The Songlines

The Songlines


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For its twenty-fifth anniversary, a new edition of Bruce Chatwin's classic work with a new introduction by Rory Stewart

Part adventure, part novel of ideas, part spiritual autobiography, The Songlines is one of Bruce Chatwin's most famous books. Set in the desolate lands of the Australian Outback, it tells the story of Chatwin's search for the source and meaning of the ancient "dreaming tracks" of the Aborigines—the labyrinth of invisible pathways by which their ancestors "sang" the world into existence. This singular book, which was a New York Times bestseller when it was published in 1987, engages all of Chatwin's lifelong passions, including his obsession with travel, his interest in the nomadic way of life, and his hunger to understand man's origins and nature.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142422571
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 171,801
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989) was the author of In Patagonia, The Viceroy of Ouidah, On the Black Hill, The Songlines, and Utz. His other books are What Am I Doing Here and Anatomy of Restlessness, posthumous anthologies of shorter works, and Far Journeys, a collection of his photographs that also includes selections from his travel notebooks.

Read an Excerpt

The Songlines

By Bruce Chatwin


Copyright © 1987 Bruce Chatwin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3833-1


In Alice Springs – a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers – I met a Russian who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals.

His name was Arkady Volchok. He was an Australian citizen. He was thirty-three years old.

His father, Ivan Volchok, was a Cossack from a village near Rostov-on-Don, who, in 1942, was arrested and sent with a trainload of other Ostarbeiter to work in a German factory. One night, somewhere in the Ukraine, he jumped from the cattle-car into a field of sunflowers. Soldiers in grey uniforms hunted him up and down the long lines of sunflowers, but he gave them the slip. Somewhere else, lost between murdering armies, he met a girl from Kiev and married her. Together they drifted to a forgetful Adelaide suburb, where he rigged up a vodka still and fathered three sturdy sons.

The youngest of these was Arkady.

Nothing in Arkady's temperament predisposed him to live in the hugger-mugger of Anglo-Saxon suburbia or take a conventional job. He had a flattish face and a gentle smile, and he moved through the bright Australian spaces with the ease of his footloose forbears.

His hair was thick and straight, the colour of straw. His lips had cracked in the heat. He did not have the drawn-in lips of so many white Australians in the Outback; nor did he swallow his words. He rolled his r's in a very Russian way. Only when you came up close did you realise how big his bones were.

He had married, he told me, and had a daughter of six. Yet, preferring solitude to domestic chaos, he no longer lived with his wife. He had few possessions apart from a harpsichord and a shelf of books.

He was a tireless bushwalker. He thought nothing of setting out, with a water-flask and a few bites of food, for a hundred-mile walk along the Ranges. Then he would come home, out of the heat and light, and draw the curtains, and play the music of Buxtehude and Bach on the harpsichord. Their orderly progressions, he said, conformed to the contours of the Central Australian landscape.

Neither of Arkady's parents had ever read a book in English. He delighted them by winning a first-class honours degree, in history and philosophy, at Adelaide University. He made them sad when he went to work as a school-teacher, on an Aboriginal settlement in Walbiri country to the north of Alice Springs.

He liked the Aboriginals. He liked their grit and tenacity, and their artful ways of dealing with the white man. He had learnt, or half-learnt, a couple of their languages and had come away astonished by their intellectual vigour, their feats of memory and their capacity and will to survive. They were not, he insisted, a dying race – although they did need help, now and then, to get the government and mining companies off their backs.

It was during his time as a school-teacher that Arkady learned of the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as 'Dreaming-tracks' or 'Songlines'; to the Aboriginals as the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law'.

Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so singing the world into existence.

Arkady was so struck by the beauty of this concept that he began to take notes of everything he saw or heard, not for publication, but to satisfy his own curiosity. At first, the Walbiri Elders mistrusted him, and their answers to his questions were evasive. With time, once he had won their confidence, they invited him to witness their most secret ceremonies and encouraged him to learn their songs.

One year, an anthropologist from Canberra came to study Walbiri systems of land tenure: an envious academic who resented Arkady's friendship with the song-men, pumped him for information and promptly betrayed a secret he had promised to keep. Disgusted by the row that followed, the 'Russian' threw in his job and went abroad.

