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May 11, 2006

Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine

Didjeridu & Traditional Music of the Top End
The content of this page was originally created by Peter Lister

Didjeridu Home : Didjeridu Manufacture in Eastern Arnhem Land

Didjeridu manufacture in Eastern Arnhem Land

These few images help to demonstrate the basics steps in the cutting and fashioning of a traditional instrument. The basic methods are the same for across the Top End, only the finer points of manufacture (such as tree selection which will determine the regional style of the instrument) differ.

The maker is Roy Burnyila of Ganalbingu descent, Ramingining, eastern Arnhem Land.

A suitably shaped and hollow living tree is selected. This one is a bloodwood (Eucalyptus miniata) growing very close to the base of a stringybark (E. tetradonta). The flitch of bark removed near Roy's hand is where he tested the degree of hollowness of the trunk prior to cutting. Trees that are determined to have too small or too large a cavity are left standing. Yolngu are particularly adept at selecting suitable trees in this manner.

The termites are extremely efficient at consuming the timber, so fairly large cavities exist in relatively small trees. Once it has been cut around the base it doesn't take much effort to fell.

Once felled, the craftsman determines at which point to cut what will become the proximal (mouthpiece) end. That's my bald patch you can see on the left, and Roy's son, Alvin wearing my hat.

click on photo for enlargement

Once cut, the instrument is banged on its' end a few times to remove any loose termite frass, soil and wood. If there's a blockage, or if something get's stuck during this process, then a thin sapling can be inserted and used to clear the blockage. That happened in this instance.

click on photo for enlargement

The mouthpiece is trimmed to remove rough material. At this point, the instrument is already playable!. The careful choice of tree means that the mouthpiece is already close to the desired diameter. Here is a fundamental difference between traditional manufacture such as this and the way in which most didjeridus from other parts of Australia are being made. Many of the didjes I see that are not made this way have hollows too large to be used as is, and as such have large amounts of beeswax applied to them to reduce the diameter to a playable size. If wax is applied by Roy, it's just a thin smear for "comfort".

click on photo for enlargement

The bark is stripped on the spot or back home (as in the final photo).

click on photo for enlargement

A short break and a blow to test the sound - this turned out to be an excellent instrument.

Here Roy's trimming the length and cleaning out any remaining loose material. The "skinned" (de-barked) instrument lying in front of him is the instrument that was being cut in the previous shots.

This page is Copyright PR Lister 1999. Please feel free to link to this page if you wish, but you must contact me if you wish to use this material in any other way.

Special thanks to Roy Burnyila and GL for permission to use these images and for taking me with them on the day.



Copyright 2002-2006 J.H. Burrows and Peter Lister