In today’s society, the vast majority of human civilization exists in a relatively sedentary state, with neither a will nor desire to live a life constantly on the move. In terms of material possessions, contemporary society demands that we live with and within the constant comfort and accessibility of all things which are deemed complementary and necessary. Yet, as consumers of the goods and lifestyles constantly shown to us, rarely do we consider that perhaps our “most essential liberty [is] to remain poor” and away from the “mindless materialism” thrust open us (Chatwin 7). For the Aboriginal people, materialism was specifically shunned upon; in general, Aboriginals have “the idea that all ‘goods’ were potentially malign and would work against their possessors unless they were forever in motion” (Chatwin 32).
In Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, Chatwin’s obsession with Aboriginal culture, and their status as a transient people group, provides the backbone for his belief that humans were put on this earth with the intention of peacefully moving and connecting with the ‘soul’ of various lands. Behind this notion is the structured belief that as humans, in a sense, we have a “need for distraction… a mania for the new [and] an instinctive migratory urge akin to that of birds in autumn” (Chatwin 161).
Although I would love to say I have spent time on this earth as a “wanderer in the scorching and barren wilderness of the world,” realistically I have lived in New Jersey my entire life and have only traveled on select occasions every few years of my adult life (Dostoyevsky). However, as a child growing up, I always held an affinity for my natural surroundings, even if they were limited to the woods scattered across my neighborhood in suburban New Jersey. Although they were only comprised of a few acres, my friends and I explored every bit and corner of the woods, building huts, fashioning tools and marking off territories as we went. As a child, I may have come as close as I ever will to Chatwin’s belief, that humans “are designed for a career of seasonal journeys on foot through a blistering land of thorn scrub or desert” (Chatwin 162). My friends and I may have traveled to each section of woods a hundred times, but each time, the natural creeks, and distinct features of the forest remained as the focal points of our travels and discussions; per the title, the Aboriginal people “could not believe the country existed until they could see and sing it,” creating ‘Songlines’ or tracks of music where they traveled (Chatwin 14)
As an adult, traveling, and studying abroad has been an exploratory and ‘humanly’ process, but not exactly in the sense that Chatwin, or Dostoyevsky for that manner (Chatwin references The Grand Inquisitor section of The Brothers Karamazov) would praise. Although traveling in a modern sense, unlike the nomadic descriptions called for above, fulfills the requirement that humans have an “instinctive migratory urge,” the final portion, calling that we disconnect from the earth, is nearly impossible in our contemporary setting (Chatwin 161). Although it may be impossible to disconnect from our surroundings and material possessions in this day and age, here in Sydney, I have tried my best to take advantage of the abundant natural surroundings. Besides day excursions to natural parks and weekly trips to the beach, my friends and I have begun setting up a camping excursion where we will spend a night camped out along an inlet near Bondi beach. Wandering away on foot across Australia may be out of the question, but at least I have the possibility of spending a night away from technology, the city lights, and a chance to feel at peace, with the sounds of the ocean in the background.
Chatwin, Bruce. The Songlines. Queensland Braille Writing Association, 2005.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881. The Brothers Karamazov. New York :Vintage Books, 1950. Print.