The Songlines is Chatwin's beautiful, elegiac, comic account of following the invisible pathways traced by the Australian Aboriginal people. Chatwin was nothing if not erudite, and the vast, eclectic body of literature underlies this tale of trekking across the outback.
'What if there is more than two degrees of global warming? What if the Gulf Stream stops? What if we encounter abrupt climate change? What if there is sufficient sea level rise to make certain states and countries, such as the Polynesian island of Tuvalu, uninhabitable? The tenor of contemporary climate change discourse is best captured by the trope “what if …?” Such questions have provided the basis for decades of United Nations negotiation aimed at avoiding the worst-case scenarios, or indeed “solving” climate change itself. These debates are informed by the scoping reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which project outcomes forward from a range of possible scenarios. And, in a broader cultural context, plotting these “what if” scenarios has been a dominant vision of climate change among writers, film-makers, and other artists, perhaps most famously captured in the fictional blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, which asks: “what if” ocean circulation patterns become disrupted and usher in severe climatic change?' (Introduction)
'This article revisits, analyzes and critiques Bruce Chatwin’s 1987 bestseller, The Songlines, more than three decades after its publication. In Songlines, the book primarily responsible for his posthumous celebrity, Chatwin set out to explore the essence of Central and Western Desert Aboriginal Australians’ philosophical beliefs. For many readers globally, Songlines is regarded as a—if not the—definitive entry into the epistemological basis, religion, cosmology and lifeways of classical Western and Central Desert Aboriginal people. It is argued that Chatwin’s fuzzy, ill-defined use of the word-concept “songlines” has had the effect of generating more heat than light. Chatwin’s failure to recognize the economic imperative underpinning Australian desert people’s walking praxis is problematic: his own treks through foreign lands were underpropped by socioeconomic privilege. Chatwin’s ethnocentric idée fixe regarding the primacy of “walking” and “nomadism,” central to his Songlines thématique, well and truly preceded his visits to Central Australia. Walking, proclaimed Chatwin, is an elemental part of “Man’s” innate nature. It is argued that this unwavering, preconceived, essentialist belief was a self-serving construal justifying Chatwin’s own “nomadic” adventures of identity. Is it thus reasonable to regard Chatwin as a “rogue author,” an unreliable narrator? And if so, does this matter? Of greatest concern is the book’s continuing majority acceptance as a measured, accurate account of Aboriginal belief systems. With respect to Aboriginal desert people and the barely disguised individuals depicted in Songlines, is Chatwin’s book a “rogue text,” constituting an act of epistemic violence, consistent with Spivak’s usage of that term?'
'Unlike many city-dwelling Australians, the desert holds no terrors for me. Instead, like DH Lawrence, I find the cathedral forests of the coastal regions oppressive and disquieting. Lawrence brought to his descriptions of the Australian bush the same overwrought sensitivity that created the claustrophobic emotional landscape of 'Sons and Lovers', and the appalling, majestic insularity of the Italian mountain village in 'The Lost Girl'. He was the writer who made explicit the sense of some non-human presence in the Antipodean landscape, and while I have a different interpretation of the 'speechless, aimless solitariness' he attributes to the country, his instincts were good.' (Publication abstract)
'Central Australia is widely characterised as a frontier, a familiar trope in literary constructions of Australian identity that divides black from white, ancient from modern. However, recent anthropological and literary evidence from the Red Centre defies such a clear-cut representation, suggesting more nuanced ‘lifeworlds’ than a frontier binary can afford may better represent the region. Using walking narratives to mark a meeting point between Aboriginal and settler Australian practices of placemaking, this paper summarises and updates literary research by the author (2011–2015), which reads six recounted walks of the region for representations of frontier and home. Methods of textual analyses are described and results appraised for changes to the storied representation of Central Australia from the precolonial era onward. The research speaks to a ‘porosity’ of intercultural boundaries, explores literary instances of intercultural exchange; nuances settler Australian terms for place, including home, Nature and wilderness; and argues for new place metaphors to supersede ‘frontier’. Further, it suggests a recent surge in the recognition of Aboriginal songlines may be reshaping the nation’s key stories.' (Publication abstract)