5 Important Things to Consider when Being Introduced to the Didgeridoo

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Travellers have the opportunity to experience myriad aspects of Australian Indigenous heritage and culture during their visit to Sydney OutBack, including trying one of the world’s oldest known instruments: the digeridoo.

Here are five things non-Aboriginal people may like to know before attempting to play the instrument regarded by some First Australians as strictly, sacred “men’s business”.

  1. The traditional didgeridoo is technically a wind instrument, like a giant timber flute, made from a branch or tree trunk (hollowed by termites, and often carved or painted). Its tone is deep, haunting and, under a skillful hand, it resonates with the earthy sounds of the natural environment and the creatures that share it
  2. The didgeridoo is not indigenous to Sydney or the south-east of Australia; but originates from the Northern Territory. It is part of the indigenous heritage throughout the Northern Territory as far south as Alice Springs. As a musical instrument, it has gained popularity globally across the full spectrum of music styles for its unique sound, described as “the sound of Australia”
  3. Some Aboriginal communities have restrictions that men only play the digeridoo during public and sacred ceremonies, but it is not unusual that women and children learn to play the instrument in an informal capacity. In other communities, the majority, digeridoos are strictly men’s business and women are forbidden to even touch the instrument
  4. Trying the digeridoo is something non-Aboriginal people should consider with sensitivity, as both male and female travelers are curious about how the instrument works. However, it is wise to allow the local Aboriginal elders where you are visiting to guide your actions. As Sydney OutBack’s commentary and demonstrations are purely educational, guests are offered the opportunity to try the digeridoo as a cultural and musical instrument at their own discretion, although – out of cultural respect for communities who find it offensive – women are discouraged from doing so. By no means should a woman, given circumstantial permission to try the digeridoo, be photographed or videoed doing so, as even a photograph or video can be highly offensive if viewed on social media or otherwise by Aboriginal people. Be sensitive and informed, and check out http://www.yidakivibes.com.au/cultural-resources/women-and-the-didgeridoo, http://www.cairnsunlimited.com/popups/didgeridoo.htm or http://www.aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/myths.html.
  5. There are dozens of different names for the didgeridoo in Aboriginal dialects; but “didgeridoo” isn’t one of them! It is thought that non-Aboriginal people adopted the name “digeridoos”, inspired by early instruments made from bamboo. This doesn’t necessarily mean the instrument was “borrowed” from Asia. It surprises many Aussies that there are two species of bamboo that are indigenous to Australia, but the one suited for didgeridoos only grows in a relatively small pocked of the Northern Territory.

Sydney OutBack tours were designed under the guidance of Aboriginal teachers and elders, taking seriously our intention to have respectful and culturally honoring practices to the Guringai people, the traditional custodians of the land, and local Aboriginal people. To learn more about Sydney OutBack’s Wilderness and Aboriginal Explorer Tour and Cruise, just click here.

Our tours are part of Tourism Australia’s Indigenous Tourism Champions Program (ITCP), recognizing that we offer a quality experience that that meets the needs and expectations of international visitors.

The following YouTube video by David Hudson is an excellent introduction to the complexity of the instrument, as well as helps amateurs appreciate the various sounds that are unique to the Didgeridoo – and how these sounds can be made. With practice. Lots of practice! Good luck! (Thanks David.)



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