Indigenous repair and maintenance
In the Aboriginal cultures of northern Australia, a good
didjeridu is highly coveted due to the fact that instruments
with the correct sonic characteristics are rare and difficult
to find. Consequently, there is much excitement and a general
uplifting of spirit in the community when a good instrument
is found and made, and it would not be unusual for the didjeridu
to be immediately borrowed by players in the area eager to
test it out.
From the start, efforts are made to prolong the life of a
good instrument. This may be something as simple as coating
the instrument's body with a wash of ochre or a mixture of
plant resin and ochre, though it is more common these days
to 'seal' the outside of the instrument with a coating of
PVA glue. Attention would also be given to any air leaks,
which are patched with plugs of native beeswax, plant resins,
or the choice of other materials from the hardware store.
In past times, instruments that are not in use are sometimes
maintained by keeping them constantly moist in a creek or
waterhole. This has two functions: to prevent wood shrinkage
and the consequent splitting of the didjeridu in dry air,
and to ensure the instrument is well primed for use when the
need arises. In more contemporary times, it is far more common
for didjeridus to be kept in family dwellings such as within
a house or underneath a bush shelter. Priming instruments
stored in this way merely requires sluicing the bore with
water for a few minutes. This is also done during ceremonial
performances or during recreational playing to ensure the
bore of the instrument is constantly wet and that the sound
of the instrument is optimised.
Didjeridus used frequently for ceremonial events or recreational
purposes often develop air leaks due to the wet-dry cycle
that the instruments are put through. These are again patched
as required. For more extensive cracks, a contemporary method
for preventing air leakage during playing is the use of electrical
tape wound around the length of the instrument. This is similar
to an old method for extending an instrument's lifespan using
a wrap of paperbark, secured with bush string, which covers
the whole instrument keeping it airtight.
Whilst in theory a didjeridu could be used indefinitely through
constant repair and maintenance, the lifespan of a didjeridu
in Aboriginal society is usually 2 to 3 years. A good instrument
that has been used extensively, and displaying the battle
scars (electrical tape and all) endured during its lifetime,
is as highly cherished as a good new instrument in prime condition.
However, when it becomes too troublesome to maintain an old
instrument - usually because it leaks too much air - then
a suitable replacement is found for it and the old one discarded.
There is no sentimentality associated with this as material
possession in Aboriginal society is something quite different
to Western society's notion of wealth and status.