Making a Didgeridoo
Sanding is but one step in transforming the trunk of a certain type of eucalyptus into a didgeridoo, that most uniquely Australian musical instrument.
During my recent trip to Brisbane, Australia, to visit my son and his wife, I was fortunate to watch the whole process and to meet Glen Lindh, Dominic’s friend who taught him how to make a “didge.”
Step one is to visit Glen, who is one of the Wiradjuri (alternate spelling: Waradjuri) aboriginal people, where we sort through a pile of blanks (chunks of trunks with the bark still attached) to choose one of the appropriate size and shape. Length and shape both affect the sound of the finished instrument. Glen buys the blanks from another man who cuts them in an area of New South Wales. The tree is called mallee, which refers to its particular growth habit of multiple trunks growing from an underground lignotuber.
On the right is a blank and the left a finished didge.
The next step is to saw off any uneven ends. Notice how the interior of the wood has been conveniently hollowed out by termites! Using a draw knife, Dominic removes most of the bark and some of the underlying layer of wood, revealing the creamy color of the inside layer. Traditionally all the bark and darker layer are removed, which leaves a clean slate for painting aboriginal designs. Glen’s didges are made in this style, but during our visit I was so focused on listening to his fascinating stories and history that I forgot to take photos! Not being an aboriginal person, Dominic chooses not to paint their designs but rather show off the contrasting colors and textures of the wood.
Click on any photo to enlarge or see a slide show.
The inside of the wooden cylinder is sealed with “Bond-Crete,” which is a concrete sealer that protects the wood and helps prevent cracking.
After the sealer has dried to a clear finish, several coats of varnish are applied, which protect the wood and enhance the colors and grain. The difference is striking!
The last steps are to fashion a mouthpiece of beeswax and dip the top section of the didge into melted beeswax to make a smooth surface. In these photos Dominic’s friend Mark is forming the mouthpiece on the didge that they have made for him.
Last step: Master the required circular breathing and make music! Mark has been playing a didgeridoo since he was 10 years old, so he has many learning tips for Dominic. It seems to me that making a didge is much easier than playing it!