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

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs


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 of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction


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