• Origin: Australia
  • Date: 20th-21st Century
  • Maker: Adam Baird
  • Collection: DUMIC 5

Long, thick wooden body with one wax end. Is painted with a large fish, a blue background with black ends, and multiple white symbols.

The didgeridoo originated in northern Australia, supposedly in what is now Goulburn Island and Croker Island, hewn from trees and hollowed out. The oldest record of the instrument is from 1500 years ago, according to cave paintings in the Kakadu National Park and near South Alligator River in Gunbalanya, in West Arnhem Land. Researchers speculate there could be evidence dating it as even older, possibly to 3000 or 5000 years ago, making it one of the world’s first instruments. Over all of this time, the digeridoo has effectively remained unchanged, and it is still played by many Aboriginal peoples today as it has always been, accompanying chants and song and as a companion for storytellers. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia have the longest unbroken traditions of any group in the world, arriving in Australia around 60,000 years ago, cultivating rich cultures and traditions, many of which survived the strenuous impacts of British colonization during the 18th century.

“Didgeridoo” is not the original name of this instrument, which has many names depending on the region or tribe it is found in, but rather what British colonialists dubbed it in response to the unique sounds it produces. The first written record of a didgeridoo occurred in 1835, by explorer T.B. Wilson while he was on a venture to the Cobourg Peninsula. The most common indigenous names for the instrument are “mago” and “yidaki,” but those two names refer to slightly different types of instruments. Yidakis are longer and conical, while magos are shorter and more cylindrical. The digeridoo in this collection is a mago, the traditional didgeridoo found in West Arnhem Land. According to Aboriginal mythology, called “Tjukurpa,” mago were given to Aboriginal peoples by the “Mimih,” powerful spirit beings who contact the living to pass on knowledge. In northern Australia, traditional Aboriginal beliefs embody the relationship between all existing things through a dualistic lens, everything belonging to one of two groups: Dhuwa or Yirritja. The relationship between didgeridoos and spirituality remains strong, as there are reports of senior tribal members receiving musical instructions from the spirit realm.

There are two main didgeridoo playing styles: “A-type,” an overtone-absent style played in West Arnhem Land, and “B-type,” an overtone-present style played in East Arnhem Land. The mago uses the A-type playing style, making no “trumpet-like” sounds and keeping the tongue relaxed, which produces a more resonant sound. This mago playing style can be further broken down into “Wonga” style, found from the Kimberly to the Darwin regions, and the “Gunborrk” style, specifically found in Central and West Arnhem Land.

This mago in particular was made and hand-painted by Adam Baird of the Original Aboriginal Art Company. Baird was born in Townsville and grew up in Northern Queensland, studying Aboriginal Art at Kangaroo Point College before working at the Australian Outback Gallery. He exhibited work at the Robyn O’Chin Awards during the late 1990s.

  1. Aubé, Gauthier. “The Origins of the Didgeridoo: The Aborigines of Australia.” Wakademy, January 25, 2021. https://www.wakademy.online/en/blog/aboriginal-culture/the-origins-of-the-didgeridoo-the-aborigines-of-australia/.

  2. “The Didgeridoo and Aboriginal Culture.” Aboriginal Art & Culture Alice Springs Australia. Aboriginal Art Association of Australia. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://www.aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/what_is.html.

  3. “Didgeridoo Basics.” Hollow Log Didgeridoos Australia, May 28, 2022. https://hollowlogdidgeridoos.com/home/didgeridoo-basics/.

  4. “Didgeridoo Facts and Interesting Information.” Didgeridoo Breath, November 12, 2020. https://www.didgeridoobreath.com/kb_results.asp?ID=26.

  5. “Mago – the Traditional Didgeridoo across West Arnhem and Beyond.” Hollow Log Didgeridoos Australia, May 28, 2022. https://hollowlogdidgeridoos.com/home/mago-the-traditional-didgeridoo-across-west-arnhem-and-beyond/.