Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Bruce Chatwin's 1987 novel The Songlines tells the story of a trip Chatwin took to Australia and is partly fictional, while including many non-fiction events. Chatwin was a travel writer and went to Australia to gather first-hand knowledge of the Aboriginal culture, specifically the Songline that defines their nomadic travel patterns.
Chatwin has the opportunity to discuss with both Australians and the Indigenous peoples of Australia, and through those conversations, he learns about their culture, religion, and struggles between the two groups, particularly within land rights.
In order to safely and effectively move throughout the region, Chatwin hires Arkady Volchok, an Australian-born Russian man who has spent his life befriending the Aboriginal people. Volchok is able to introduce Chatwin to Aboriginal people as they move from village to village and is instrumental in getting Chatwin enough access to the people to effectively develop his thesis.
Chatwin is fascinated by the idea of a Songline, a song that was written by the Aboriginal Ancestors as they moved across the lands. They used these songs to paint a picture of their world, community, and people. Chatwin studied nomadic people from around the globe and found that many languages had begun with songs. Through his research, he finds many similarities between the Aboriginal culture and that of many early groups. Chatwin is disappointed to find some Australians who are dismissive of the Aboriginal culture and want to see it destroyed.
Volchok is called away to help settle an argument between two Aboriginal groups, and Chatwin is left to spend time with fellow academics, Wendy and Rolf. Chatwin reflects on what he's learned so far from the Aboriginal people and begins to piece together his thesis. While he considers what he's learned, and how the Aboriginal culture seems to fall in line with other early peoples, Chatwin determines that people are meant to peacefully explore the earth. They are supposed to see the world and describe it using song. Instead, we have built civilizations, which we are quick to protect, leading to violence and a lack of understanding of the earth. Chatwin believes man has lost the connection he once had with his innate rhythms and nature itself.