Traditional Aboriginal music The Aboriginies have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years. Traditional Aboriginal music was and is used for the same purposes as any other culture: to celebrate, mourn and accompany ceremony and dance, to relax, to entertain, to contemplate, to teach and share culture.

Some songs and song cycles trace ‘songlines’ that describe tribal land, its features, its history and its secrets.
Songs are crucial to an Aboriginal’s survival and moral education.
Songs can sustain an Aboriginal person in difficult times and part of an elder’s respect comes from his/her mastery of tribal song.
Traditional songs belong to a region and its tribal people. They are owned and protected by these people and permission must be given for their performance by outsiders.

Contemporary Aboriginal music
These days, of course, aboriginal singers, musicians and composers are actively involved in all forms of music, from contemporary acoustic to opera, from country to hip hop. Some artists bring elements of their ancient traditions to the contemporary forms.

Corroboree/Koolori Corroboree is the name commonly used for a tribal or inter-tribal get-together for the purpose of ceremony – either solemn or festive. Like any get-together there is singing, dancing, feasting and sharing of culture involved.

Corroboree information

Corroboree video
Public performance of a Corroboree

Traditional Aboriginal instruments
The most commonly-known accompanying instruments used in traditional Aboriginal music are the didgeridu and the clapsticks. Hand-clapping/body slapping is also used and in some areas the gumleaf and the bullroarer are used. The Ubar ceremonies use a hollow log drum, in the Kimberly a rasp, or notched stick is used and skin drums are found in Cape York.

Detailed instrument information
Detailed instrument information from Southern Cross University

The didgeridu is essentially a timber tube, being a tree limb hollowed out by termites. The blowing end is sealed with a beeswax rim, to protect the lips and create a ‘seal’ for the mouth. The player achieves a tone by vibrating the lips, blowing through the mouth and breathing through the nose simultaneously. This technique is called ‘circular breathing’. Each didgeridu produces a specific root note and is in a specific key. The longer the didge – the lower the key.
The didgeridu has been played by Aboriginies in the Northern parts of Australia for at least 2,000 years. In more recent times it migrated to the South.

Didgeridu making

Didgeridu videos

William Barton videos
Nicky Yunupingu’s personal yirdaki (Didgeridu), F key
Very old didgeridoo played by a modern master
Argentinian Didgeridu Player at Cultural Center Pompidou, Paris
Australia Day 2002 at Tumbalong Park, Sydney
Didgeridoo Beatbox

The clapsticks, or songsticks, are a pair of sticks, either cylindrical or flat, with pointed or squared ends. They may be plain or may be decorated with local symbols carved, burnt or painted onto the sticks. They are used to keep the beat or provide a rhythm. A pair of boomerangs are also commonly used for this purpose.
Clapstick images

The gumleaf is a leaf from a eucalypt (or ‘gum’) tree. It is held against the lower lip and a stream of air is blown over it – as a single reed instrument. Originally it was used for communication in the bush and for imitating bird song. Eventually it became used for music making. Gumleaf bands were very popular from the 1920s to the 1940s, with up to 10 performers in a group. They played popular songs and airs and, of course, the hits of the day.

How to play the gumleaf
Take one large gum leaf. With your fingernail, scratch off a small piece of the flesh of the leaf from one side, leaving the membrane of the other side exposed. It is slightly transparent if done successfully. With your lips pursed, blow across the exposed membrane to make a sound. Accomplished gum leaf players can get simple tunes out of the vibrating edge of the membrane.
(from Wiki Answers)

Didjshop – Didge, Bullroarer, Gumleaf, Clapdtick

Gumleaf videos

Herb Patten teaching the gumleaf + Australia’s Got Talent

The bullroarer is a slat of wood attached to a long cord. It is an ancient instrument and communicating device, and has been found in Europe, Asia, India, Africa, the Americas and, of course, Australia. The oldest find is from the Ukraine (17,000 BC).

Bulroarer video
Bullroarer in a tunnel


We are honoured to have Wayne Thorpe present on the DVD.
Wayne is a highly respected Gunnai man from the Gippsland area of Victoria, Australia.
He is an authority on the history, culture, ceremony, lore and language of the Gunnai/Kurnai people and is involved in on-going projects to collect language, stories and song from the area.
Wayne is also a performer and teacher in his own right and has brought Aboriginal song, music and dance to countless schools, communities and organizations.
Wayne has written many of his own songs and co-wrote Koolori with Rob Fairbairn.
Contact Wayne at


Indigenous Australian music resources
Indigenous Australian Culture
Gunnai dreaming : for choir (S,S,A,A,T,B), 2 – 4 bullroarers and narrator

Black History
Treaty Republic

Stories in Gunnai language
The difference between Gunnai & Kurnai language
Gunnai/Kurnai tribal shields
Gunnai activist – Robbie Thorpe – Australia is a crime scene (Youtube)

Aboriginal Art
Sort of Like Reading a Map