Rick Smolan’s photo of Robyn Davidson on the cover of the May 1978 issue of National Geographic.
Davidson herself says that her own journal of the trip is made of of letters never sent and random bits of fact sprinkled among longer passages, sometimes thick and fast, and sometimes lacking entries for over a month.
In the afterward in the edition I read, written in 2012 presumably right as they were working on the film, Davidson says she doesn’t recognise the person in the book. The difficulty in writing a travel blog for me is that I don’t ever think it will communicate my actual experience of a trip or a time or anything. This website is part exercise in self-discipline (it is incredibly difficult to stick to a self-imposed writing schedule, but it’s also good for me), part learning experience, part personal record, and part ongoing motivation to take the first step. In 1977 a 26-year-old Australian called Robyn Davidson trekked 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the west coast, with a dog and four camels, Dookie (a large male), Bub (a smaller male), Zeleika (a wild female), and Goliath (Zeleika's son). She had no intention of writing about the journey, but eventually agreed to write an article for National Geographic Magazine.
The National Geographic article was published in 1978 and attracted so much interest that Davidson decided to write a book about the experience. To this day, all she will really say is that being alone in the desert for nine months helped her to find out who she was, that she quelled a yearning for meaning in the middle of nowhere.
In 1977, an Australian woman set off on a 1,700-mile journey from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia – with four camels and her dog. Davidson was featured in an article for National Geographic and later wrote a full-length novel, Tracks, which went on to be a worldwide bestseller.
The film, like Davidson’s journey itself, is a long, slow, epic trek across the Australian outback.
The idea of a harrowing journey slowly breaking down a character is not an original one – and given the origin of this particular tale on true events, it isn’t hard to see why. It must be strange to have yourself represented on screen – with viewers referring to your representation as a ‘character’. I defy anyone to film in Australia, heavily featuring the landscape, and not make a beautiful film.
Verdict: Moving and epic, this is a film that leaves you feeling like you’ve done your own journey.
In 1977 photographer Rick Smolan was traveling in Australia on assignment for Time magazine when he encountered an angry woman in the small town of Alice Springs. The woman was Robyn Davidson—the so-called “camel-lady” who undertook a 1,700-mile trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean on foot with four camels and a dog as her companions.
When Davidson embarked on her ambitious walk across the Australian Outback she didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
Evening temperatures in the desert often dropped below freezing, so a warm fire was a welcome way to end a hard day’s work. Along her trek, Davidson suffered multiple hardships, including dehydration, sick camels, the poisoning of her beloved dog, and intrusions by curious people who would simply not leave her alone.
She eventually made it to the Indian Ocean where she took her camels for a triumphant swim.
After walking almost 1,700 miles across the heart of the Australian Outback, Davidson and her camels arrived at the Indian Ocean.
When the story was published, Davidson told Smolan she hated the photos in the magazine, and she was dissatisfied with the editing of the piece. Rick Smolan’s photo of Robyn Davidson was featured on the cover of the May 1978 issue of National Geographic. He says he was pleased the filmmakers stayed true to the details of the journey, including the mystery of Davidson’s motivations for her trip, as well as the nuances of their relationship. He says her scorn eventually led him to stop taking assignments and start producing his own photo books, including the wildly successful “Day in the Life” series, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. He adds that part of the modern day appeal of Davidson’s tale is that it would be almost impossible to do again today.
Watch Rick Smolan talk live at National Geographic about his experiences in Australia with Robyn Davidson.
Also, hear more from Smolan and Davidson in this video interview from MediaStorm and purchase Inside TRACKS here. Smolan is co-creator of the best-selling “A Day in the Life” series, which has sold more than three-million copies worldwide. I love both the beautiful film TRACKS and the National Geographic feature on Robyn Davidson. After suffering losses of loved ones, I too am ready to undertake my own trek to the ocean. I must agree with some previous comments about the film, the girl looks selfish and she has problem with herself. I had read and was so captured by the story and fotos in NG in 1978 and still have the article. Read your book years ago in Italy where I now live and loved it and have recently watched the film which made me cry. I can personally relate to her preference for the company of animals to people and the desire to get lost in nature; get away from city noise and the trappings of modern day life.
