Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 7, 2010

Elsewhere, on ABC Radio National

There’s a great new ABC Radio National program at 6:00 am on Sundays.  Elsewhere celebrates travel writing, and this morning’s program was about Bruce ChatwinThe Songlines is probably his best known work: it’s a blend of fiction and non-fiction and is about his journey to Australia to research Aboriginal song and nomadic life. 

International readers and those not keen on rising with the lark can listen to the program too: it’s online and you can download the audio.

Bookmark this link: ABC Radio National Elsewhere.


  1. I half-heard (you know, had half an ear while doing something else) promotion for this but didn’t really take it in so thanks for this Lisa. I rather like travel writing – but don’t read enough of it – and am sure I would enjoy this program. I did like Songlines when I read it way back when (not long, in fact, before Bruce Chatwin died). I know some people feel he simplified the concept of “songlines” but at the time it was a bit of an eye-opener to me and I really appreciated it for that!


  2. Oh it makes me cross when people are critical of those who took the initiative early and tried to learn about Aboriginal culture at a time when nobody else did. Of course they got it wrong and made mistakes but they made a start and theirs was an important contribution at a time when because of literacy problems and general disempowerment, Aboriginal people were not ready to speak for themselves.


  3. Agree totally … a little bit of generosity, particularly towards those whose intentions are good, never goes astray.


  4. I admire the book very much, but it’s never seemed to me that Chatwin wrote it out of an interest in aboriginal people per se — he went to them because he had feelings that wanted clarifying, not because he wanted to study them in the way a scholar (ideally if not actually) studies and tries to understand and explain a subject. Or: he did, but the subject was himself. Or it was the romance of universal nomadism — therefore: those pages of quotes and anecdotes at the end of the book, that effusive Walt Whitmanesque lyricism. “I have a vision of the Songlines stretching across the continents and ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song.”

    Songlines was published in the later eighties and studies of different aboriginal cultures had been published well before that. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies was established in 1961. I have a C.D. Rowley book in front of me that was published in 1970: The Destruction of Aboriginal Society, part one of a three-part set. The book is four hundred pages long. So I’m not sure Bruce Chatwin was at the vanguard of anything except being Bruce Chatwin.


  5. Yes good point DKS re Chatwin’s approach, dare I say aim. After all, it is really a travel book rather than an anthropolgy and many travel books are about self aren’t they? I loved the quotes and anecdotes at the end … wished I could keep many of them in the mind after I put the book down. Whitmanesque is a nice description.

    I too have that CD Rowley book – it was a university text (for me) and I read it back in the early 70s and it was a true eye-opener at the time.


  6. I was thinking of the way Whitman liked to gather the whole world into himself: “I contain multitudes.” Chatwin does that planet-hugging thing too: he starts at a small point and flies outward. First nomadic Australians, then Bedouin, then Bushmen, then — I think I remember Amerindians in there somewhere — then all human babies, various animals, people he’s met, and so forth. Everybody under the same umbrella.


  7. Yes, well said. I’ve only read a little of Whitman’s Leaves of grass, but I liked your analogy as soon as I read it…


  8. Thanks for pointing out the incorrect link in my blog – I’ve fixed it now – its meant to be


  9. Thanks, Tom – I recommend listening to this program to anyone interested in book reviewing and blogging – it’s a terrific program.


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