The Songlines


A wonderful exposition of the Aboriginal history and way of life and a true insight into the “country of the upside downers”. Chatwin has managed to hone a wonderful writing style- something I wish to emulate. Personally, it took me a while to get into, but this is a book you should savour- hang on his every word, rather doing the writing a disservice and skimming through.

In Alice Springs- a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers…”


It was after five. The evening light was raking down the street and through the window we could see a part of black boys, in chequered shirts and cowboy hats, walking jerkily under the poincianas in the direction of the pub.”


Alice is not a very cheerful town by day or by night. Old towners can remember Todd street in the days of horses and hitching posts. It has since become a dreary, Americanised strip of travel agents, souvenir shops and soda fountains.”


It was lunchtime. The pub was full of truckies and construction workers , drinking beer and eating pasties. Most of them were wearing the standard uniform of the Outback male: desert boots, navvy singlets to show off their tattoos, yellow hard hats and ‘stubbies’, which are green, tight fitting zipless shorts. And the first thing you saw, pushing past the frosted glass door, was hairy red legs and bottle green buttocks”


I took my drink and went to the far end of the room. I got talking to a Spaniard. He was short, bald and sweaty, and his voice was high-pitched and hysterical. He was the town baker”.


He had a pale, oval face, and a clipped and pernickety way of enunciating his syllables, and with his freckles, his steel rimmed glasses and the tuft of mousy hair sticking up on the back of his head he really did look like the brightest boy in school. When the lamplight caught his features, you could tell he was lined and tired”.


America’s young. Young and innocent and cruel. But this country’s old. Old rock! Thats the difference. Old weary and wise. Absorbent too! No matter what you pour onto it, it all gets sucked away.”


The glare of Australia that makes one long for the dark.”


Suitable for marsupials, but never meant for man. The land, I mean. Makes people do the most peculiar things.”


Being lost in Australia gives you a lovely feeling of security.”


The procession set off at between two and three of a blistering blue afternoon, when the cockatoos were silent and the Spaniards were having their siestas.”


You know what the people call the white man? Meat.”


To move in such a landscape was survival, to stay in the same place suicide.”


On a calm day he liked to snorkel for hours along the reef. One time, the customs had mistaken him for a corpse. “And I was in birthday suit I’m afraid.”


The fish here were so tame you could float through a shoal and touch them. He knew all their colours and their names….each one was a character with its own individual mannerisms: they reminded him of the faces in a Dublin crowd.”Under the glaring neon, a man in a sleek blue suit was delivering a sermon to some teenage potential chicken friers, as if frying Kentucky chicken were a kind of religious observance”.


On my way out, I passed a fat man floating upward in the pool. There was a scar on his stomach, as if the skeleton of a fish had been impressed into it. …the fat man was still floating in the pool and his fat wife was floating next to him. Her hair was in curlers and covered with a pink crinkly cap.”


The road was a straight band of tarmac, and on either side there were strips of paddy-melon. The melons were the size of cricket balls. They had been brought to Australia as fodder for their camels. Sometimes, a would swerve on the road to avoid a road train coming south. The road trains had three trailers. They did not slow down but came up, steadily out of the heat-mirage, hogging the middle of the road”.


Late? What’s late and what’s early? That’s an important philosophical question!”


Bruce had quarter to three feet, red hair, flabby buttocks and oval jowls.”