He saw the Buddhist temples of Java, sat with saddhus on the ghats of Benares, smoked hashish in Kabul and worked on a kibbutz. On the Acropolis in Athens there was a dusting of snow and only one other tourist: a Greek girl from Sydney.

They travelled through Italy, and slept together, and in Paris they agreed to get married.

Having been brought up in a country where there was 'nothing', Arkady had longed all his life to see the monuments of Western civilisation. He was in love. It was springtime. Europe should have been wonderful. It left him, to his disappointment, feeling flat.

Often, in Australia, he had had to defend the Aboriginals from people who dismissed them as drunken and incompetent savages; yet there were times, in the flyblown squalor of a Walbiri camp, when he suspected they might be right and that his vocation to help the blacks was either wilful self-indulgence or a waste of time.

Now, in a Europe of mindless materialism, his 'old men' seemed wiser and more thoughtful than ever. He went to a Qantas office and bought two tickets home. He was married, six weeks later in Sydney, and took his wife to live in Alice Springs.

She said she longed to live in the Centre. She said she loved it when she got there. After a single summer, in a tin-roofed house that heated like a furnace, they began to drift apart.

The Land Rights Act gave Aboriginal 'owners' the title to their country, providing it lay untenanted; and the job Arkady invented for himself was to interpret 'tribal law' into the language of the Law of The Crown.

No one knew better that the 'idyllic' days of hunting and gathering were over – if, indeed, they were ever that idyllic. What could be done for Aboriginals was to preserve their most essential liberty: the liberty to remain poor, or, as he phrased it more tactfully, the space in which to be poor if they wished to be poor.

Now that he lived alone he liked to spend most of his time 'out bush'. When he did come to town, he worked from a disused newspaper shop-floor where rolls of old newsprint still clogged the presses and his sequences of aerial photos had spread, like a game of dominoes, over the shabby white walls.

One sequence showed a three-hundred-mile strip of country running roughly due north. This was the suggested route of a new Alice to Darwin railway.

The line, he told me, was going to be the last long stretch of track to be laid in Australia; and its chief engineer, a railwayman of the old school, had announced that it must also be the best.

The engineer was close to retiring age and concerned for his posthumous reputation. He was especially concerned to avoid the kind of rumpus that broke out whenever a mining company moved its machinery into Aboriginal land. So, promising not to destroy a single one of their sacred sites, he had asked their representatives to supply him with a survey.

Arkady's job was to identify the 'traditional landowners'; to drive them over their old hunting grounds, even if these now belonged to a cattle company; and to get them to reveal which rock or soak or ghost-gum was the work of a Dreamtime hero.

He had already mapped the 150-mile stretch from Alice to Middle Bore Station. He had a hundred and fifty to go.

'I warned the engineer he was being a bit rash,' he said. 'But that's the way he wanted it.'

'Why rash?' I asked.

'Well, if you look at it their way,' he grinned, 'the whole of bloody Australia's a sacred site.'

'Explain,' I said.

He was on the point of explaining when an Aboriginal girl came in with a stack of papers. She was a secretary, a pliant brown girl in a brown knitted dress. She smiled and said, 'Hi, Ark!' but her smile fell away at the sight of a stranger.

Arkady lowered his voice. He had warned me earlier how Aboriginals hate to hear white men discussing their 'business'.

'This is a Pom,' he said to the secretary. 'A Pom by the name of Bruce.'

The girl giggled, diffidently, dumped the papers on the desk, and dashed for the door.

'Let's go and get a coffee,' he said.

So we went to a coffee-shop on Todd Street.


In my childhood I never heard the word 'Australia' without calling to mind the fumes of the eucalyptus inhaler and an incessant red country populated by sheep.

My father loved to tell, and we to hear, the story of the Australian sheep-millionaire who strolled into a Rolls-Royce showroom in London; scorned all the smaller models; chose an enormous limousine with a plate-glass panel between the chauffeur and passengers, and added, cockily, as he counted out the cash, 'That'll stop the sheep from breathing down my neck.'

I also knew, from my great-aunt Ruth, that Australia was the country of the Upside-downers. A hole, bored straight through the earth from England, would burst out under their feet.

'Why don't they fall off?' I asked.

'Gravity,' she whispered.

