The ancient ‘didge’ helps with modern challenges

Researchers have suggested the didgeridoo may be the world’s oldest musical instrument, and while ancient cave paintings that show it have been dated to between 3000 and 5000 years ago, its history may be at least 40,000 years old.

Nowadays, in an innovative diversionary program for Aboriginal male offenders near Tabulam on the Upper Clarence River, making and mastering the classic indigenous instrument has become a therapeutic skill aimed at boosting wellbeing and reducing re-offending for a high-risk population.

Michael Cain, Facilitator with Elder, Uncle Buck

The focus of the Balund-a program is enhancing life skills within a cultural and supportive community environment.  It is located on a working cattle property offering many other skills and programs, including literacy and numeracy, addiction and stress management, parenting skills, small motor skills, and more. Much emphasis is placed on cultural activities such as art classes, hence the role of the famous didgeridoo, an artwork as well as an instrument.

Traditional techniques are taught after finding the special timber that has been collected in remote western NSW. Mostly this is Mallee, Box, Mulga and Coolabah, found where termites have eaten out the centres. These cylindrical logs are transported to Balund-a’s workshop where the residents are taught the techniques of didge making.

From the raw timber, the next process is stripping the bark. Then they are sanded well and lacquered. The mouthpiece is made from beeswax. Each didge ends up with its own unique sound. The project facilitator is Michael Cain, supported by local Aboriginal Elders Aunty Muriel and Uncle Buck.

A recent presentation ceremony during NAIDOC week was accompanied by traditional dance as well as some impressive didge performers. Cultural skills are so important to lift the spirit of those in custody as they prepare to return to their families and Country. Such diversionary projects help with the healing process of mind and soul and open the way for a brighter future.

Balund-a provides important programs to help with the transition for inmates from jail back into their community. Health and mental wellbeing after release are vital to help reduce the recidivism rates and this didge project has clearly demonstrated its role in cultural connection.

This project was funded by Arts Northern Rivers and donations are being sought to ensure this project continues. Donations over $2 are tax deductible and can be made by contacting Arts Northern Rivers on (02) 6621 4433 or

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