Songlines, Chapters 1-15
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I've now read the first 9 chapters, and I've realised I'm reading this in a very political light, and that perhaps others here will not be, not having the background. So, I would like to provide a brief history of Australia since white settlement/invasion. Zeno can add to this if he likes, and correct me when I'm wrong! And anyone else who's familiar with it.
So let us pass lightly over the 40,000-plus years of Aboriginal life on this continent, of which very little is known - and arrive at the year 1770, when Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay and planted the Union Jack in the dirt and declared this continent to be a colony of Great Britain.
Here is Europe sitting inside Australia - a size perspective:
Large, enormous numbers of Aboriginals were wiped out via massacres and the spread of disease. An old story, not specific to Australia.
Australia's European population grew - firstly by continued boatloads of convicts, then free settlers. Australia got settled up all around its edges, and then gradually in bits and pieces further inland.
1901 - all the different colonies in Australia united into a nation: Federation. A Prime Minister was elected. As would be expected, only white males could vote.
Looking at the list of names here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convicts_on_the_First_Fleet not many look Irish. The main bulk of Irish all arrived as poor free settlers in the Great Famine, as far as I know - and also in the goldrushes.
'Christian' missions gathered many tribes in from the desert and bush, graded them according to colour (there were actual shading charts) and set them to work. White people gave them alcohol and taught them their inferiority.
Between the late 1800s all the way up to 1970, there was this thing now known as the Stolen Generations. This is where the government would arrive at an Aboriginal camp and take the children away with them by force. The children were raised in institutions, trained as servants, and many of them never found their parents again. The idea was at least partly to 'breed them out'.
I have tutor-facilitated a class at work, where medical students discuss social themes relating to healthcare, and one of them is Indigenous Health. Last year, a Aboriginal student in her 30s gave a presentation on her mother, who was one of the stolen generation. It's that recent.
The government certificates recording the stolen children - apparently at least some of them had written on it: 'reason for removal - being Aboriginal'.
I cannot write of this very easily, so here is a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations
In 1962 they were given the right to vote.
The Land Rights Act which Chatwin refers to a little was passed in 1976, giving back certain parts of the land to the Aboriginal people.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up on the lawns of Parliament House in 1972 - created by Aboriginal activists as a protest. They settled on the immaculate lawns in tents, and stayed there. They are there still. And it is still controversial. This year on Australia Day (Jan 26, the day the First Fleet landed), a violent protest happened there involving the Prime Minister. http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/national/julia-gillard-tony-abbott-trapped-in...
The foul racist comments I saw on Facebook afterwards made me realise afresh that in all these 200 years, nothing has really changed. The majority of white Australians continue to dismiss Aboriginal people as drunken hoboes who can't keep down a job, who "victimise" themselves, and who are given all the benefits from the government and waste them. People blind themselves to history and judge only the thing they see under their noses, according to their own narrow little social code.
Chatwin's Chapter 8 is pretty much stereotypical, that little scene in Katherine's pub.
I thought I'd break up the discussion into chapters 1-15, then 15-30, and then the notebook section, maybe in smaller chunks. Suggestions welcome, especially from those who have already read the book.
most informative, and that map is awesome!
Do you know what the numbers differential was like between the settlers and the Aboriginal people in Australia, Muse? For that matter, were there ever any other European that tried to grab a piece of the continent? And up here, the residential schools we locked our "stolen generations" away into were very often run by the (Catholic) Church, which has meant that that sad story has kind of become intertwined with the problem of child sexual abuse by priests ... I see from Wikipedia that some of the same went on in Australia, which I guess is pretty unsurprising, but I guess what I'm wondering is, do you know what proportion of the schools were public as opposed to religious? Not that bad things didn't happen at those schools too.
Also (and I apologize for applying such a Canadian lens to this), I understand that in a lot of cases in Australia the process of appropriating the land may have looked a lot more like the US and less like Canada. Rick reminds us in his book that Tasmania is the only place in the world to have completely extirpated its aboriginal population. Do you have a sense of what that looked like in Australia as a whole? To what degree it was capricious (or organized) murder and to what degree just booze and kidnapping?
