datjirri_profileDate of birth: 9th May 1959

Clan: Dhalwangu

Tribe: Yolngu

Homeland: Gurrumuru – north-east Arnhem Land

Father: Gathitja #1 Wunungmurra

Mother: Gurrungungurrungul Mununggurr

“I was born at Caledon Bay, child of Gandhitja #1 Wunungmurra and Gurrungungurrungul Mununggurr. When I was very young my parents shifted to Gurrumuru where I spent most of my childhood.

At Gurrumuru I spent a lot of time with my classificatory fathers Bruce Burrnguburrngu Wunungmurra and his twin brother John Djalawu Wunungmurra. These two men are well known amongst Yolngu for their talents in yidaki making and playing. They were taught by bunggul (ceremonial) professionals, Wilson Manydjarri #1 Ganambarr and Yanggarriny Wunungmurra. This information was passed on to me from an early age.

As a young child (5 years old) I would accompany Burrnguburrngu and Djalawu on lengthy bush trips where I was shown how to identify and make good yidaki. We would often travel (on foot) between Gurrumuru and Rorruwuy and sometimes as far west as Gapuwiyak and Ramingining. As a result, I observed many different styles of manikay (song) and by ‘listening to every beat’ I was quick to learn. My talents were soon noticed and my formal training as a yidaki player began. I became a highly sought after yidaki player by Yolngu from different regions and I remember being asked many times by the old people to play in ceremony.

Between the ages of 10 and 16 I stayed at Yirrkala mission in a big house with other Yolngu kids. We would go to school there and I learnt English as well as how to work with tools. It was very strict but I am grateful that I went through it now because I learnt a lot. I would go back to Gurrumuru in the holidays to stay with my mother and father.

When I was staying at Yirrkala, I got chosen to perform yidaki in the Pacific Festival. I flew down to Sydney and went to Tahiti, Germany and Hawaii for performances. I met David Gulpilil on the plane – he was one of the dancers. It was manymak (good) time.

When I was around 20 years old I was playing at a Marradjiri ceremony at Milingimbi. It was a celebration where my clan, the Dhalwangu, were giving to the Gupapuyngu. During this ceremony my nose began bleeding because of how much I had been playing. The doctor at Milingimbi said it was serious and suggested that I stop as I could be harmed if I continued. From then on I focussed on making yidaki.

During the 1980s I made a lot of special yidaki for bunggul (ceremony) – not for sale. Later on in the 1990s I was asked to make yidaki for Yothu Yindi. One day when I was sitting at Biranybirany with my wife Djilirrma we thought of carving or engraving yidaki. We tried it and it was good. Today we make engraved and painted yidaki.
When I’m in the bush I look for the right shape. I’ll tap it and if it sounds manymak I’ll cut it down and test it. The sound is important so if it’s not right I’ll leave it”.

Overseas Tours and Performances

Pacific Festival – Tahiti, Germany and Hawaii

Artistic output:

Specialist yidaki maker unique for his decorative relief carving on his instruments