The Songlines

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The Songlines
First edition
AuthorBruce Chatwin
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherFranklin Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

The Songlines is a 1987 book written by Bruce Chatwin, combining fiction and non-fiction. Chatwin describes a trip to Australia which he has taken for the express purpose of researching Aboriginal song and its connections to nomadic travel. Discussions with Australians, many of them Indigenous Australians, yield insights into Outback culture, Aboriginal culture and religion, and the Aboriginal land rights movement.


Chatwin develops his thesis about the primordial nature of Aboriginal song. The writing engages the hard conditions of life for present day indigenous Australians, while appreciating the art and culture of the people for whom the Songlines are the touchstone of reality. The book's first half chronicles the main character's travels through Outback Australia and his various encounters, while the second half is dedicated to his musings on the nature of man as nomad and settler.


Chatwin asserts that language started as song, and in the aboriginal Dreamtime, it sang the land into existence for the conscious mind and memory. As you sing the land, the tree, the rock, the path, they come to be, and the singers are one with them. Chatwin combines evidence from Aboriginal culture with modern ideas on human evolution, and argues that on the African Savannah, we were a migratory species hunted by a dominant feline predator. Our wanderings spread "songlines" across the globe (generally from southwest to northeast), eventually reaching Australia, where they are now preserved in the world's oldest living culture.


Sometimes defined as a travelogue, the text has been criticised for being masculist, colonialist, simplistic and unreliable as both a source on European Australians and Aboriginal culture. Other critics have praised it, and Chatwin in the book is vehemently opposed to the image of the inferiority of the Aboriginals; others also see the author as a proponent of postmodern writing, challenging traditional forms of linear narrative.[citation needed]

Literary references[edit]

The character Arkady refers to Australia as "the country of lost children". This was used as the title for Peter Pierce's 1999 book The Country of Lost Children: An Australian Anxiety.


See also[edit]