February 2007

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Robyn Davidson & Bruce Chatwin

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

It was 1980 and Robyn Davidson was 30, unknown and working on the manuscript of her first book. London was cold and wet and a long way from her subject matter, but she'd found congenial digs in Doris Lessing's self-contained flat and exile companionship in two cockatiels she'd ransomed from a street market. The birds were flapping around the flat, pining for far horizons, when Bruce Chatwin knocked on the door.

The celebrated author of In Patagonia had heard about Davidson and her dromedary-propelled outback odyssey, and decided he should meet her. Chatwin was a decade older, "a very beautiful-looking man, I assumed gay, very witty with a questing intellect".

They passed the afternoon in congenial chat. About nomads, mainly. Chatwin wanted to know all about Aborigines, but when Davidson got around to land rights, his curiosity took a dive. Politics bored him and the conversation moved to gossip about notable figures he'd encountered. "He was a marvellous mimic," Davidson recalled. By the afternoon's end, Chatwin had done a ripper impersonation of Indira Gandhi and acquired a list of useful contacts in Alice Springs.

Two years later, Davidson was back in Australia. Her book, Tracks, had catapulted her to unsolicited celebrity as the ‘Camel Lady', and she was doing the famous-author thing at Adelaide Writers' Week. Also on the bill was Bruce Chatwin. He arrived with a friend, Salman Rushdie, and the two chaps promptly lit out for the Territory to climb Uluru and commune with the natives.

Later, while Chatwin was inflating his outback observations into The Songlines, Davidson visited him in Oxford to confer and advise. By that stage, she and Rushdie were a number, their affair the talk of book town. By the time Songlines appeared and The Satanic Verses sent the mad mullahs reaching for their scimitars, Davidson's restless feet had carried her to far Rajasthan, where she found other camels and other nomads and a new book, Desert Places.

Bruce Chatwin died in Nice in 1989, taken by AIDS at 49. After half a lifetime of waking up beside hairy beasts, Davidson has returned to live permanently in Australia. Coming home, she calls it. Of the two cockatiels, nothing further is known. Flighty creatures, they have left no tracks.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: February 2007

February 2007

From the front page

“Hockey owes me”

The Canberra bubble has popped

Image from ‘Vox Lux’

A scar is born: ‘Vox Lux’

Natalie Portman grapples with celebrity’s demons in this unconvincing film

The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at QAGOMA

Politics, culture and colour collide in Brisbane

Image of artist Ben Quilty

Ben Quilty: the art of unease

Ahead of a major survey at the Art Gallery of SA, the artist talks about the anxiety that informs his work


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

What Lindy did next

‘The Museum of Doubt’ by James Meek

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Many me

The war not thought

Les Carlyon’s ‘The Great War’

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

Image from ‘Vox Lux’

A scar is born: ‘Vox Lux’

Natalie Portman grapples with celebrity’s demons in this unconvincing film

Image of artist Ben Quilty

Ben Quilty: the art of unease

Ahead of a major survey at the Art Gallery of SA, the artist talks about the anxiety that informs his work

Image of Scott Morrison

No sign of Closing the Gap

Scott Morrison needs put his words about working in partnership with Indigenous Australia into action

Image from ‘Camping’

Unhappy ‘Camping’

Lena Dunham’s new comedy series is an accidental portrait of toxic femininity


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