by NEVIL GIBSON
Robyn Davidson’s epic 2700km desert trek from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia accompanied only by four camels and a dog is the stuff of legend.
I hadn’t heard of it before, which makes a long-in-the-works film all the more interesting for non-Australians.
Davidson was only 25 when she first travelled to the “red centre”, and her motive for doing so remains shrouded in mystery. At the opening of Tracks (Transmission Films), the locals are dubious and unwelcoming when she arrives in town and spends a couple of years learning the ways of the Outback; in particular, how to wrangle feral camels.
The journey proper started in 1977 and took her nine months to complete across Australia’s least populated area and its most inhospitable terrain.
Fame soon followed, with a bestselling book in 1981 after a stunning magazine spread in National Geographic, which had helped fund the trip.
For Australians, “the camel woman” ranks with Sir Edmund Hillary for New Zealanders and Norway’s Thor Heyerdahl, both of whose exploits were recalled in screen productions last year.
Single hero adventures — recent examples include Robert Redford’s All is Lost and The Life of Pi — are difficult for a viewer, as you rely on dramatic episodes to maintain interest when there is little
dialogue and no lack of repetitive scenes.
After many previous attempts to get a film off the ground, producer Emile Sherman obtained the rights and hired director John Curran,
whose first feature was the well-received Praise.
One of his most demanding jobs would have been choosing the locations, which are nothing short of spectacular and include South Australia’s Flinders Ranges and Coffin Bay, and Kings Canyon and Uluru in the Northern Territory.
With the landscape sorted, Curran has less of a problem in the casting.
Davidson is played by Mia Wasikowska, who has already
had roles that combine vulnerability with assertiveness — the
recent Jane Eyre as well as Alice in Wonderland, The Kids are All
Right and Stoker.
Davidson herself went on to a distinguished career in writing, film production and academia. She has been closely associated with the film and this may explain why it skips over the deeper personal issues and her relationship with National Geographic photographer
Rick Smolan (Adam Driver from HBO’s TV series Girls), who drops in on her from time to time for some pictorial “shoots”.
These later became the centrepiece of syndicated articles and one of National Geographic’s most popular cover stories.
Davidson soon tires of his enthusiasm and energy, but clearly is holding something back, which deflates the emotional impact.
Tracks doesn’t dwell on this enigmatic side of Davidson’s adventure but packs in a number of incidents — mainly involving tribal Aboriginals and a remote farming couple — who provide a contrast to her intensity and desire to be as far from other people as possible.
Rating: Mature audiences (language); 112 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON