Davidson completes her job with Sallay Mahomet and is given two camels in return. She chooses an older female named Kate and a younger female named Zeleika. At the same time, her friends at Basso’s farm move away and leave their house for Davidson to live in until it is sold. She gets the camels to Basso’s but is troubled to find that both have infected wounds.
The camels’ injuries demonstrate that even at the rare points in Davidson’s journey where things seem to be going smoothly, unexpected challenges always crop up. Learning to adapt to these constant changes will be a key part of her growth going forward.
Although Davidson feels slightly adrift without her old bosses around for help, she also feels liberated to be living on her own with the camels. She appreciates the beauty of the desert and realizes that she has never before had a home of her very own. She walks through the farmhouse, admiring each feature even though it is in ruins in places. Davidson reflects that she had always assumed that being alone meant being lonely, but that now she sees how she might be happy on her own.
Davidson’s unexpected joy at living on her own illustrates a new side to her fixation on independence. Here, independence isn’t just something that Davidson wants for its own sake; it’s something that can actually lead to increased self-esteem and understanding of herself. This version of being alone is a healthier, more complex one than she has previously encountered.
Davidson’s closest neighbor at Basso’s farm is a fun-loving Aboriginal woman named Ada Baxter. Davidson enjoys Ada’s company and finds that she fills the role of a surrogate mother. Davidson begins to think more about Aboriginal rights and reflects that although she likes the young people she meets who are involved in Aboriginal rights, she’s not sure whether she wants to get more involved in local social life and jeopardize her solitude. However, two of these young people, Jenny and Toly, win her over and become her close friends.
Davidson’s friendship with Ada expands her understanding of Aboriginal communities and shows just how inaccurate the racist views of the white people in Alice Springs are. Still, Davidson is unable to become more engaged in Aboriginal politics on her own; it’s ultimately Toly and Jenny’s friendship that draws her in more deeply. With this incident, Davidson gains another example of how important connection with others can be in achieving her individual goals, in this case learning more about Aboriginal people (even though this only comes about through connection to other white people).
Over the next few months, Davidson finds herself becoming less happy, despite her enjoyment of living alone. She attempts to remain friends with Gladdy and so sees Kurt as well, who continues to treat her with animosity. Gladdy plans to leave Kurt but does not do so right away. Additionally, Davidson befriends a couple of children from a nearby Aboriginal camp and through their lives she learns more about what she calls the “incredibly complex problems” that Aboriginal people face. She describes the poor living conditions, discrimination, and health risks that the communities around Alice Springs are subject to.
Gladdy’s struggles to leave Kurt underscore how difficult it can be for women to avoid oppression under patriarchal power structures. At the same time, Davidson sees how the Aboriginal people near Alice Springs face even more all-encompassing oppression, subtly tying the two concepts together through her observations.
Davidson is especially troubled by how unequipped the local schools are to educate Aboriginal children, and also notes how Australian assimilation laws have led to ruthless practices of stripping land from Aboriginal communities. She describes the particular case of an eleven-year-old Aboriginal boy she meets named Clivie, who is intelligent and friendly but prone to stealing. Davidson enjoys getting to know Clivie but hears later that he runs away after stealing weapons and is eventually caught and sent to a school for delinquent boys.
Clivie’s story offers one of the book’s most pointed examples of the oppressive conditions that Aboriginal communities face; Clivie’s personal strengths are no match for the circumstances that conspire against him, and what might be shrugged off as a youthful mistake for a white child is considered unforgivably criminal behavior for him. From this example, Davidson understands even more deeply that what white people call “civilization” may actually be chaotic and nonsensical, even though it appears orderly on the surface.
Over time, Davidson feels that she is beginning to grow more and more miserable. She feels like she is procrastinating starting her true journey and does not fully believe that she will ever leave for the desert. Though uneasy, she distracts herself by continuing to care for her camels. Zeleika is too thin, while Kate is traumatized from her abusive past and hates humans. Kate also has a serious infection in the flesh of her chest, which the vet teaches Davidson how to treat.
At this point, Davidson’s endless preparations for the trip begin to turn into a kind of paralysis. Though she believes that organization and order will move her forward, she only gets more and more stuck. Kate’s previous trauma at the hands of humans also underscores how trying too hard to control something wild can lead to deeply negative outcomes.
Kate’s condition continues to worsen, and Davidson spends several months devoted mostly to caring for her and training Zeleika for riding. The two camels are closely bonded to each other and Davidson slowly learns how to work with them effectively. She also describes the various traumas that both animals have endured and, after discovering that the wooden nose-peg that she uses to control Zeleika has splintered and injured her, she reflects: “How animals forgive us for what we do to them, I will never understand.”
As Kate’s illness gets worse, Davidson sees the clearest evidence yet that some things may simply be out of her control, no matter how much she wishes otherwise. The bond between Kate and Zeleika also hints at the importance of relying on others, suggesting that Davidson’s inertia here is due in part to her unwillingness to surrender her ideal of independence.
Sallay comes to visit Davidson and informs her that Zeleika seems to be pregnant. He tells her that having a baby camel on the trip will be helpful, since Davidson can tie up the baby and Zeleika will never wander away from it. At the same time, it becomes clear that Kate has blood poisoning and will not be able to recover. With support from her friend Jenny, Davidson steels herself and shoots Kate to put her out of her misery. Without Kate, Davidson feels like a murderer and thinks despairingly that she has wasted the past 18 months and will never successfully start her trip.
In addition to being a blow to Davidson’s emotional state, Kate’s death indicates more clearly than ever that Davidson’s careful preparations are to some extent useless. Additionally, Jenny’s presence underscores the necessity of sharing burdens with friends, even though Davidson still perceives the delay as an individual failure.