She had in her library a book about the continent, and I would gaze in wonder at pictures of the koala and kookaburra, the platypus and Tasmanian bush-devil, Old Man Kangaroo and Yellow Dog Dingo, and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

But the picture I liked best showed an Aboriginal family on the move. They were lean, angular people and they went about naked. Their skin was very black, not the glitterblack of negroes but matt black, as if the sun had sucked away all possibility of reflection. The man had a long forked beard and carried a spear or two, and a spear-thrower. The woman carried a dilly-bag and a baby at her breast. A small boy strolled beside her – I identified myself with him.

I remember the fantastic homelessness of my first five years. My father was in the Navy, at sea. My mother and I would shuttle back and forth, on the railways of wartime England, on visits to family and friends.

All the frenzied agitation of the times communicated itself to me: the hiss of steam on a fogbound station; the double clu-unk of carriage doors closing; the drone of aircraft, the searchlights, the sirens; the sound of a mouth-organ along a platform of sleeping soldiers.

Home, if we had one, was a solid black suitcase called the Rev-Robe, in which there was a corner for my clothes and my Mickey Mouse gasmask. I knew that, once the bombs began to fall, I could curl up inside the Rev-Robe, and be safe.

Sometimes, I would stay for months with my two great-aunts, in their terrace house behind the church in Stratford-on-Avon. They were old maids.

Aunt Katie was a painter and had travelled. In Paris she had been to a very louche party at the studio of Mr Kees van Dongen. On Capri she had seen the bowler hat of a Mr Ulyanov that used to bob along the Piccola Marina.

Aunt Ruth had travelled only once in her life, to Flanders, to lay a wreath on a loved one's grave. She had a simple, trusting nature. Her cheeks were pale rose-pink and she could blush as sweetly and innocently as a young girl. She was very deaf, and I would have to yell into her deaf-aid, which looked like a portable radio. At her bedside she kept a photograph of her favourite nephew, my father, gazing calmly from under the patent peak of his naval officer's cap.

The men on my father's side of the family were either solid and sedentary citizens – lawyers, architects, antiquaries – or horizon-struck wanderers who had scattered their bones in every corner of the earth: Cousin Charlie in Patagonia; Uncle Victor in a Yukon gold camp; Uncle Robert in an oriental port; Uncle Desmond, of the long fair hair, who vanished without trace in Paris; Uncle Walter who died, chanting the suras of the Glorious Koran, in a hospital for holy men in Cairo.

Sometimes, I overheard my aunts discussing these blighted destinies; and Aunt Ruth would hug me, as if to forestall my following in their footsteps. Yet, from the way she lingered over such words as 'Xanadu' or 'Samarkand' or the 'wine-dark sea', I think she also felt the trouble of the 'wanderer in her soul'.

The house was full of cumbersome furniture inherited from the days of lofty ceilings and servants. In the drawing-room, there were William Morris curtains, a piano, a cabinet of porcelain and a canvas of cockle-pickers by Aunt Katie's friend A. E. Russell.

My own most treasured possession, at the time, was the conch shell called Mona, which my father had brought from the West Indies. I would ram my face against her sheeny pink vulva and listen to the sound of the surf.

One day, after Aunt Katie had shown me a print of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, I prayed and prayed that a beautiful blonde young lady would suddenly spew forth from Mona.

Aunt Ruth never scolded me except once, one evening in May 1944, when I pissed in the bathwater. I must be one of the last children anywhere to be menaced by the spectre of Bonaparte. 'If you ever do that again,' she cried, 'Boney will get you.'

I knew what Boney looked like from his porcelain statuette in the cabinet: black boots, white breeches, gilded buttons and a black bicorn hat. But the drawing Aunt Ruth drew for me – a version of one drawn for her, as a child, by her father's friend Lawrence Alma-Tadema – showed the furry bicorn only on a pair of spindly legs.

That night, and for weeks to come, I dreamed of meeting Boney on the pavement outside the vicarage. His two halves would open like a bivalve. Inside, there were rows of black fangs and a mass of wiry blue-black hair – into which I fell, and woke up screaming.

On Fridays, Aunt Ruth and I would walk to the parish church to make it ready for Sunday service. She would polish the brasses, sweep the choir stalls, replace the frontal and arrange fresh flowers on the altar – while I clambered into the pulpit or held imaginary conversations with Mr Shakespeare.

