Burton's Journey

G'day - I'm Nathan Burton, my traditional Aboriginal name Bawanima Wapurarr, meaning wild yam /calm water was given to me by my adopted Yolngu (Aboriginal) father Djalu Gurruwiwi. Djalu my mentor is a World renowned Grand Master Yirdaki craftsman, in the Traditional methods of Yirdaki construction.

Throughout the pages of this website you will see the word Yirdaki. In North East Arnhem land Yirdaki is the traditional name for the instrument known around the world as a Didjeridu.

I was born in Sydney, Australia, in the summer of 1971. It was some years later when I first heard the sounds of the Didjeridu and was totally mesmerized by it. I recall the first time I saw a Yolngu man playing this amazing instrument, I was totally in awe of him and how he could make the most amazing sounds and provoke such intense feelings for the listener, namely being myself.

Nathan and Djalu Gurruwiwi

Becoming involved in Yirdaki’s/ Didjeridu's happened by accident or coincidence I recall leaving school and in my year book under chosen profession writing down motor mechanic, which was great, but for myself not as a full time occupation. If someone were to tell me then that I would one day end up being a Didjeridu maker I would never have believed it.

When I was living in New York studying drama, my teacher a great man by the name of Richard Pinter of the famed neighborhood playhouse, Sandy Meisner technique, advised me that learning to play an Instrument would be helpful to exploring ones self. So I thought being from Australia the Didjeridu was an appropriate choice. I came back home to Australia for a two week break between first and second semester and bought my first Didj in Sydney for $300. After a couple of months it cracked and after several attempts at repairing it I was finally happy with the end result and unconsciously so began my journey to become a Didj maker.

Several months after returning back to New York I became frustrated with the whole system of the industry of acting and decided that it was no longer for me and decided to leave the USA and return back home to Australia and venture up to Arnhem Land and get back to the real world of the bush, nature and hunting, through the original inhabitants of Australia, the Aboriginals.

I was especially curious why at school we were taught so much about other cultures like the Canadian / American Indians and the Zulu's and taught so little about our own Indigenous culture, there is a lot more to our Indigenous people of Australia the Aboriginals, than Didjeridu’s and Boomerangs.

Tree Bark Texture

I drove up to Darwin and met a man in a Didj shop, whom told me that Nhulunbuy was the place to go and that Djalu lives there, an amazing man whom crafts the Yirdaki’s for the band Yothu Yindi, also that the Didj players in the band sometimes give lessons on the beach, this sounded perfect as I was after a quality Didj and needed some advice and techniques in traditional playing style. So I applied for a permit through the Northern Land Council and packed my car with the necessary equipment, jerry cans of fuel, water and two good spare wheels and tyres, it is a 900 km trip from Darwin, with the majority being a dirt road and a several hundred kilometre journey with no service stations or even houses in between.

Once arriving I met The Gurruwiwi’s and in particular Djalu whom welcomed me. I explained that I was after a Didjeridu, after looking at and playing a few I wanted something unique so we ventured out cutting some timber and I assisted Djalu in crafting some. Around two weeks later I returned to Darwin and spent a week thinking of the magical experience I had had there even lighting fires in the backyard were I was living to try to help me regain the experience.

I called the Gurruwiwi’s a week after returning to Darwin and thanked them for there hospitality and told them that I missed it, they then asked me if I would like to come back out there and live for a while, the next day my car was packed and I was off returning back to Arnhem land where I lived for 12-18 months.

Outback Bird

I recall the first time Djalu took me out cutting some Yirdaki/ Didjeridu. He looked me up and down then looked into my eyes and looked back at my feet, I was wearing shoes, Djalu in bare feet, "take your shoes off" he said, "lets go the Aboriginal way", so I did, little did I know where he was taking me. It was some fairly rough terrain of rocks, hills and a several kilometre walk through the bush. I remember Djalu looking at me and being proud like of me that I was trying to be like him.

It wasn't until I got home that night that I realised how sore my feet were. The next morning I could hardly walk, this lasted about 3 days with most of the family thinking it was quite funny to watch me hobble around limping, they knew it was not permanent. I gained Djalu's respect for this, which made it worthwhile.

After taking me out cutting several times, he said ok it is time to go out on your own and have a go. So off I went with an axe, No chainsaw, bare feet and attempted to find some perspective Didjeridu but did not have much luck. I must have cut several trees with an axe (extremely hard and hot work for any of you whom haven't been up the Top End of Australia to the Northern Territory in the build up, October through to April, the Wet season is around 90-99% humidity and temperatures souring into the high 30s, low 40s). Not wanting to return home empty handed. I eventually had some luck! There is definitely an art to finding the timber which I have learnt through Djalu's skillful teachings and have eventually mastered the art.

I vividly recall an incredible experience at an outstation a few hundred kilometres from the nearest town, many years ago traveling there with Djalu's son Larchinga an incredible Yirdaki player. We hunted a sea turtle by boat, one of the Aboriginal boys jumping off the front of the boat with a large spear and harpooning it, then towing it back to shore where a underground oven/ fire was waiting. One of the elders then cut the turtle from the shell to prepare it for our lunch, then placed a large mug/cup into the shell full of blood, then passed it around, there were several Aboriginal Elders around and Myself, well it got to my turn and one of those situations where you are being looked at and judged, so I thought this will be an interesting experience and took a mouthful. It was warm and had bits of raw flesh floating in it. The taste took me by surprise I nearly gagged and then instantly within a few seconds I had an incredible rush of adrenaline and could literally feel it going through my veins. I was on a high but could not understand why. I later discovered through a marine biologist that Sea Turtle's have large amounts of testosterone in them. Every part of the animal was used and there was no waste, even the shell which is usually painted after curing for some time is generally sold.

Apart from my apprenticeship in Yirdaki making, Djalu and his family the Gurruwiwi's taught me many things, including traditional hunting, fishing, art and language, in particularly a great deal about life and myself as a person. In this time I developed a deep spiritual respect and understanding of the Yolngu people and there culture. I am eternally grateful to them for their warmth and kindness in sharing and teaching these traditional skills and knowledge to me.

Outback stone texture

This is basically the story of how Burton Didj came to be.

I must credit Djalu for his teachings, I new nothing of the Yirdaki/ Didjeridu prior to meeting him.

I must also credit David Blanasi my other mentor and whom I also refer to as a Grande Master Yirdaki Craftsman, whom gave me a completely different technique in hand Crafting Yirdaki.

I feel extremely fortunate to do what I love, I read a quote several years ago that said choose a occupation you love to do and you will never have to work another day in your life! I believe the occupation found me !

My interests apart from Didj making, I enjoy Surfing, Tae Kwon Do and Motor racing.

Visit the didjs journey page to find out more about the evolution from termite hollowed tree to hand crafted didj, and our for more general information about didjeridoos check out the didj-u-know page. To see some of my finished didjs check out the current stock of didjs and the didj galleries page.

I feel privileged to craft Yirdaki's

digeridoo footer digeridoo footer