Songlines, Chapters 1-15

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Songlines, Chapters 1-15

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1ChocolateMuse
Redigerat: feb 8, 2012, 6:52am

Since no one else has volunteered to lead this, I will do it. I can provide administrative facilitation at least, and some contribution to the Australian background of the story. The intricacies of intellect must be provided by others.

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:

2ChocolateMuse
Redigerat: feb 8, 2012, 7:49am

1788 - The First Fleet arrives in Sydney cove. This is a fleet of seven sailing ships, loaded with convicts, soldiers, and supplies. They land, they disembark, they build huts, they settle in. The "natives" are shy and not unfriendly at first, but it isn't long before hostilities begin.

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.

3RickHarsch
feb 8, 2012, 6:55am

What percentage of the initial load were Irish?

4ChocolateMuse
Redigerat: feb 8, 2012, 7:42am

Rick, I don't know, but I don't think it was particularly large, at least not that first fleet. The English prisons were too full to hold everyone, so they sent all the petty thieves to Australia. My own ancestor stole a greatcoat and was transported here (though not on the First Fleet, which I guess is not unlike America's Mayflower for prestige).

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.

5ChocolateMuse
Redigerat: feb 8, 2012, 8:18am

By the 1920s, Aboriginals were considered to be a dying race. They were used as unpaid labourers on large stations ('ranches' to you), casually considered to be subhuman in intelligence, and were not so-called Australian citizens.

'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

6ChocolateMuse
Redigerat: feb 8, 2012, 7:44am

So as late as the 1950s, Aboriginal people were officially listed as part of Australian Flora and Fauna.

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.

7ChocolateMuse
feb 8, 2012, 7:46am

I am off my soapbox now, and about to go to bed.

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.

8tomcatMurr
feb 8, 2012, 8:05am

choco, there are whispers that you are being awarded The Golden Claws for services to le salon beyond and above the call of duty.

most informative, and that map is awesome!

9anna_in_pdx
feb 8, 2012, 11:24am

...Wow. I am not reading this book but your info is really amazing. Thanks CM.

10MeditationesMartini
feb 8, 2012, 1:22pm

Yeah, this is really interesting--and depressing, how exactly like the story in Canada it is. Except that there were several European powers on the ground here, and enough native people that they were taken semi-seriously, for awhile, as trade partners/political leverage.

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?

11elenchus
feb 8, 2012, 1:55pm

>5 ChocolateMuse: "White people gave them alcohol and taught them their inferiority."

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.

12ChocolateMuse
feb 8, 2012, 6:35pm

Thanks all. The Golden Claws! Golly! What an honour.

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.

13ChocolateMuse
feb 8, 2012, 6:41pm

Actually Martini, I think that's what makes the difference - the nomadic aspect. Huge land mass, Aboriginal people always moving around. Nothing to trade; they lived with the land and did not have a concept of possession ( their culture is more about belonging than possessing). So the whites had no problem with considering them an exotic kind of animal.

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

14ChocolateMuse
feb 8, 2012, 7:45pm

After all that, we need to close our eyes, breathe deep, and listen to Debussy's Arabesque: http://youtu.be/28Qi4jLtigc

15tomcatMurr
feb 8, 2012, 9:30pm

as far as I know the aboriginals in Tasmania were deliberately murdered to the last man woman and child. A line of white men (soldiers, settlers) stretched from one end of the island to the other, walking slowly forward, driving all before them into the sea or into death. I think I read about this in Marcus Clarke's His natural life and in a rather more recent good book, called The English Passengers.

16zenomax
feb 10, 2012, 3:20pm

15 - A number were relocated to other islands and others survived the fighting only to be largely wiped out by disease.

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....

17ChocolateMuse
feb 10, 2012, 7:52pm

I'm thinking that's one of the most shameful things of all, zeno, that we have barely begun to try, and that the vast majority don't even want to try.

18drmarymccormack
feb 10, 2012, 11:31pm

Thanks so much for all the information. I just started the book tonight and I have to do some catching up. The map is terrific. I never realized how immense Australia is. I've seen some movies about the country but I know next to nothing about it.

19Meredy
feb 10, 2012, 11:47pm

Here are size comparisons of Australia with the U.S., Europe, and other places:

http://upfromaustralia.com/ausbigplacma.html

20MeditationesMartini
feb 11, 2012, 2:39am

Thanks for all the information, Rena. I just meant that the Americans just cold murdered their native people, while we cravenly, cynically told ourselves we were doing them a favour by grinding their cultures into the ground and herding them onto reserves with refugee camp conditions. It almost feels more shameful, even though it's not.

21ChocolateMuse
feb 11, 2012, 2:59am

I see. Well, we did both.

22Macumbeira
feb 11, 2012, 5:15am

Everybody did it to everybody

23zenomax
feb 11, 2012, 8:06am

22 - well I would have said the powerful did it to the less powerful.

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.

24Macumbeira
feb 11, 2012, 8:11am

Even before the whites arrived in central and south america, it was all slaughter and violence. It didn't get better after that but still...

25MeditationesMartini
Redigerat: feb 11, 2012, 1:11pm

>23 zenomax: that's a fair summation, I think (both your points). New Zealanders remind me of Canadians in other ways as well.

