How to make a didgeridoo: Bourke style

1 November 2019

How to make a didgeridoo: Bourke style

Left–Right; Jamal Idris, Jonathan Knight & Isaac Simon

While travelling through Bourke, Isaac and Jamal had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan Knight from Baaka River Arts. They purchased one of his handcrafted didgeridoos’ to display in the Youpla office at Coolangatta. Jonathan shares with us how he made the didgeridoo and how important his culture is.

Isaac: “Can you tell us a little bit about it?”

Jonathan: “This is local wood. It’s called silver box – we call it silver box or bimble box. So, you know about how to get didgeridoos? The white ants do all the work for us and eat them out.

So, what I do, I come along sometime, and I tap them, or you just know how to identify them by the bark and when it’s right for picking. Then you cut it down, it’s a process – it will probably take about six hours. This one probably took me longer than six hours – all the digging to get the root out of the ground.

When you cut them down, you take them to a fire and the smoke will come up and suffocate the white ants.You don’t want white ants. Then I’ve put some emu feathers, and these are real emu feathers. I got this big fella – a truck hit him outside of town and so I picked him up off the road and he was gone so I plucked off a few feathers and put it on there.

We call the Darling River and up here are the symbols for men and women and some of the pictures down here are of little kids and the spirit man and the little guys with the spears. That’s the story to that painting. Everything I’ve painted is our people and where we come from. We’re River people – without the river we’d lose our identity.”

Isaac: “How important is it to you to share your culture with other people and expand that to different countries?”

Jonathan: “It’s really important because if we don’t – if we stop doing that – we lose it and people don’t know about it.

We’re still teaching each other about it, so we teach the little fellas and teach them how to identify, how to fish and about the spears. It’s really important that we keep it going because without anyone teaching it – it’ll stop.”

Youpla CEO Bryn Jones also visited Bourke with the Youpla team

Jamal: “You said you worked with a lot of children when I was chatting with you last, how important do you think that is for them – especially to keep them out of trouble? “

Jonathan: “Look, the kids I work with are, some kids in camp, and I work at schools and they love it.

These things they identify with it, we go bush and it’s just quiet-ness, they’re related. At other times the kids are just going all over, when they hit the bush to learn this stuff, it’s quiet-ness. It’s silence and everyone just – eyes focused – the kids eyes are focused and they just want to learn.

It’s amazing how fast kids too, they pick up, and they understand, they still teach the language and speaking language. They love it. It’s really important we pass it on to the little ones.”

Jamal: “Give them a sense of pride.”

Jonathan: “Yeah, it does. It really does.”

Isaac: “The spear that you’ve been so kind to give us. Do you want to tell us a little about that?”

Jonathan: “These are our Mulga spears. They call it the law spear. These are hard wood; we get Mulga out here. A lot of people from other countries they come out here just to get our wood – because it’s hard wood. This spear is pretty tough. It’s beautiful wood.

I just put some emu feathers around it, it just brings it out, it’s beautiful stuff but that’s really not important. It’s important about the wood and what it stands for.

The law spear and this is what it stands for. I wish we could bring this old law back – there’s different laws to cover that law. But yeah, it’s beautiful stuff – all local timber and I do it all here.”

 Thank you to Jonathan for yarning with us. Make sure if you are in Bourke you go visit Baaka River Arts.