a vision of preparation for the trip underscores that achieving this balance will be a crucial task for Davidson.
Davidson settles into a routine with Diggity, her crow, and the camels she cares for. She sleeps for a while in her own tent, which gives her some privacy, but when it is destroyed in a storm she moves back in with Kurt and Gladdy. She tolerates Kurt’s behavior for a while longer, but snaps again one morning when he asks her to do an unreasonable amount of work. She leaves the ranch again, feeling that she will never get her camels.
By essentially repeating the same break with Kurt that she experienced in the previous chapter, Davidson shows how conflict with and reliance on other people can become cyclical. It is both toxic and supportive, a paradox that Davidson constantly struggles to resolve.
To her surprise, Sallay Mahomet offers Davidson a job soon after she leaves the ranch. With Sallay, who treats her well, she learns even more about handling camels, and though she is happy with her progress, she also worries that she may not be strong enough to carry out her plan. She has been in Alice Springs for almost a year and feels psychologically shaky, so she returns to Queensland to see her closest friend. After the visit, Davidson’s confidence is renewed, and she decides again to commit to her plan to cross the desert. Davidson reflects that “one really could do anything.”
Davidson’s new job with Sallay underscores the difficulty of her planned venture; even with Sallay’s support, being truly prepared to depart is an almost impossible exercise in transforming many conflicting factors into an ordered plan. Overwhelmed by this reality, Davidson turns to a long-standing friendship, showing again how independence is essentially reliant on interconnection, even though Davidson does not yet fully understand that balance.