David Robbins published his first short story at 19 and his first book 25 years later. In 1986, for The 29th Parallel, he was awarded South Africa’s prestigious CNA Literary Award, after having been shortlisted with Christopher Hope and J M Coetzee. Since then he has published extensively on southern African themes, becoming established as a writer of extraordinary perception in the literary travel and short fiction genres. In 1995 he published the first of two travel books covering 22 countries on the African continent, which enjoyed international success; and in 2010 he received a Lifetime Achievement Literary Award from the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture.
A year before receiving this acknowledgement of his contribution to local literature, he had already embarked on the major project currently under discussion. Several visits to Australia had ignited his interest in the ‘Out-of-Africa’ hypothesis of modern humanity’s peopling of the world. Walking to Australia has been the result of extensive travel in the countries occupying the northern shores of the Indian Ocean, and of seven years of intermittent researching and writing.
The book describes a 21st century journey following the direction taken by anatomically modern humans who left the African nursery around 80000 years ago and reached Australia 20000 years later. Along the way, they laid the genetic foundations for humanity’s oldest civilizations – and ultimately inhabited every corner of the globe.
The result of these travels is not a scientific treatise. Although the science is not ignored, the centre lies elsewhere. The author undertakes this west-to-east endeavor in the imagined company of his autistic grandson, who serves both as confidant and as a human archetype. This allows the book to verge upon a unique blend of factual travel writing and an almost magical internalised interpretation. What the two travellers find together is a tangle of new experiences and responses, from which the linkages between primeval past and complex present gradually emerge. Here is a work of literary travel writing that describes an enchanted journey through some of the ancient places of the world and into the currently deeply troubled heart of the human adventure.
The evidence encountered on the journey suggests that a fundamental universality of humanity’s place in the cosmos lies beneath all regional differences and is characterised as much by humility and co-operation as it is by the imperative to survive and/or the will to power. The book does not set out to prove a point, however, but to celebrate the complexity of human responses. It is more a creative work than it is a dissertation with an unambiguous conclusion. Nevertheless, the bibliography gives an indication of some of the sources used, which includes the work of historians, archaeologists, political scientists, biographers and psychologists, as well as authors writing on the various religions of the world.