Chatwin’s Songlines

I post this as a marker for having read Chatwin’s Songlines.
Book Review – Songlines – [1989] AboriginalLB 12; 2(36)pg19

All of Australia when viewed from the standpoint of a songline is a sacred site. How does one sort out the western legal ramifications of such a concept? How does one reconcile two such different cultural concepts on the ownership of the land?

Bruce Chatwin also writes about the other people who inhabit the land the Aborigines live in. The whites who “own” the stations and pubs, the whites who work with and for the Aborigines and the whites who just happen to live in their land. Without intentionally doing so, Bruce Chatwin contrasts 40 000 years of Aboriginal culture with 200 years of white settlement. The attitudes of the outback whites to the Aborigines is often demeaning and degrading. There are a few who respect the Aboriginal people and culture; there are just as many who don’t.

In the Northern Territory racism is a way of life, as it is elsewhere in Australia. An article on Roberta Sykes in the Good Weekend 17/9/88 said, “She believes Australia is still an appallingly racist country, and spins off story after story to prove it: the Pryor boy who suicided, the daily evidence uncovered by the Muirhead Inquiry. “In Townsville things haven’t changed that much.” After reading Songlines, the same can be said for Alice Springs and Katherine and…

Bruce Chatwin does not need to spin off story after story; the few he includes are not intended to shock, rather they illustrate his journey in Australia – the bottled “Authentic Northern Territory gin piss” at the Burnt Flat Hotel. The policemen at the hotel at Glenn Ormond who “knew” that Aborigines were different – they had different urinary tracts to the white man …


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