Tracks

Review by Jane Freebury

Exactly what possessed a young woman to decide she was going to trek with camels across Australia may be something we’ll never quite understand. The author Robyn Davidson recalls that 40 years ago she was fed up with the self-indulgent negativity of her generation. Yes, we get that. And that she wanted to prove ordinary people could do extraordinary things. That, too. However, we can hazard a safe guess that the spirit of extreme adventure came to her more readily than to other mortals and was in her DNA. Her father had walked across the Kalahari alone in Africa in 1935.

With actor Mia Wasikowska as the author in this film of her best-selling book, it somehow just adds to the mystery. No one is allowed under her cover and she gives little away, except with an impatient click of the fingers, and a turn of the head that means ‘end of conversation’. Wasikowska is, as always, really good, but I think the part is underwritten, especially when there is an entire book about the camel trek to draw on.

While motivation is difficult to fathom, walking 1,700-kilometres from our red centre to the Indian Ocean is a marvel of single-mindedness. Davidson took herself and her dog Diggity to Alice Springs with a plan to find some wild camels, endured an apprenticeship to the oafish owner of a local camel farm, and then agreed, reluctantly, to sponsorship from National Geographic magazine. It meant photographer Rick Smolan (played by Adam Driver) would drop in on her at intervals. An interruption to her isolation that was both welcome and unwelcome.

It takes a bold team to make a film of a book at any time, and this is such a personal and internal quest as well as a grand physical adventure. The ‘camel lady’ of 1977, was one of the original gutsy travellers, and her stories of survival in central Australia and Rajasthan (Desert Places) have become the stuff of urban legend as we sipped on our lattes.

Mandy Walker’s cinematography is imaginative and the material has been beautifully edited by Alexandre de Franceschi, who has worked with Jane Campion quite a bit. However, the experience is not as compelling as you would expect, which is surprising from John Curran, the director of Praise. Also, the score seems odd and out of touch with the vision from time to time.

Although it’s a treat to see this journey through our desert heartland, Tracks may not enjoy the longevity of defining outback features like Wake in Fright, Walkabout, The Tracker, to name some of the most obvious, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And yetTracks is still an extraordinary story and the film has a lot going for it in its quiet and composed way.

In a capsule: The extraordinary story of a young woman’s trek across central Australia has much going for it in its quiet way, though is not as compelling as it might have been.

4 stars

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