Mr Shakespeare would peer from his funerary monument on the north side of the chancel. He was a bald man, with upturned moustaches. His left hand rested on a scroll of paper, and his right hand held a quill.

I appointed myself the guardian and guide of his tomb, and charged G.I.s threepence a tour. The first lines of verse I learned by heart were the four lines engraved on his slab:

    Good frend, for Jesus sake, forbeare
    To digge the dust encloased here
    Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones
    And curst be he yt moves my bones.

Long afterwards, in Hungary, where I had gone to study the archaeology of nomads, I had the luck to witness the opening of a Hunnish 'princess's' grave. The girl lay on her back, on a bed of black soil, her brittle bones covered with a shower of gold plaques, while across her breast, with wings outspread, lay the skeleton of a golden eagle.

One of the excavators called to some peasant women who were haymaking in the field nearby. They dropped their rakes and clustered round the gravemouth, crossing themselves fumble-handedly, as if to say, 'Leave her. Leave her with her lover. Leave her alone with Zeus.'

'Curst be he ...' I seemed to hear Mr Shakespeare calling, and for the first time began to wonder if archaeology itself were not cursed.

Whenever the afternoon was fine in Stratford, Aunt Ruth and I – with her cocker-spaniel, Amber, straining at his leash – would go on what she said was Mr Shakespeare's favourite walk. We would set off from College Street, past the grain silo, past the foaming mill-race, across the Avon by footbridge, and follow the path to Weir Brake.

This was a hazel wood on a slope that tumbled into the river. In springtime, primroses and bluebells flowered there. In summer it was a tangle of nettles, brambles and purple loosestrife, with the muddy water eddying below.

My aunt assured me this was the spot where Mr Shakespeare came to 'tryst' with a young lady. It was the very bank whereon the wild thyme blew. But she never explained what a tryst was, and, no matter how hard I searched, there were neither thyme nor oxlips, although I did find a few nodding violets.

Much later, when I had read Mr Shakespeare's plays and did know what a tryst was, it struck me that Weir Brake was far too muddy and prickly for Titania and Bottom to settle on, but an excellent spot for Ophelia to take the plunge.


Excerpted from The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. Copyright © 1987 Bruce Chatwin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A blend of travelogue, memoir, history, philosophy, science, meditation, and commonplace book...Chatwin's astonishing style captures the metamorphoses of his own 'Walkabout'....He takes the travel genre beyond exoticism and the simple picturesque into the metaphysical." —The Boston Globe

The riches of The Songlines are varied and artfully stashed. Chatwin's physical journey over Australia's parched hide corresponds to his intellectual excursions, which are full of surprising turns." —Time

"No ordinary book ever issues from Bruce Chatwin. Each bears the imprint of a dazzingly original mind." —Newsday

