Date of birth: circa. 1950
European name: Bruce
Homeland: Gurrumuru – north-east Arnhem Land
Father: Nyepaynga Wunungmurra
Mother: Gangarriwuy Wanambi
A highly respected senior member of the Dhalwangu clan, Burrngupurrngu is best known among his peers as an elite yidaki craftsman. Indeed, Djalu Gurruwiwi – the world’s most respected didjeridu craftsman – in a private comumunication in 1997 singled out Burrngupurrngu as one who has learnt and excelled in the craft of making fine yidaki. And it was from Djalu himself that Burrngupurrngu honed his skills in the finer points of crafting and tree selection.
Burrngupurrngu in turn has offered his knowledge of yidaki crafting skills to other Yolngu, such as Datjirri # 1 Wunungmurra, who have since established a name for themselves within Yolngu community as yidaki experts.
Leadership runs in Burrngupurrngu’s family. His father, Nyepaynga, now deceased, was a leader of the Dhalwangu clan and is featured in the important Yirrkala Film Project documentaries recorded in the 1970s. An older brother of Burrngupurrngu, Yanggarriny (also now deceased), was an highly respected and prolific artist. In 1983, Yanggarriny made history by being the first Aboriginal artist to bring a case of copyright infringement before an Australian court – and he won. And in 1997, Yanggarriny won the prestigious Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and collected the $40,000 winner’s prize, the richest award for Indigenous arts in Australia. Yanggarriny assumed clan leadership in his later years.
In his youth, Burrngupurrngu spent much of his time in the bush with his father Nyepaynga and his twin brother Djalawu. He later attended school at the Yirrkala mission, and during this time, he would pay visits to noted yidaki expert, Manydjarri Ganambarr, to learn the rudimentary rhythms. He also learnt how to find suitable trees and to make yidaki as a young boy by going out bush by himself.
In his later teens, Burrngupurrngu started to take the yidaki more seriously and found tutelage in established experts: “I learnt a lot from Manydjarri and Djalu. When I was about 18 I started learning manikay (clan songs) for bunggul (ceremony)”. With tutelage from his seniors, he became a gifted and valued player who was sought after for ceremony by other groups.
Burrngupurrngu was also part of a group of Yolngu singers, dancers and yidaki players to tour nationally and internationally sometime in the 1970s. This group was one of the first to perform to overseas audiences.
Burrngupurrngu has an important message to didjeridu players world-wide:
“Ngapaki (non-Aboriginal people) should respect yidaki ga (and) Yolngu. We are the first people to play yidaki, first people singing ga (and) dancing bunggul djama (ceremony) with bilma (clapsticks)“.
Overseas tours and performances
Singapore, England, France, USA, and Canada among other places
Specialist yidaki maker and player