In his book ‘Attachment’, John Bowlby explores our innate human longing for movement, and not just any movement, but a movement that reminds us of the rock that we once felt whilst being walked by our mothers. Bowlby’s research shows that when a baby is rocked in a manner that emulates being walked by a mother, the baby will remain content.
Bruce Chatwin interprets the work of John Bowlby in his novel ‘Songlines’, suggesting that the innate comfort that comes from walking is rooted in nomadism. Human beings of all creeds were once -at least partially- nomadic, moving between fertile zones throughout the year, following food and temperate climate. Chatwin surmises that these ancient practises are somehow imprinted on our psyche, and that we still carry with us a desire for movement. Only in the act of walking are our minds occupied with a simple, repetitive task, leaving us free to ponder in contentment.
Chinaman’s File is a rocking chair designed for the roughly 16500 Chinese gold diggers who walked from Robe in South Australia to the Victorian gold fields during the mid 19th Century. At the height of anti-Chinese sentiment during this period, all ships carrying Chinese nationals to the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria were taxed for each Chinese person on board. To avoid the tax, captains began to drop Chinese passengers in South Australia, a few hundred metres off Guichen Bay near the small town of Robe. From here these Chinese gold diggers would travel across country on foot, covering over 300 miles in as little as 13 days.
“To reach the goldfields, they would load the heavier equipment onto drays, for the trek could be several hundred kilometres. The Chinese men would travel on foot in single file, each carrying supplies in two baskets hanging from the ends of a long pole over their shoulders. Each man could carry up to 78 kilograms – more than their average body weight” (Hill, 2010, Page 116)
Because of these unusual processions, ‘single file’ became known as ‘Chinaman’s File’ during this period.
These men were economic nomads, moving from digging to digging in the search of their fortune. During these gruelling journeys across a forbidding and alien countryside it is likely that these men would have longed for the comforts of home - familiar food, familiar domesticity, the welcoming embrace of a mother, or the irreplaceable touch of a lover. Many would have longed for the warmth of a nurturing female presence. This rocking chair aims to remind these men of their distant mothers, allowing them to revisit their infancy and the memory of being walked to contentment.
Chinaman’s File was designed to simulate the rock experienced by a baby while being walked by its mother: each rock of the chair is designed to subject the user to the same arc and cadence that a baby experiences during its mother’s single step. To achieve this, a filmic study was conducted which analysed the movement of a mother carrying her child on her back as she walked; the motion that the baby experienced during one step was plotted and from this a rocking arc was extracted. Chinaman’s File was then designed to rock in a motion that emulates this arc of movement. In theory this action will produce a feeling of contentment that we have not felt since our infancy.