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The Songlines 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this specifically for a friend who recently visited Australia because in this particular book Bruce Chatwin imparts a real understanding of the Australian Aboriginal's reverence for, and unity with, the land upon which he walks. 'Songlines' is a gift truly worth the giving!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Talk about practice in motion. When I asked a friend to pick out a book for me at the 2nd hand store, I couldn't believe what happened. Without looking, she reached out and passed me 'Songlines'. What makes this so amazing is that I celebrate Aboriginal Spirituality as my own. This book gave great insight into the internal workings of Aboriginal culture. Chatwin gives a great flavor to this 'documentary' with personal experience and observation. Drive through the outback, eat sugar ants, meet the Pintupe. Knowing that these people are real, each character stands alive ready to meet me someday. On the down side, I found Chatwin's diviations to his journals distracting and skipped over most of it. But if you have any interest in Australia or its native peoples, this is great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is part documentary on the austrailian people, one part story of cultural meeting, and part anthology of people who have written on traveling. The author through his own story covers reactions of austrailians to a Brit author, and retells past times of meeting other people around the world. Very good, get it for your traveling friends (and yourself, of course!)
Anonymous 8 months ago
dchaikin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
32. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (1987, 294 pages, read July 20 - Aug 8)The Australian Aboriginal songlines, or dreaming tracks, are a fascinating part of a mythology that, after reading this book, I only partly understand. They are geographic paths of stories which cut across Australia in different directions from end to end, marking, within the story, every significant natural landmark. A person who knew the songlines would learn the stories about places he or she would probably never see, and then he would pass these on through a complicated cultural system. Later, someone otherwise unfamiliar with these areas could use the songs as map, maybe to find waterholes, and, essentially, as an information source. The songs were kept constant on some level even as the language dialects changed. So, two people from different parts of Australia would know the same songs. Further, there is a larger mythology behind and around the songs, and a whole cultural system that they are an integral part of¿at least that¿s what I got from Bruce Chatwin.Chatwin visited Australia in order to gain a more intimate understanding of the songlines. With some help, he wandered through central Australia interviewing various people he came across. However, he wasn¿t simply out to learn and report about this mythology. His explorations were a means to end, a part of an ongoing search he had obsessively set himself on. Early in the book Chatwin mentions a manuscript that he had written on nomads. He burned the manuscript, but kept the notes. Now, in Australia, he is continuing along the same themes, observing, for example, the similarities between these Aboriginal Songlines and the Homeric epics. He postulates that the ancient Greek mythologies are the remains a similar type of mythological atlas.Perhaps it¿s in the book somewhere, but I didn¿t read closely enough to gather exactly what Chatwin is looking for. At one point he gets stuck, partially by choice, in a tiny isolated village, and goes through his notebooks and this book either explodes or dissolves in to a list of notes on nomadism and, in general, on some search for some kind of deep understanding of humanity. He later wanders back to the Songlines, but a conclusion is elusive.I started this book while I was reading Edmund Spenser¿s The Faerie Queene, which, to me, felt like an interesting walk in deep obscurity. Nothing else was getting through to me, but Chatwin briefly broke through and I fell in love with this book, with the idea of Chatwin¿s pursuit, and with his intense sincerity. Of course, this is a work of fiction (or ¿a truth and a half¿, as Chatwin¿s biographer Nicholas Shakespeare put it), which, at least for me, leaves element of confusion. Also, I was left with a sense of incompleteness and of needing, and wanting, to go back here again to try to understand Chatwin and his notes better...without Spenser distracting me in the background. This was a memorable read, and a favorite book.
jrtanworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is difficult to review Chatwin's books because they are mix of form -- travel, history, philosophy, fiction and more. What standard do you use to evaluate? Perhaps the best criterion is whether the book addresses the readers curiosity and motivates you to read the next page and the next chapter looking for more. The first part of this book succeeds for me, because the tales of the aboriginals and the wacky Australians are fascinating, although some of the theories related to the songlines seem far fetched. In the second part of the book, Chatwin offers the reader a dump from his notebooks of stories, incidents and reflections from his notebooks over the years. This part of the book is very disjointed and was not very interesting. I suspect that at this point he knew he would be dying soon and wanted to get these notes into print. The rest of the book is worthwhile.
sistersticks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I you are going to Central Australia, then take this book. An intellectually large book that matches the large environment, the large images and the large sensations of being in the desert.(Read May 2008)
natarsha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was thought provoking in the way that it discusses the migratory and land loving ways of Australian Aboriginals. Chatwin compares these peoples to our evolutionary ancestors and makes observations about our modern lives. I particularly liked the ideas of the necessity of 'walking' and the need for movement to be human and feel at peace with the world. The numerous quotations and notes half-way through the book were fascinating reading and I enjoyed that part of the book most.
