A Lunch with Robyn Davidson
October 3, 2014
at Maya Ubud, Ubud – Bali
I read Tracks as late as 2014. It was recommended by another author —probably Elizabeth Gilbert. That’s how I found out about it and of course Robyn Davidson.
Although, I have been living in Australia for almost 13 years now, I’m not much of an expert when it comes to Australian literature. I only read a few books of Australian authors like Kate Grenville, Markus Zusak and Geraldine Brooks and maybe a few more, but that’s about it. I just don’t have Australian friends who read and could make some good recommendations for me. Most people I know seem to be reading science fiction, fantasy or thriller anyway. None of which my favourite genres.
I’ve come to realise that if you don’t connect with a country through its literature, then connecting with its people is even harder. Well, Australians are not making it easy, I have to say, despite their reputation of being friendly. You get one or two who would want to connect but then they usually don’t know what to do with someone like me. When I say someone like what I mean is someone who is different, not mainstream or vanilla flavoured. Well, if I’m ever going to be likened to any frozen dessert, that would be fig and walnut kulfi, not ice cream of any flavour.
That being said… I still made my connection. And I did that through Robyn Davidson’s book: Tracks. And this is exactly what I shared with her during a lunch in Bali which was organised by Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, in 2014.
It was a beautiful day on many levels: I met some really nice people before the event started (Karine, an interior designer from Paris and Coba, a Dutch-Indonesian who owns a library in Lovina, Bali). Rosemary Sayer’s introduction was quite engaging and Robyn Davidson was delightful; she was kind enough to talk to me, listen to my difficulty in connecting with Australia and even have her photograph taken with me (see below).
And when she signed my book (see below), she wrote this:
I hope Australia learns to appreciate you. With good wishes.
Although my signed copy of Tracks went straight to the trophy room, here’s my favourite bits and pieces for you to read:
There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something correct for a change , when you think you are on the right track.
One really could act to change and control one’s life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward.
Before that moment, I had always supposed that loneliness was my enemy. I had seemed not to exist without people around me. But now I understood that I had always been a loner, and that this condition was a gift rather than something to be feared.
I think when you are truly stuck, when you have stood still in the same spot for too long, you throw a grenade in exactly the spot you were standing in, and jump, and pray. It is the momentum of last resort.
The self did not seem to be an entity living somewhere inside the skull, but a reaction between mind and stimulus.
The two important things that 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.
The question I’m most commonly asked is ‘Why?’ A more pertinent question might be, why is it that more people don’t attempt to escape the limitations imposed upon them?
Wherever there is pressure to conform (one person’s conformity is often in the interests of another person’s power), there is a requirement to resist.
The modern arterial roads around Port Augusta had almost immediately petered out into crinkled, wretched, endless pink tracks leading to the shimmering horizon, and then there was nothing but the dry red parchment of the dead heart, God’s majestic hidey-hole, where men are men and women are an afterthought.
However, she was the first person so far who had not greeted my idea with patronizing disbelief.
His grin disappeared like greasy water down a plug-hole.
A compliment bled from the master was worth a million given freely by anyone else. There
Though this may sound like a negative quality, it was essential for me to develop beyond the archetypal female creature who from birth had been trained to be sweet, pliable, forgiving, compassionate and door-mattish.
The trip home reinstated a faith in myself and what I was doing. I felt calm and positive and strong, and now, instead of the trip appearing out of character, instead of worrying about whether or not it was a pointless thing to do, I could see more clearly the reasons and the needs behind it.
It lay, crystal clear, beneath the feelings of inadequacy and defeat, the clever, self-directed plan that had been working towards this realization for years. I believe the subconscious always knows what is best. It is our conditioned, vastly overrated rational mind which screws everything up.
Although she could not understand my desire to be alone, her company was never an infringement of my privacy, as it was easy and relaxed and carried with it that ability many Aboriginal people have to touch and be affectionate without stiffness, and to be comfortable with silence.
How animals ever forgive us for what we do to them, I will never understand.
The road leading out of Alice was narrow, twisted and perilous with huge lorries hurtling along it, and if there was one thing that camels hated it was anything bigger than them that moved.
I was on an untouchable high. I had sprouted metaphorical wings.
Their shit had turned to water by the time we got there. So had mine.
I wondered what powerful fate had channelled me into this moment of inspired lunacy. The last burning bridge back to my old self collapsed. I was on my own.
The answer came back, ‘She’ll be right, mate,’ the closest thing to a Zen statement to come out of Australia, and one I used frequently in the months ahead.
… and I grew muscles on my shit.
Without actually saying yes, they didn’t say no either, a common form of politeness amongst Aborigines called courtesy bias.
Some string somewhere inside me was starting to unravel. An important string, the one that held down panic.
It’s amazing how well one can communicate with a fellow being when there are no words to get in the way.
I liked, still like, the person who emerged from that process far better than the one who existed before it – or since it. In my own eyes, I was becoming sane, normal, healthy, yet to anyone else’s I must have appeared if not certifiably mad then at least irretrievably weird, eccentric, sun-struck and bush-happy.
… it seems to me that the good Lord in his infinite wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable – hope, jokes and dogs, but the greatest of these was dogs.
As I have said before, friendship in certain subsections within Australia amounts almost to religion. This closeness and sharing is not describable to any other cultural group to whom friendship means dinner parties where one discusses wittily work and career, or gatherings of ‘interesting’ people who are all suspicious, wary, and terrified of not being interesting after all.