Drove a Meyers Manx from Port Hedland, Wilnuna, Carnegie Station, Warburton, Broken Hill and Toowoomba to Brisbane.in 1972. THE STORY IS ONE OF A DREAM AND A QUEST AND A YOUNG LADY WHO STRETCHES LIFE TO THE FULLEST , FIGHTING PHYSICAL AS WELL AS SPIRITUAL ISSUES–WE ALL CAN LEARN FROM HER JOURNEY. I loved this movie and Maybe without and maybe without Ricks Smolan’s help Robyn Davidson would not be able to make the journey.
I’m concerned that the movie romanticized the event, although I have not read the book.
A fantastic story, What a strong woman you are Robyn Davidson, such an inspiration for all women especially Australians. 2 hours of pure enjoyment, this movie is a must see, the beauty of the landscape, the agony of being alone, the friendship of the natives and endurance of the camels and man’s best friend, is truly amazing. So many times when watching movies I feel as though it”s putting holes in my brain,this movie fills the holes.
I was first apprehensive to see the movie because I was afraid it would not live up to what I had read before.
So many people do journeys in their life to get in touch with who they are and take time out of their day to day world to do it. But thank goodness there are those who do the journey who invite us with them in their re telling of their story. I am a lucky man – I still have not seen the movie but am ecstatically looking forward to it after recently having red the book, which totally blowed me away. Initially I was reluctant to watch this movie thinking it would be this slow boring thing, but as I have travelled the outback I was more interested in seeing the scenery across the country that part of the outback I hadn’t been however from the moment the movies started and in particular once the trek commenced I became riveted.
From Alice to Ocean va ser el meu primer CD-Rom i em va canviar la manera com veia els ordinadors.

What an amazing story the movie was grwat and thank you Robin for sharing your journey with the world.
Amazing book and amazing film.Thoroughly enjoyed both and a fantastic image of the beautiful outback of Australia. Your article opened an entire new world to me, one which I never dreamed existed and one which I could never enter. Robyn Davidson is an Australian writer who walked 1,700 miles alone in the Australian outback in 1977. RICK SMOLAN: I was shooting a cover story for a magazine and when I walked out of the hotel she was washing the windows. I was working alongside some social workers with the Aborigines and they asked me for dinner. A few weeks later I was told that Robyn wanted to ask me a favor, but because she had been so unfriendly she didn’t know how. RS: Well, Mia is so brilliant in it and John treats the audience like intelligent human beings. But it was really eerie seeing the movie – and seeing what parts were true to what happened and what was more about filling in the windows that existed to be able to tell this complex story. Castaway starred Tom Hanks as a FedEx employee stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. I stumbled upon the movie Tracks a while back and had no idea what I was getting into…but it was one of those movies that just sets my heart beating at the richness of life.
When there is no one to remind you what society’s rules are, and there is nothing to keep you linked to that society, you had better be prepared for some startling changes.
I remember it because I think my mother had every Nat Geo ever printed and sometimes if we kids needed something to do she would have us put them all in order by year to organize them. Sometimes I feel a little sad that Boo will miss that experience and I’m tempted to go out and find a huge collection to bring home. Filed Under: Writing About Ashley HackshawLiving a simple, creative life in #smalltownusa Bryson City, NC.
I definitely remember Tut, but my favorites were the two with the holograms on the cover, first an eagle and later a skull.
It has a line, but there are also moments of stream-of-consciousness wandering from that line that remind me of my own frantic scribbles in my notebook trying to capture moments and knowing that no bit of writing really can.
She did a lot of walking around the desert naked and talking only to camels and her dog for ages at a time. That after writing the story and releasing all of it into the world, the memories started to fade and she can only hold on to bits and pieces of something that was so long ago and so far removed from most everyday experiences. I needed reminding that I can do something for myself that may turn out completely differently than I picture it, but life will still go on on the other side of it. Having met the photographer Rick Smolan in Alice Springs, she insisted that he be the photographer for the journey.
