You might have heard from this book through the movie that came out in 2014. Just as this book, definitely a must-watch! Even though the image you get from the main character is very different than in the book, the story will wow you and the images amaze you. I saw the movie in Alice Springs itself, where the story starts. It was a recommendation from my parents who had read the book, and the boyfriend (who was then not the boyfriend yet) who had seen it before and decided he’d come with me to watch it again (on what he keeps insisting was our first date). Ever since, I’ve been wanting to read the book. And now I have. And it was everything I hoped for and more.
Let me first tell you something about the story without giving away too much. It’s actually a travel report rather than a novel. The main character and writer, Robyn Davidson, decided in to cross the Australian desert with a few camels in the late 70s. Something that returns a lot in the book, is the Why of this decision. It comes down to her wanting to show that you really can do everything you want to as long as you set your mind to it, which she expands on also in the interesting postscript to the 2012 edition, full of other inspirational quotes like:
“One can choose adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances. Adventure of the mind, or to use an old-fashioned word, the spirit.”
The first part of the story tells you about her preparations in and around Alice Springs. The second part deals with the actual journey: from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Hamelin Pool on the coastline of Western Australia; Robyn, four camels and a dog. The book includes of course a map with the route, and a few pictures taken by Rick Smolan, the photographer chosen by Robyn herself to meet her a few times on the road to document with pictures for National Geographic, the sponsor of the whole adventure.
I think you might agree: plenty of story material there! But the book isn’t just about the story, about the amazing and also scary things that happened on the way. It gives you an interesting insight into the mind of Robyn, which you don’t get in the movie. Suddenly all of her decisions make a lot more sense, certainly if you place them against the Australian society as it was in the ’70s (as she explains in her postscript).
The book tells you a lot about the Australia of that time. What went on in people’s minds and how they perceived their country.
The openness and emptiness which had at first threatened me were now a comfort which allowed my sense of freedom and joyful aimlessness to grow. This sense of space works deep in the Australian collective consciousness. It is frightening and most of the people huddle around the eastern seaboard where life is easy and space a graspable concept, but it produces a sense of potential and possibility nevertheless that may not exist now in any European country. It will not be long, however, before the land is conquered, fenced up and beaten into submission. But here it was free, unspoilt and seemingly indestructible.
Now, to me, the book is extra special because of its setting. When I saw the movie in 2014, I was living in Alice Springs, after having spent some time visiting the red centre and before that, having spent three months in Shark Bay, right next to Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, the end point of Robyn’s journey. The images in the movie brought up beautiful memories from my trip before, but mostly the strongest feeling of amazement I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the lines of: “Oh my goodness that is the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen, and somehow I was lucky enough to live there and enjoy it myself.” Of course I haven’t experienced that beautiful piece of land the way Robyn did, not even closely. But still I felt it was such an honour to have spent time in that amazing country.
Reading the book brought back that feeling of amazement even stronger. Because now Robyn tells you how she felt about it. What the journey did for her and brought about in her.
The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and repeat those words that had become meaningless and try to remember.