That is soberingly put. Thanks so much for all this info, and I echo tomcatMurr's appreciation of the map!
I'm not reading along so much as revisiting my reading from a year or more ago. This thread is a fabulous education.
I'm curious what is the collective take on Long Walk Home ... on my list of films to watch but as yet I've not screened it. I do like Gabriel's incidental music, though it's not quite as good as Passion.
Martini, my attempts to answer your questions:
European powers - not really any serious contenders over Britain. We're too far away down here. Back in the 1600s, a few Dutch ships landed on the West coast, but the coastline looked inhospitable and they didn't realise the extent of the land mass, so they sailed away again. At the time Captain Cook 'discovered' Australia, there was a bit of a race to find the Great South Land, and the French very nearly got here first. But once Cook planted his flag, it seems that was that. Apparently, no one argued (except the natives who of course didn't count).
Numbers - offhand, I have no idea. Most likely no one does, because no count of the Aboriginals was made. And the settlers grew constantly, a constant flux. There were at least 250 different Aboriginal languages before whites came, and this continent is rather large, so I imagine there were once quite a lot, many more than the first seven ships of settlers.
At least you Canadians called your institutions 'schools'. We didn't even do that. They were 'missions', and sort of governmental-religious. They were all government run and therefore 'public', but that particular kind of institutionalised terrifying so-called 'Christianity' was beaten into them. This is heartbreaking reading: http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/stolen-generations.ht...
I'm not sure exactly what you mean by your last question, Martini, probably because I'm ignorant on the differences between US and Canada in this particular thing. The appropriation of the land was a thing whites just did. Aboriginals weren't consulted or considered. They were nomadic, so there was no real need to destroy actual settlements. The whites just built their camps and towns and cities, and the violence and murder was a totally casual thing whenever the Aboriginals came into sight - like shooting rabbits.
Oh, there were some exceptions, but none of significance. The most interesting was Daisy Bates, a white woman who lived with the tribes to study them (all the while wearing her hat and gloves). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_Bates_%28Australia%29
Some excellent posts Rena.
The whole thing is so shameful that I don't know how Australians, as a nation, can easily come to terms with it. They have barely begun to try....
The myths each conquering nation plays back to itself is interesting. It sounds like Canada viewed (still views?) its record as more refined than its larger neighbour. The same could be said to hold for New Zealand's view of its colonial record in comparison with Australia.
I am still where I was at the beginning of this thread (Ch.9). All that history bubbled out of me, and then I felt like I couldn't face any more of it all week. Better now, ready to read more.
However, there's not as many people reading this as I thought, so shall we decide on a date that suits? Or was one decided on that I don't know about? I'm only a ring-in group leader here, and in truth have no idea what's going on. It's a bit like my other job, really.
Elenchus, of course that's okay. Make sure you add your insights whenever the spirit moves you.
- Why does he open with Arkady? (Who was Arkady? A real person?)
- There is so much in chapter 11-14 - Dan Flynn, Father Terence & the discussion of Strehlow... (how much of this is fiction, I wonder)
- We've discussed elsewhere (in the other thread??) that Chatwin is using the Songlines as a means to an end. His primary interest is in nomads, and the drive behind his interest is very personal. Not sure if everyone here agrees with this assessment. But if you do...
- Dan Flynn becomes a pivot point. Here Chatwin has a wonderful source for the songlines and he appears to report what Flynn offers faithfully. Yet, he seems to also do two important things.
- 1. By introducing Flynn the way he does, the story becomes Flynn's acceptance of Chatwin, more then about Flynn. Chatwin has hinted that this book is about him, not the songlines
- 2. Chatwin doesn't really follow up on this as it applies to the songlines themselves. He does here and there, with critically important bits. But Flynn's monologue is really about the most extensive discussion we get about the value of the songlines.
I do !
I get the feeling so far that it's not a book with a linear purpose (at least linear for the reader) - kind of nomadic in its direction, wandering to a interesting place here, then heading over to a waterhole there.
"Herodotus says that the inhabitants of Arcadia were Pelasgians, the Greek name for the supposed 'indigenous' inhabitants of Greece, who dwelt there before the arrival of the 'Hellenic' tribes"