Groundbreaking explorer earns OAM

Mount Alexander Shire resident Robyn Davidson OAM.

Being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to adventure and exploration literature was “gobsmackingly unexpected” for Mount Alexander Shire resident Robyn Davidson.

Best known for her solo trek across the Australian desert in 1977 with only four camels and a dog for company, Robyn told the Express that the 2700km journey was a personal challenge.

“I didn’t do it for anyone or anything else. It was a very private act,” she said.

“I wasn’t frightened, I was terrified, but I knew that if I didn’t get over that and keep going, I wouldn’t have a life.

“The camels? I couldn’t afford a car, so they become part of the whole shape of the journey.”

Towards the end of her journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, the press got wind of the story, and Robyn was inundated with reporters and photographers.

“I was in every paper in every country – I swear, outer Slavinia would have had it on their front page!” she said.

With the support of her ‘literary mother’ Doris Lessing, Robyn wrote her memoir Tracks, which later became a film with Robyn portrayed by actress Mia Wasikowska.

“The value of Tracks is that, for whatever reason, in that book I somehow caught something that has encouraged people; mostly women, because they need it most, to expand their boundaries. So, if I’m proud of anything, I’m sort of proud of that,” she said.

“And I was thinking the other day, that at that time, no other white fellas were writing about Aboriginal mob and I think that Tracks had a part to play in that, in portraying Aboriginal culture as a highly achieved, intellectual, brilliant culture and that brought people like Bruce Chapman in. So, that also I’m quite happy about.”

Robyn spent time travelling, fell in love with a writer and moved to England.

She wanted to write a book about nomadism so in the early 90s she spent two years driving around Rajasthan, trying to find a group of migrating people who would take her with them.

“Eventually, I crossed the border into Gujarat and within two weeks, I found this group that would take me on a migration ride through various states, with 5000 sheep, 10 camels to carry the gear and whole families, and off we went,” she said.

“The people were fabulous and sort of confirmed all my bias’ towards nomadic people. But they were under tremendous pressure.

“Governments don’t like nomads because they can’t control them, can’t tax them. And all the grasslands are being co-opted by big agriculture, so it’s harder for them to find a way through the old migration patterns.

“I was with them for two or three months and walked back to Jaipur to the farm of the original man I had met on my way to England. He became my ‘husband’ for 20 years and India was a huge, huge, huge part of my life.”

Robyn’s partner died in 2010 on her 60th birthday.

“I had to make a choice. What country do I now live in? Is it India, is it England, or is it Australia?” she said.

“I was pretty burnt out, I was exhausted, so I felt coming home was the best choice. I couldn’t afford to live in Melbourne so I looked regionally.

“I had three things I needed. I wanted to have spare rooms for my friends, I wanted to be able to get decent coffee within five minutes and I wanted to be able to see kangaroos within one minute. I got it all.”

Robyn said there were two projects that were important to her. Finding safe haven and breathing, having the house and garden to focus life on, and pulling the book together.

“Writing my latest memoir, Unfinished Woman, was very difficult. It took me years and years and years. Memoirs are a morally ambiguous genre so I was very careful, but I also wanted to honour my mum.

“It’s not about me per say, it’s about fate and how we have to deal with our fate. It’s out now and it’s like this huge weight off my back.”