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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 : Traditional Didjeridu and Music

Traditional Didjeridu and Music of the Top End, Northern Territory 

"From 1927 on I had seen corroborees, with their singing and dancing,.....,but it was not until I made a survey in 1946 almost around Arnhem Land that I realized the vitality and richness of the singing and dancing of that region. I therefore determined to make permanent records as soon as possible, so that musicians and dancers would be able to hear and see this part of Aboriginal culture, even if only at second hand."
Prof. AP Elkin, (1979, p.285)

These pages are intended as an introduction to the traditional music, and in particular the use of the didjeridu in traditional music within the Top End of the NT. It is by no means a definitive work, nor is it intended to be. Rather, the reasoning behind its development lies in the perceived need for this type of material in this format. With the increasing interest in the use of the didjeridu worldwide, this author believes it's important for us to understand both the origins of this instrument and the context in which it was and is used today by traditional people of the region.

The music of the Top End is rich and complex, and as Elkin said, it's not until you take the time to listen that you realise the depth and vitality of it.

The didjeridu, as recently as 100 years ago, had a restricted distribution in Australia. Map 1. is based upon the work of Dr Alice Moyle whom researched traditional sound instruments throughout Australia, in particular during the 1960's and '70's. The hatched area denotes the area in which the didjeridu was a part of traditional music during the 1960's and '70's. This includes the adjacent islands of the Northern Territory such as Groote Eylandt and the Wessel group and Crocodile Islands, with the exception of the two large islands immediately north of Darwin, Bathurst and Melville Island (Tiwi). The didjeridu is not a part of the Tiwi peoples' musical reportoire (in fact, the Tiwi are culturally distinct from mainland people).

Earlier researchers, such as Elkin (1938) noted that it was "only known in Eastern Kimberley and the northern third of the Northern Territory". Although now played around the globe, traditional playing style and technique is still confined to this region.

traditional didjeridu distribution

Early this century the instrument spread both south and east, primarily with the movement of Aboriginal people to mission settlements and has been incorporated into traditional music in varying degrees. This is particularly the case for the Cape York region of northern Queensland, although the actual playing techniques employed are different from those used within the traditional area. According to Berndt (1964), "in 1945, from Wave Hill to Birrundudu and Gordon Downs in the east Kimberleys, only young men played it; older men regarded it as new-fangled and would have nothing to do with it. At Balgo in 1958 it was used rarely; but two years later it was very popular indeed.".

Garde (1997) noted the use of the didjeridu at Aurukun (western Cape York) in 1985, brought there by people from Doomadgee (Gulf of Carpentaria) whom had moved there as a result of marriage. The didjeridu was introduced to Mornington Island in the 1930's and '40's by Larry Lanley and Larry Gavenor, whom were born and raised there from mainland parents (Nancarrow pers. comm.1999). It is sometimes used in traditional music there. 





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