26ChocolateMuse
feb 12, 2012, 4:47am

The realisation has come upon me that I should do some administrating. So, who's with us in this read? Are you in? If so, where are you up to? Is anyone planning to begin but hasn't yet? Anyone finished?

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.

27Macumbeira
feb 12, 2012, 5:32am

What about Rick's snake story ?

28zenomax
feb 12, 2012, 8:05am

I am trying to find my old copy - willing but unable to start as yet.

29drmarymccormack
feb 12, 2012, 9:48am

I've started and I'm up to Ch. 15.

30elenchus
feb 12, 2012, 1:06pm

I'm following and using this thread as a reminder of my read from Dec 2010: hope that's okay.

31MeditationesMartini
feb 12, 2012, 1:13pm

I'm finished, reading Rick's snake story (Mac, I went to pop in on the thread and it looks like he's waiting to start the discussion till the Whale is, um, flensed), and will prolly pop in here from time to time.

32ChocolateMuse
feb 12, 2012, 6:37pm

Rick's snake story is the important read of the moment (after The Whale), but I am not leading it. And since when has the salon only read one thing at a time?

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.

33drmarymccormack
feb 14, 2012, 2:13pm

Years ago, I read In Patagonia and loved it. I think it was after The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig and I was interested in anything about South America. Then last year I was reading James Lees-Milne's diaries. I saw he mentioned Bruce Chatwin and some scandal about his books not being truthful. I saw in the notes at the beginning of this book that Chatwin considered Songlines as a work of fiction. Was it always considered a work of fiction? Did they add this later on after he was criticized for In Patagonia? Are the characters in Songlines real people, Arkady, Father Flynn? Just wondering if anybody knows.

34Macumbeira
Redigerat: feb 14, 2012, 3:22pm

35anna_in_pdx
feb 14, 2012, 4:23pm

Wow, Mac, thanks for doing all that research on it and writing it all down.

36drmarymccormack
feb 14, 2012, 5:55pm

Holy smokes! Ask and you shall receive! Thanks Macumbeira! Now I'll go and read the rest of your blog.

37Macumbeira
feb 15, 2012, 12:19am

No thanks, just thumb it : )

38dchaikin
feb 15, 2012, 12:57pm

Muse - I'm here, it's only that I wasn't aware of this thread until this morning. I read this last year and I'm rereading. I'm through chapter 28. I have some notes, but will read Mac's essay first.

39dchaikin
feb 15, 2012, 1:35pm

@34 - such a wonderful essay, Mac. I read In Patagonia last year, too, but unfortunately read in scattered moments here and there (my copy is a 1979 edition from Picador-Macmillan in London.)

40dchaikin
feb 15, 2012, 1:50pm

Some thoughts on chapters 1 -15

- 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.

41Macumbeira
feb 15, 2012, 2:03pm

- 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...

I do !

42MeditationesMartini
feb 15, 2012, 3:25pm

Arkady appears to be based on a man called Toly Sawenko, who is now married to an Aboriginal writer named Alexis Wright, or was in 2010, anyway. Here are some of his thoughts on the book. I also see that Salman Rushdie is supposed to have provided some inspiration for the portrayal of the character, interestingly.

43dchaikin
feb 15, 2012, 3:48pm

Martin - the link to me to a (very interesting) Shanghai Daily story on Alexis Wright...which reminds me I should follow this with book Wright's Carpentaria...

44MeditationesMartini
feb 15, 2012, 4:09pm

Ooops, got my links mixed. Here are Sawenko's less-than-complimentary thoughts:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=U0uTvmEcbSEC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=%22...

45ChocolateMuse
feb 15, 2012, 7:25pm

Thanks Dan! I'd all but given up on this read.

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.

46dchaikin
Redigerat: feb 15, 2012, 10:58pm

@ 44 - Martin - that link is awesome. So much great info...

47drmarymccormack
feb 15, 2012, 10:44pm

>44 MeditationesMartini: Yes lots of things to think about. I have to admit that I am very interested in "Chatwin the traveler" as opposed to being strictly interested in learning about Aboriginal culture. I like the idea of the gentleman going into the wilderness and all that. There's a quote from another guy in there Todorov " It's okay to enjoy The Songlines, if we, as readers, do not romanticize nomads in the same way Chatwin does." How can we help it though?

48dchaikin
feb 23, 2012, 1:16pm

shall we move on to chaps 16-30?

49dchaikin
feb 23, 2012, 1:41pm

"...the whole of Classical mythology might represent the relics of a gigantic 'song-map'" - chap 23

51dchaikin
feb 23, 2012, 1:43pm

from the above link:

"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"

52MeditationesMartini
feb 23, 2012, 1:52pm

But who were the Pelasgians' Pelasgians?

53ChocolateMuse
feb 23, 2012, 6:16pm

>48 dchaikin: Well Dan, I was supposed to announce it on this thread and forgot: we were thinking of putting off this read until mid-March. But I can happily start the 16-30 thread all the same... just for you.

54dchaikin
feb 23, 2012, 7:29pm

Hi Choc - I'm happy to wait till mid-March, just didn't know...

55ChocolateMuse
mar 10, 2012, 4:46am

Here it is: http://www.librarything.com/topic/133994 (but don't thank me for it)