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Masterpiece Special – Robyn Davidson (1996)


Andrea Stretton interviews the expatriate Australian writer Robyn Davidson, who has just written a book about her experience of living with one of the last great nomadic tribes of the world in the desert regions of Rajasthan in northern India. Out of this searing experience she has produced Desert Places (1996), which she explains is about coming to terms with failure, especially that of the cultural divide between herself and the tribespeople she travelled with.

Curator’s notes

Robyn Davidson is best known for her runaway bestseller Tracks (1980). Tracks recounts her journey through the desert of central Australia with four camels and her faithful dog, not to mention a handsome National Geographic photographer who literally dropped out of the sky to film her progress and stayed for a time as her lover.

Robyn Davidson is both diffident and private and it’s to Andrea Stretton’s credit that the interview with this gently retiring woman is as gripping as it is. Robyn Davidson has spent so many years alone with her own thoughts that she’s not big on small talk. However what she does say is thought provoking and intense, as befits the experience she has so recently been through. It’s also clear that she trusts Andrea Stretton, who is warm, asks intelligent questions and allows Robyn Davidson time to tell her remarkable story.

The Masterpiece Specials were an extension of the Masterpiece series Andrea Stretton presented for SBS. Stretton, who died in 2007, began working for SBS as a journalist and producer in 1986. She co-presented The Book Show with Dinny O’Hearn until his death in 1993 then presented alone for many years. In 1998, she moved to the ABC as the presenter of Sunday Afternoon, staying until 2001. She was the artistic director of the 1998 and 1999 Olympic Arts festivals and was chosen by Prime Minister Keating to work on the Creative Nation cultural policy statement. Audiences loved her natural on-camera presence and interviewing style, at once conversational, knowledgeable and challenging. One of the things she was most proud of was her award from the French Government of the award of Arts and Letters for her contribution to arts and culture and for fostering French-Australian relations.