'Quarterly Essay' is an Australian journal which features a 25,000-word essay, plus correspondence. Prominent Australians like Robert Manne, Mungo MacCallum and David Malouf have written previous essays.
This one (Issue 24, 2006) features well-known social anthropologist, traveler and raconteur Robyn Davidson, who first came to fame with her book 'Tracks', the account of her epic journey across the Australian desert with four camels, back in the 1970s. She says she has lived with nomadic peoples on and off for thirty years: in this story she shares the joys and privations of a small clan of Tibetan nomadic pastoralists.
Our time as 'Homo sapiens sapiens' (the wisest of the wise) began about 200,000 years ago, but we have lived in settlements for less than 10,000 of those years. Now fewer than about 0.001 per cent of us are true hunters and gatherers (though there's an increasing number of human-wanderers who live that way because they're rich).
Robyn Davidson is something of a romantic, but with good reason: she says nomads care for the earth better than anyone else; they're comfortable with uncertainty and contradiction, cosmopolitan in outlook, and are less concerned with the accumulation of wealth than with accumulating knowledge. And they are more tolerant and adaptable than the rest of us.
It's a good read, just 50 pages, interesting, empathic (her word) and wise.
Shalom! Rowland Croucher
January 2, 2007