Australia Beckons – Why walking around the world is not an insane thing to do (even if it sounds like it)
By Elizabeth Marino, PhD
Human beings have been walking to Australia for 55,000 years. Literally. The very first fledgling migration out of Africa didn’t stop in the Middle East or Southern Asia. This intrepid group of wanderers didn’t flow into Northern Europe or rest in the balmy Mediterranean, but kept going, and kept going, finding their way to that distant island-continent that had little fresh water, low lying geography, and open skies. They stopped in the red clay, blue ocean landscape that had the space for a new start. It is fitting that Angela chose to walk through Western Australia as the first leg of her journey. Australia beckons – and has been beckoning for as long as humans have been walking out of one life and into a different one.
When Angela first told me about this new adventure she had planned I thought she was naïve and insane. Another kooky vision, by another new age visionary trying to replicate some ancient tradition that she knew nothing about. A modern walkabout, I thought, how quaint. I distrusted. I scoffed. As an academic, scoffing and distrusting are the states of mind I traffic in.
Then I reconsidered.
In the daily grind that is high modernity – with it’s constant noise (coffee grinder, music, conversation, and traffic as I write this) and instant digital connectivity; with fast cars and faster trains and even faster minds; with checklists and calendars and the trying to get out of or invited to the party. With all the chaos and disintegration it actually makes perfect sense to me to bring all those seemingly inevitable facets and distractions of modern life to a screeching halt through the simplistic and original human skill: to start walking.
For me Angela’s walk isn’t inspirational because of the scale of danger or adventure she’s embarking on (which will, no doubt, be significant) but because of its humility. As far as I know Angela isn’t trying to evolve, or become a sage or a yogi; she isn’t trying to tap into fame or enlightenment. She’s not trying to accomplish anything. She is just walking. In doing so she exhibits the revolutionary belief that it will be enough.
In this way, too, Australia is a fitting place to start. The great anthropologist Wade Davis writes and speaks about the unique dedication that Aboriginal Australians have to resisting change and to maintaining the original landscape and histories that have been given to them from time immemorial, or the Dreamtime. Davis writes,
When the aboriginal people reached Australia 55,000 years ago they went walking. They spread a series of song lines across the planet, the known world. The Songlines were the trajectories walked at the dawn of time when the Rainbow Serpent sang the universe into being. The Dreaming is not a sense of dream; it is a state of eternal now [my emphasis]. In not one of the 240 languages of Australia, or the 670 dialects, is there a word for time. There is not a word for past, present, or future. The entire ethos of the aboriginal life was the antithesis of the cult of improvement [my emphasis] that so captivated the Victorian mind. The whole purpose of life in Australia was to do nothing that would improve upon anything. The people weren’t in any ways victims of history; they were people who had defeated the very notion of history. … The whole thing was driven on the theme of stasis, continuity, keeping the world the way it was at the time of the dawning.
For 55,000 years in Australia the world, just as it is, has been perfect. For Angela, slowly, the globe a step at a time, also testifies to a faith that the world is worth seeing and knowing just as it exists and without expectation. This is a radical departure from a modern worldview that measures efficiency and progress as the standard bearers of success. To eat, to breathe, to chat, to walk, for no other reason than because it is our birthright, is not an insane thing to do. On the contrary, it might be the only sane thing to do in the face of high modernity that tells us to “have it all” and “be it all” and “live it all”, all the time, right now, without “wasting” a minute – which in the end is as undesirable as it is impossible.
It is the radical simplicity of Angela’s walk that inspires me, as I hope it will inspire you.