Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback

by

Robyn Davidson

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Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback: Chapter 7  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After leaving Tempe Station, Davidson encounters sandhills for the first time and is awed at the ethereal, alien quality of the world around her. She learns to deal with flies and other small hazards, and she continues on calmly despite sometimes feeling stifled by all the sand around her. She expects to travel for about two weeks before she reaches Ayers Rock, where she will be meeting Rick.
This portion of Davidson’s journey hints at the potential of the natural world; she senses that it is essentially peaceful (or at least stable) despite its many hazards. Her sense of independence also increases during this time, though she also knows that her solitude will be interrupted soon.
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Davidson reflects that she doesn’t look forward to seeing Rick and all the tourists that will surround Ayers Rock, thinking that even nice people are intolerable when they become tourists. However, she distinguishes between tourists and travelers and notes that she does meet some “lovely people” during her journey. Davidson finds the trip to the Rock somewhat disappointing, in that the initial thrill of her trip has worn away and she’s beginning to wonder if and when she’ll feel that something truly important is taking place.
Davidson’s thoughts on the differences between travelers and tourists represent a significant development in her conceptualization of others’ involvement in her trip. Here, she realizes that not all outside influence is bad; the right people can actually be a positive presence, rather than something that gets in the way.
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As she travels, Davidson becomes more and more devoted to detailed rituals and habits, making sure that everything she does is exactly correct. During a brief stop at a bar in tourist ranch, she is so disgusted by the misogynistic behavior of the men there that she immediately leaves. She also begins to see the first signs of wild camels around her and becomes nervous about the possibility of meeting a wild bull camel, since Sallay Mahomet told her to “shoot first and ask questions later” when confronted by one.
As the perils of her trip’s wildness increase—in this case because of the wild camels—Davidson’s inability to accept that wildness also increases. She doubles down on her rigid habits, even as she senses that some form of chaos may be just around the corner. The behavior of the men here highlights the idea that Davidson’s female identity is only a liability in the context of social convention; it isn’t actually a weakness on its own.
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Finally, Davidson arrives at Ayers Rock for the first time in her life and is stunned by its eerie beauty. She meets the head ranger of the national park and learns from him how the Rock and the area surrounding it are in danger from the behavior of disrespectful tourists. Though she’s shocked at their behavior, Davidson feels that not even tourists can ruin the Rock’s beauty.
The threats that tourists pose to the Rock and the area around it provide new perspective on Davidson’s distaste for interference from other people. While the tourists are upsetting to Davidson, they are a genuine existential threat to the Aboriginal people who have always revered the Rock. This contrast shows that as much as Davidson is annoyed by outside influence, its danger to her is nothing compared to its danger for Aboriginal people.
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Rick arrives the next day and, to Davidson’s surprise, he brings Jenny along with him. Although Davidson is happy to see Jenny, she is also dismayed to have her isolation interrupted yet again, which causes immediate tension between her and Jenny. Rick shows the two women the photographs he took with his camera of Davidson’s departure, in which Davidson can barely recognize herself because she looks so much more glamorous than she feels. She eventually begins to tell Jenny and Rick about her trip so far and, although she feels that little has happened, she nonetheless notices that she can feel the trip starting to change her thought processes and ways of relating.
Previously, Jenny has been one of the people who showed Davidson how to rely on other people, but at this point, she views even Jenny as an intrusion. This shows just how devoted Davidson has become to her impossible ideal of independence. At the same time, the somewhat false images that the pictures show demonstrate that Davidson isn’t wrong to fear others’ interference; their perspectives can conflict with her own sense of truth. Davidson’s discomfort with the glamorously feminine images again suggests that the burden of femininity comes primarily from society’s perceptions of women, not from the simple reality of being a woman.
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Two days later, Jenny leaves for Alice Springs, and Rick annoys Davidson by photographing their goodbyes. She is also frustrated by the need to pose for photos for the magazine, which feels dishonest and staged to her. She embarks on another stretch of travel toward the Olgas, which are rocky landmarks about 20 miles away. As she walks, Davidson feels depressed at Rick’s interference and blames him for her negativity.
Davidson’s continued frustration with Rick and his photographs underscores her negative perception of collaborating with others. Davidson doesn’t just find the photographs inaccurate; she finds them genuinely depressing. This extremity shows how far Davidson has to go in gaining an understanding of how interconnection with others can help her.
