"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; and that these trails must reach back, in time and space, to an isolated pocket in the African savannah, where the First Man shouted the opening stanza to the World Song, "I am!" Bruce Chatwin
above: Satellite image of North Balranald region annotated with Aboriginal Dreaming tracks
The Songlines is a 1987 book written by Bruce Chatwin, combining fiction and non-fiction. Set in Australia, the book develops Chatwin's thesis that the songs of the Aborigines are a cross between a creation myth, an atlas, and an Aboriginal man's personal story. While the book's first half chronicals the main character's travels through Outback Australia and his various encounters, the second half is dedicated to his musings in the nature of man as nomad and city builder. In the second half Chatwin puts his phenomenal knowledge and experience on display in service of an overarching theory of mankind.
The basic idea that Chatwin posits is that language started as song, and the aboriginal dreamtime sings the land into existence.
A key concept of aboriginal culture is that they and the land are one. By singing the land the land itself exists, you see the tree, the rock, the path, the land.
What are we if not defined by our environment ? And in one of the harshest environments on Earth one of our oldest civilizations became literally as one with the country. This central concept then branches out from Aboriginal culture as Chatwin combines evidence gained there with preconcieved ideas on the early evolution of man, and argues that on the African Savannah we were a migratory species, hunted by a dominant brute predator in the form of a big cat: hence the spreading of 'songlines' across the globe, eventually reaching Australia where they are now preserved in the world's oldest living culture.