The sound of the didgeridoo is quintessential to the very soul of Australia’s natural landscape.
No other sound can evoke such strong images of the Australian outback better than the haunting tones of the didgeridoo.
The Aboriginal people believe the ancient didgeridoo helped to “sing” the world into existence and they still use it in their traditional ceremonies.
History of the didgeridoo
The didgeridoo has its origins in the Arnhemland region of Northern Australia.
Anthropologists have mixed theories about the emergence of the didgeridoo into Aboriginal cultural practices.
One theory is based on the fact that the appearance of images depicting the didgeridoo, on rock paintings, dates back 20,000 years.
To appreciate the mysticism of the instrument is not to be so concerned with dates and figures but to simply enjoy its nature.
How didgeridoos are made
Didgeridoos are made from several varieties of eucalyptus trees which are hollowed by the action of termites (or white ants).
These species include the Woollybutt, Stringybark and Blood wood and are found in the monsoonal belt across northern Australia.
The hollow trees are carefully selected for suitable length.
The outer bark is cut back and the interior deposits are knocked out.
Various techniques are used to season the timber and these include burying in wet sand and heat tempering.
The artwork from the Arnhemland region features a technique known as “rrark” or crosshatch.
The designs and totems have significance to the maker and usually refer to ancestral or spirit totems.
The more traditional ochres have now been replaced with commercial artists’ acrylic paints and these have a much longer lasting quality.
Many styles of decoration have now emerged including the “dot” style of Central Australia.
Some of the burning techniques have also been introduced and these designs are mainly produced in the southern parts of Australia.
The didgeridoo is not always decorated and the unpainted wood grain of many of the eucalypt species provides a unique texture and finish as a natural timber.
The sound of the didgeridoo
The didgeridoo sound is created by vibrating the lips.
Constant pressure is produced by a circular breathing technique which is maintained by breathing through the nose and pushing the air from the lungs, hence the sound is uninterrupted.
The tongue, lips and breathing combine to create energetic rhythmic patterns.