Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Robyn Davidson, Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback (1980)

Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks (1980) provides an account of her 1977 adventure of trekking 1,700 miles across the desert from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean accompanied predominantly by her three camels and dog.  Influenced by the second wave of feminism of the 1970s, her story represents an account of a woman breaking free of the limited roles designated for women to instead define her own sense of identity and worth and to assert her independence. 

Her memoir preaches the value of breaking out of one’s comfort zone, setting challenging tasks, testing oneself and seeking self-discovery by surviving alone in the wilderness.  In this respect she reflected a Left-libertarianism that appreciated the maximisation of personal freedom to pursue alternative lifestyles and the value of being responsible for oneself.  She also saw her rebellion and adventure as reflecting the spirit of her times, which was influenced by the rise of the New Left and hippy counter-culture where the young were reshaping politics and culture in the Western world. 

Her quest for self-discovery and fulfilment also reflected romanticist and environmentalist sentiments in expressing awe in the face of the grand vistas of nature, appreciating the natural beauty of her desert surroundings and regarding the wilderness as invigorating.  Importantly, she sought to get close to nature, shedding the materialism of her Western civilisation by minimising her possessions down to only essentials. In this respect she resented the compromise of the (partial) commercialisation of her journey due to its periodic coverage by a professional photographer for National Geographic magazine, the journal that financed her enterprise.  Despite these interventions she celebrated her personal transformation that saw her, for example, break free of the conventional Western sense of time and punctuality as well as transcend the conventional Western sense of dress, etiquette and decorum. 

With the exception of the gratitude she had for some white country folk who were hospitable to her on her journey, she condemns most mainstream rural white Australians and their culture, especially its men, describing them as racist, sexist, and vulgar in the extreme.  The hippies and left-wing activists whom she encountered are among the few whites who are presented as welcome exceptions to what she found to be the norm in the Australian outback. 

By contrast, she has only respect for the Aborigines.  Her journey was also a quest to meaningfully interact with the Aborigines and to form authentic respectful relationships with these people whom she regarded as the victims of racism by white Australians.  Her memoir includes a protest against the historical maltreatment of Aborigines by whites and an assertion of the need for self-determination as the model for Aboriginal welfare policy.  In this regard, she seeks to counter negative stereotypes of Aborigines by consistently speaking of them and their culture with respect and praise.  She also treated them as role models, seeking to adopt their ways, valuing the way they were attuned to their natural environment and how they interacted with it without damaging it.

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Tracks meaning, Tracks themes, Tracks analysis, Tracks notes