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Striding beyond boundaries

The life of an enigmatic traveller
by
October 2023, no. 458

Unfinished Woman by Robyn Davidson

Bloomsbury, $34.99 pb, 285 pp

Striding beyond boundaries

The life of an enigmatic traveller
by
October 2023, no. 458

Robyn Davidson is still best known as the ‘camel lady’, the young writer whose account of her desert trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog made her internationally famous. Tracks, published in 1980, has never been out of print. Since then Davidson has led a nomadic life – sometimes living in London, sometimes New York, and often exploring the world’s remote places and writing about them and her encounters with desert dwellers. Now, in her early seventies she has returned to her roots, spurred – like many writers at the same stage of their lives – by the need to examine her own past.

Davidson, the younger of two girls, grew up on her father’s cattle property in Queensland. Her descriptions of her early life – its sounds, smells, textures – and her passionate connection to the natural world provide some of the most evocative writing in this book. Much of this connection she owed to her father. ‘By example rather than instruction he taught me to be unafraid of snakes, spiders, cyclones, ocean waves, gekkos, solitude and the dark,’ she writes. ‘He taught me how to listen to the silence of nature so that its silences opened all the way out to the rim of our exploding universe.’ Her mother, recognising that her younger daughter was musically talented, sent away for books about composers and dancers. Davidson enjoyed music but felt that these books could not compare with the family encyclopedias featuring ‘coloured plates of such things as radiolaria, peridots, tiger iron, fish with electric lights in them, naked people with towers of feathers on their heads’. How, she asks, could anyone not want to understand these things?

Unfinished Woman

Unfinished Woman

by Robyn Davidson

Bloomsbury, $34.99 pb, 285 pp

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