Songlines 25 years on: walking and encounter in a postcolonial landscape

Glenn Morrison

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Strident criticism since publication has failed to dampen enthusiasm for Bruce Chatwin’s The songlines (1987), which a quarter century later remains popular among visitors to Central Australia and those interested in Aboriginal culture. Early critical reception was shaped by postcolonial theory during the emergence of Aboriginal land rights in Australia, and a corresponding period of critical reflection for anthropologists. This led to significant themes and strengths of the text being overlooked, which are now being retrieved under the influence of ecocriticism. As part of a research project aimed at helping Australian nonfiction writers to better tackle the writing of place, The songlines is read afresh for walking’s contribution to its representation of a postcolonial geography. The narrative emerges as a peregrination, rather than as an example of Said’s orientalism, for which it was widely criticised. The preliminary results presented here highlight walking’s close relationship with place through embodiment, specifically its ability to help overcome the ‘filters’ through which humans view the world; in simple terms, when Chatwin walks, his prose talks. Walking enhances constructions of race and frontier, as well as underpinning the text’s thematic concern with place-making. The research provides new and valuable insights for writers of place, and promises a productive critical reading of this popular work, notably as to walking’s role in the construction of an Australian identity. Building on theoretical interest in walking as a critical tool, the paper contends that walking be considered as one technique of a postcolonial ecocriticism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Encounters
Subtitle of host publicationplace, situation, context papers : the refereed proceedings of the 17th Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs
EditorsAntonia Pont, Patrick West, Katya Johanson, Cassandra Atherton, Rhonda Dredge, Ruby Todd
Place of PublicationGeelong, Vic.
PublisherThe Australasian Association of Writing Programs
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780980757361
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventConference of The Australasian Association of Writing Programs (17th : 2012) - Geelong, Vic.
Duration: 25 Nov 201227 Nov 2012


ConferenceConference of The Australasian Association of Writing Programs (17th : 2012)
CityGeelong, Vic.


  • Walking
  • Place
  • Songlines
  • Alice Springs
  • Embodiment


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