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The Word Didgeridoo
Last Updated: 29/10/2009
The Word Didgeridoo

What I am about to tell you may come as a surprise! The word didgeridoo is not an aboriginal word for the instrument! That is why you can find the word spelled many different ways, such as didgeridoo, didjeridu, didjiridu, didjerry, dijeridu, didjereedoo and didjeridoo.

If we take a look back in time it is evident that the word didgeridoo is only around 100 years old, where as the instrument itself is reportedly 40,000 years old.

The following excerpts are from newspapers and writings from early last century. It seems that the word didgeridoo developed from people trying to describe the sound the instrument makes.
1919: Smith's Weekly (Sydney) 5 April 15/1

The Northern Territory Aborigines have an infernal and allegedly musical instrument, composed of two feet of hollow bamboo. It produces but one sound - 'didjerry, didjerry'.
1925: M. Terry Across Unknown Australia 190

The didjiri-du is a long hollow tube, often a tree root about 5 feet long, slightly curved at the lower end. The musician squats on the ground, resting his instrument on the earth. He fits his mouth into the straight or upper end and blows down it in a curious fashion. He produces an intermittent drone.

Bamboo didgeridoos were quite common among groups in the far north of the Northern Territory. The word 'bamboo' is still used in traditional language by some aborigines when referring to the instrument, though the word "didgeridoo" is becoming more popular.

It is likely that the first didgeridoos were made of bamboo, and because of the availability of bamboo in the north-western region of the Northern Territory, it is also likely that the first didgeridoo players were from that region. Observations were made by R. Etheridge about "three very curious trumpets" in 1893. This reference was made, referring particularly to instruments of bamboo. Etheridge writes that "the trumpets are made from bamboo lengths, the diaphragms having been removed, probably by dropping live coals down the tubes".

"The bamboo, I am informed by Mr Stockdale, grows about the Adelaide River over an area of about one hundred miles by fifty, and reaches to a height of eighty feet, Mr J.H. Maiden tells me there are two bamboos indigenous to Australia, Bambusa arnhemica and B.moreheadiana, the latter a climbing species and only one or two inches in diameter."

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