The South Australian Museum’s new exhibition will change the way you view Australia’s most iconic instrument, yidaki (didjeridu).
The exhibition, Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia, is an immersive experience, which not only allows you to look at various didjeridus but hear and feel the sound as well as be transported to Arnhem Land – home of the Yolngu people and yidaki master Djalu Gurruwiwi – via breathtaking a/v installations.
“It’s not just an instrument, it’s the whole story of the country that he’s [Gurruwiwi] telling,” says curator Professor John Carty. “It’s healing. It’s not just a musical instrument; it’s a cultural, spiritual instrument.
“It’s the sounds of Australia,” he continues. “It’s so iconic, but could anyone tell you anything about it? What can you tell me about it? Nothing. It’s crazy. Overseas, when people think of Australia, they think didjeridu.
“It’s one of those classic Australian blindspots. It’s something we take pride in, you get a little goosebump if you hear it overseas and think, ‘Oh, that’s Australia’, but you don’t know want it means. This [exhibition] is a way of saying, you know what: there is a way to know, there is a way into that.”
This is why this is an important exhibition. Visitors get to learn and experience what the yidaki means to the Yolngu people as well as get an insight to their culture, which Gurruwiwi and his family have generously shared with the Museum. Carty began working on this exhibition a year ago and instead of going to historians to tell the story – he went to the experts: the Yolngu people, as the Museum has the most important yidaki collection in the world.
“I said the only way we can do this show is if we go to the experts, the real experts, not the historians. You go to the Yolngu and you ask them what the story should be. And then you’ll find the path of how to tell the story.”
Carty and Museum staff began this path by travelling to Arnhem Land last April.
“We said [to the Yolngu people], ‘We’ve got these old ones [yidaki] but it’s not our story to tell, it’s your story and we want to tell it with you.’ Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been waiting. We’ve been waiting 100 years for someone to listen to Djalu who’s been saying it for 89 years’. He’s 89. Djalu’s been telling this story forever and we just lobbed in and asked, ‘How do we tell it?’
“He took us into the forest and we cut didjeridus. He said the way to learn is to sit with him and he’ll tell you. We spent a whole year working with the Yolngu, working with Djalu and the family to build a Yolngu story that can be translated to our uncles and kids and whitefellas – for everyone who doesn’t know anything about didjeridus.”
The exhibition opened last night and tonight Gurruwiwi and the Bärra Band, which features Djalu’s sons, will play a free concert on the Museum lawns. Carty calls Bärra Band the “best rock band that people don’t know”.
Bärra Band member Andrew Grimes describes the band (that has just finished tracking their debut album with Stu Kellaway of Yothu Yindi fame) as “saltwater style”.
“It’s saltwater reggae with some deep gospel business in there mixed with Arnhem Land rock.”
Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia free concert
Museum front lawns, North Terrace
Friday, March 3, 6pm-9pm
The exhibition continues at the South Australian Museum until Sunday, July 16