Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in the wild?
For Robyn Davidson, Jessie Cole, Claire Dunn and Felicity Volk, the wilderness has played a key but unique role in their life’s journey. Each shared a brief passage from their stories.
Claire Dunn stepped out of a comfortable home to undertake a year long program of survival and naturalist training, dubbed My Year Without Matches in her book title, while Felicity Yolk’s wilderness was an emotional one, triggered by the loss of a parent and a divorce.
With each reading, a common theme would emerge and remind audiences that it is impossible to hide from yourself.
As the rain subsided for the briefest of moments, session chair Anneli Knight dug deep into the feminist aspects of each story and how their characters handled their journey into the wild.
Starting the discussion off, Davidson shared how her trip across the Australian desert in 1977 was seen as her trying to conquer the country.
“The trip across the country was about getting to know myself,” said Davidson. She explained how in preparing for the trip, she had to learn from scratch how to make all the saddles and gear she needed.
Cole spoke from the perspective of Mema, her book’s lead character, and about how the men in her character’s life have more of a transient presence.
“In my story, the strong presence of women encourages my main character to face what ever nature throws at her,” said Cole.
Dunn described how, at the start of her year-long stay in the wilderness, she was not “a practical person” but found she had to build a shelter for herself and create fires without matches.
“I felt extremely vulnerable during this time, as where the men who were undertaking this journey could rely on brute force, I hadn’t even dug post holes before,” explained Dunn.
Felicity Volk explained that the wilderness can be a time of letting go, referring to the journey of her characters in Lightning.
“When Armeid and Persia end up in the desert, they find that the space amplifies who they are instead of providing the cover initially sought,” said Volk.
Reflecting on the era in which she undertook her journey across Australia, Davidson explained why she did it.
“After attending a five day theatre workshop where we had no food or water, we were asked ‘what was our purpose?’, it was then I decided to do the trip because all I wanted was freedom,” said Davidson.
Davidson added that for the first few months of her trip, she often felt guilty if she wasn’t out of her swag by 7am.
Volk talked how the burial of her main character Persia’s stillborn baby was very much a symbol of her letting go of her own grief.
“I wrote this story after the death of my father and separation from my partner,” Volk said. “For me, this was a way of getting rid of the grief I had suffered.”
Speaking generally about the connection they had with the wilderness, Cole, Davidson, Dunn and Volk left the audience looking for a deeper connection with the wilderness themselves and, of course, their books.
Brendan Pearce is a Media and Politics student at Southern Cross University.