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The conflict with Rick escalates, with Rick sulking and Davidson growing angry. Finally, at the Olgas, she sits him down and demands that they stop acting like children. The two end up talking for hours and end the conversations as friends; Davidson discovers that Rick is likable after all. Rick joins Davidson for several more days of her journey, which, she writes, she did not see at the time was yet another way in which she let the outside world co-opt her story.
This phase of Davidson’s relationship with Rick is an especially clear illustration of how she assumes independence and interconnection to be in conflict with each other. She likes Rick and learns that she enjoys talking with him, but nevertheless views his company as co-opting the trip rather than enriching it.
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Davidson begins to grow angry with Rick again as she shoulders the burdens of the trip’s labor while he simply takes pictures with his camera. At one point, the two separate and Rick is late to meet up again, which worries Davidson and makes her furious when it turns out that he was back at camp reading the whole time. On the same day, Goliath runs away during a rainstorm, and after chasing him down, Davidson has a hysterical breakdown in front of Rick. That night, the two begin the sexual aspect of their relationship. Although Davidson is glad to have Rick as a friend, she writes that she regrets allowing their relationship to become sexual, because it allows him to fall in love with her “camel lady” image and further prevents her from having full control over the journey.
Davidson’s lack of stability during this phase of the trip seems in part to be due to her dawning realization that she can’t keep trying to control everything; Goliath’s escape pushes her into hysteria. At the same time, she is also burdened by the way that her sex appeal and “camel lady” image increase her aversion to involving other people in the trip. Because Davidson is a woman, other people’s interpretations of her trip tend to fall back on sexist stereotypes, which makes the entire trip feel less authentic to her.
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A few days before the next stop, Dookie falls and injures his shoulder. Davidson is unsure how to help him and she, Rick, and the camels rest for a few days until he can walk. Then they arrive in Docker, the next Aboriginal settlement, where Davidson ends up staying for six weeks while Dookie heals. While there, she and Rick fight over whether or not it is ethical for him to photograph the Aboriginal people, as National Geographic wants him to. He takes the pictures anyway, which upsets Davidson. Right before he leaves, Rick also inadvertently takes pictures of a sacred ceremony, which Davidson feels turns the local people against both of them.
In Docker, Davidson’s concerns about documenting her trip collide with her concerns about the exploitation of Aboriginal people by white outsiders. Rick’s behavior toward the Aboriginal people isn’t just annoying; it’s arguably unethical.  This sequence reveals the way in which Davidson’s wish to be left alone is rooted in the very real ways that outside inference can be oppressive for people of marginalized identities.
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Because Dookie does not seem to be improving, Davidson flies back to Alice Springs in a mail plane to seek advice from the vets, even though doing so makes her feel completely defeated. The vets tell her that all she can do is wait, so she stays in Docker, feeling bored and miserable. One day, she encounters her first wild bull camels right by her camp and, with the help of a young Aboriginal man, ends up shooting and killing three of them to keep them from attacking. She is overcome by remorse and wonders how anyone can ever kill for pleasure.
The death of the wild bulls here is perhaps the first time that Davidson understands how painful it can be to try and impose so-called civilization on aspects of the natural world. She successfully takes control of the situation by killing the bulls, but rather than being comforted, she feels deeply guilty for interfering with the natural way of things—even if this “natural way” could have resulted in her own death.
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Soon thereafter, a nurse working for the Aboriginal health service arrives, and she and Davidson become friends. They drive to another settlement and dance with a group of Aboriginal women they meet there. Davidson is delighted, feeling that the women are accepting her at last, but is then dismayed when she is expected to pay at the end of the dance. She feels that, once and for all, she will always be “a whitefella tourist on the outside looking in.” When Dookie’s shoulder finally heals, Davidson hopes that one of the older Aboriginal men would be willing to be her guide for the next part of the journey, but they all decline. She leaves the town miserable, convinced that her trip is just “an empty foolish gesture.”
This point marks one of the first times that Davidson truly realizes how important interconnection with others is for her trip. Feeling rejected by the Aboriginal people, she understands that, despite what she thought, independence actually isn’t enough for her. This painful incident also shows how the rupture between the white people and the Aboriginal people has negative consequences for everyone; oppression isn’t truly beneficial even for the oppressors.
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