Some people simply thought she was crazy, others assumed she would be dead almost as soon as her journey began. After the success of the book in 1980, there have been multiple attempts to get a film adaptation off the ground. While the film doesn’t go into detail about her motivations, it is clear that she is doing this journey for herself, not to prove anything to anyone else.
She applied for funding with National Geographic and they obliged, with one condition: that they’re photographer, Rick Smolan (played by GIRLS’ actor Adam Driver), be allowed to photograph her at several stops along her journey. This is not a film for people who enjoy action-packed films, but that’s not to say that a lot doesn’t happen.
This young woman was looking for something, although she probably didn’t know what it was when she started out.
If you had told me before going in that it was two hours of a woman walking, I’d have laughed in your face and said ‘Sounds worse than The Lord of the Rings.’ And it does sound worse… but somehow it works.
But, as with all stories ‘based on true events’, we can never really know how much is fabricated or where the truth really lies. For such a small, delicate looking girl, the intensity that she portrays is almost incredible.
Even Baz’s monstrosity Australia was beautiful to look at (as was Hugh Jackman, just saying). It isn’t fast-paced or action-packed, so probably not a film that will warrant many re-watches, but definitely worth seeing. The problem was, although Davidson had been training her camels and preparing for the trip for years, Smolan had no experience in the outback.
While she initially resisted his presence, eventually they became friends, then started a brief romance.
After making camp, Robyn Davidson would cook dinner and then listen to teaching tapes that taught her to speak Pitjantjara, the local aboriginal dialect. At one point, when Smolan heard a rumor that she was lost in the desert, he high-tailed it from Asia to Australia to track her down, unwittingly leading a mob of other frenzied journalists along with him. It was the end of her physical journey, but the beginning of her sharing her story with the world—first in the 1978 National Geographic article, and later in her best-selling memoir called TRACKS.
Smolan is married with two children, and has published a series of photo books with his wife, Jennifer Erwitt. I feel bad for her dog Diggity and wonder why did she even take her to a dangerous journey. It is a beautiful story about a courageous, young woman who chose to follow her dream in spite of the odds against her. Miss Davidson, you were a courageous young women, I hope you are well, thanks for sharing a piece of your life. I wished she would have left her dog Diggy behind with friends, or family.lucky for Rick to stay with her during her trip.
I’m concerned that young women who watch it will think they should be able to do same without proper covering for body and feet.
My late mother loved stories from Australia and likely had the issue of National Geographic in which this story was published. I am very glad that I watched the movie and the accompanying additional interviews on the DVD. I particularly liked that they showed certain things ie snake on neck but didn’t overemphasize it. I have always been in awe of Robyn and what she achieved, the movie was great I have seen it twice and I agree with Robyn’s comments elsewhere Mia did a great job.
What Robin did showed a lot of courage and fortitude to continue, amazing outback scenery stuff I hadn’t seen before the isolation that Robin endured was breathtaking ! De fet, aquest CD-Rom venia gratuitament en els Macintosh que estrenaven tambe els lector de CD-Roms. Her story was documented by National Geographic magazine photographer Rick Smolan (played by Adam Driver).The movie is directed by John Curran.

I turned up at this abandoned house in the middle of nowhere for the party and who opened the door?
I figured she wanted copies of my photos, but it was that she had written to National Geographic a year earlier, not heard back, and she wanted to use my name to contact the editor again. She talks about how refreshing it was to not have to worry a lick about being pretty or attractive or anything else typically associated with being a woman because none of that mattered. I find this to be true of just about every experience I ever have, whether or not I write about it.
It’s so easy to talk myself out of things when I live most of my life inside my own head. Rick, with whom she had an "on-again off-again" romantic relationship during the trip, drove out to meet her three times during the nine-month journey. Tracks won the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980 and the Blind Society Award. It's an observation shared by Robyn Davidson, who met Wasikowska early in Tracks' production process. Actresses Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman are a few that have been linked to the projects over the years. The harsh landscape, the hardships she endures… every time a stranger she encounters tells her she can’t do it or she’s crazy, the more you sit their willing her on.