Oreillynsf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chatwin's intent in Songlines seems to have been to combine a travelogue with a visceral experience of what Aboriginal thought and culture and history are like. It's got all the point A to point B travelogue requisites, but at times the writing feels formless and disjointed. My theory here is that this is Chatwin's reflection of Aboriginal culture. It is, after one, one driven entirely by oral versus written tradition, and perhaps his view was that this gave it a non linear, almost ethereal quality. Anyhow, that's my theory, and I liked its unusual structure and style.Telling the Aboriginal story was and is groundbreaking, moreso so many years ago when it was published. And its experimental -- at times formless -- structure even more so. It's a book you are going to connect with ot not. I liked it but I also didn't get all of it. But then, after reading it, somehow that seemed less important.To me it's like watching modern dance performance. If you want it all to "make sense" you are out of luck. If you are content to just experience it, you're in the right place.
jerryhall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book with an interesting structure and great writing.
alamosweet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ah, now, here is a beautiful piece of work. With a nomad's dusty perspective, Chatwin (or the narrator, if you like) bumps around strange spots, picking fights, writing sparely. Then, with great boldness, he enters into a half-book meditation that includes notebook entries and quotations, enough to spin your head.
petulant_seraph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A favourite. The notes and thoughts half way through at first seem to sit in the wrong book but - The speed at which the book can be read corresponds to Chatwin's own movements. When he moves forward, so does the book. When he sits, waits and reflects, so too the reader.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have noticed that there are two major criticisms of this book: first, that the author, Bruce Chatwin, did not actually spend (at least in the book) a notable amount of time with the aboriginal people of Australia and 2) that the pieces from the notebooks seem to many like free thought ramblings, having no purpose & breaking up the flow of the book. My thoughts about point 1): I do know that personally I got enough of the gist of Chatwin's idea upon which he expounds in this book to care less about how much time he did or didn't spend with these people -- I was still intrigued by the notions of songlines (which I'll get to in a minute) and their meanings to the aboriginals. Second, as far as the notebook entries being just ramblings out of nowhere, I disagree. If you pay attention to what he's writing, most all of the entries do have some reflection on Chatwin's subject re nomads and nomadic behavior. I thought that the notebook entries were incredibly interesting & insightful and often reflected on his writing re the Aboriginals & their songlines.To begin my musings, I'll start with a quotation from the end of the book. One of the Aboriginal people with whom Chatwin became familiar was Titus, who notes "...there is no such person as an Aboriginal or an Aborigine. There are Tjakamarras and Jaburullas and Duburungas like me, and so on all over the country." (289) Chatwin's main thrust in this book (imho -- but what do I know...I'm just a reader!) is that Aboriginal songs speak to their identity -- sort of a mix of their creation myth, the story of their clans and a map of their identity landscape. What is amazing about these songs is that through them, a clan member can trek through the Australian landscape and based on the rhythm & words, which correspond to the actual geographical landscape (paces, landmarks, etc) find the beginnings of his or her history and the beginnings of where another clan history begins. So it seems that Titus' remark is appropriate...instead of the activists of the "land rights movement" looking at each clan as a separate entity, they have missed that understanding and have lumped all of these people into one major whole. As an example of the importance of the songlines, at the very end of the story, one of the Aboriginals (and I apologize ...I'm not Australian; I don't know if there's a better term to be used or no) named Limpy wanted Chatwin and his friend Arkady to give him a ride to a place on his Songline to which he'd never been. He'd heard that relatives he'd never known were dying; he wanted to see them before they went. So he catches a ride in the Land Cruiser and for seven hours he just sat there, not moving any part of his body except for his eyes. Then, when they were 10 miles short of the valley where Limpy was heading, he started muttering things and started moving his head in and out of the window. The pace of his movements quickened, matching the mutterings. Arkady realized that Limpy was trying to follow the Songline to this place he was going, but because embedded in the song were the correct paces across the landscape, the speed was all wrong in the Land Cruiser and Limpy was having to speed up the pace of his memory to match that of the truck. So Arkady slowed down and instantly Limpy's mutterings slowed down as well. And then out of no where, the road ends; they got out and Limpy, having never been to that place before, relying only on memory of the Songline, knew exactly where they should be going and they reached the spot. Absolutely fascinating.So while the book doesn't focus on the Songlines alone, what information there is should spark your interest in learning more about this incredible subject. You can also choose to look at this book in terms of a kind of travelogue through different parts of Australia and Chatwin's encounters with different and interesting people, but that just sort of cheapens it. My copy is stuffed full with post-it notes for things I w
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
I received a free electronic copy of this memoir from Netgalley, the late Bruce Chatwin, and Open Road Integrated Media. Thank you, for sharing your work with me! Like thousands of other Americans, I read and loved In Patagonia back in the 1970's - I even read parts of it to my children. I was not aware of the companion memoirs in the 1980's . Thank you, Open Road, for bringing back On the Black Hill and The Songlines - both are truly inspirational books that open your heart to a better, greater world. The Songlines follows the autochthonous aborigines as they traverse their dream pathways across Australia and sing alive their world. This is an exceptional book, one again that I must share with my children. It compels one to look at humanity through a broader, sharper lens.