Sometimes even the nicest people in the world rub you the wrong way – or maybe they just catch you at a bad time – but how do you tell people to just leave you alone without coming off as the biggest bitch this side of Maleficent? But she also needed money, so Smolan helped introduce her to editors at National Geographic who offered funding in exchange for her story.
Smolan didn’t tell his editors about the affair—the relationship would have been frowned upon.
He reflects that traveling with Davidson—and having to make tough choices about covering and becoming involved in her story—ultimately changed his career.
He is CEO of Against All Odds Productions, and lives in New York with his wife and collaborator Jennifer Erwitt. Anyway the film reminds me of how we human love to hold on to things that hurt us, dramatizing them, how we’re addicted to suffering. I see one or two posters just don’t get it, they have probably lived sheltered lives in big cities and have never seen the Outback or Camels for that matter. Ell treball d’en Rick Smolan va estimular la meva carrera ja que em va obrir els ulls i em va mostrar un nou mont, el molt multimedia. The trip was partly sponsored by National Geographic, requiring that a photographer, Rick Smolan, visit the otherwise determinedly solitary Robyn a few times during the trip to capture her experience.
She was angry and she asked me if I was just another “parasitic journalist” trying to take photos of the Aborigines, like many did at that time. So many people avoid the things that frighten them and they never find out if it’s worth being all that frightened about them. I am reasonably strong-willed when I want to be, but writing about all this and telling everyone I know about my plans is probably the main thing that prevents me chickening out. She makes it to the end of her trip and she realizes that she is truly strong enough to do whatever she puts her mind to. That might sound a little odd (or not so much if you know me personally), but I’m not a great people lover. The transformation through the film is spot-on – the dirt, grime, greasy hair, sunburn, chapped lips, and tan. But as he continued to document Davidson’s journey he became an inextricable part of her story. Across the years I had forgotten Robyn’s story, but it all came back to me as my wife and I watched Tracks last night. I admire your perseverance and probably some of your reasoning was fueled by a need to detach. Stunning visual panoramas leave me in awe of this young woman who showed such courage, such resilience, such gritty determination. My heart broke for the little girl who lost her Mum family and best friend Goldie in one hit. I also felt her dislike of some of the Australians and their racist attitudes toward the Aborigines. John Curran directs this beautiful feature, with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver as Robyn and Rick. I tried to tell her that my photos might expose what the government had done to these people, but she wasn’t that interested in hearing it.
Robyn goes into those dark places to see if they deserve to be a negative center of gravity in her life. She is married to an African American man and she is mostly Norwegian heritage…their daughter has lovely light cocoa skin with huge smoky, gray-green eyes. Despite the lack of dialogue (it is interspersed throughout, in between long sequences with little, unless you count Robyn talking to her animals), it held my attention throughout. You can almost smell the campfires, imagine the silence, and conjure both the difficulty and the romance of the trek.
They didn’t know why she had this crazy idea to walk across the desert and they were worried about her. Further back from the shoreline the shells have been compressed over the ages to form a huge solid block. A moment towards the end of the film (you’ll know it when you see it), Robyn finally breaks down – as did I. To me it’s more a story of the people who found her and helped her, but they are not the star of the film. I was shattered and my face hurt from crying when you had to say goodbye to your loyal dog Digity.
That’s different when most movies are about heroes, about people that are cast as very different to us. The locals come out with a band saws and carve up the beach into building blocks for their homes.
Their Georgia is 6 feet…with a full ride to Columbia University this fall (basketball, but has super grades, too). This level of emotional reaction from me is impressive, so props to Wasikowska for bringing me so close to her character.
We live in a small valley in Southern Oregon that is currently under attack by fast-spreading forest fires. What appeared to be floating rocks in Hamelin Pool turned out to b living algae called stromatolites, one of the oldest forms of life on earth.

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