This subject is being on the drawing board for a long while.
Having explored didgeridoo making and selling from pretty well every angle, having seen what goes on in the industry; having endeavoured to stay true to the spirit of didgeridoo making and not sell out, also being that I like to find ways to work as a community, and finally add that I am a bloomin idealist, "I laugh at myself" and it all makes for a recipe of strong opinions and ideas as to what is ethical in the didgeridoo industry.
What is the purpose of putting it out so
strongly? My guess is that, from experience and knowing the journey of
didgeridoo making that there is a lot of folk who have similar feelings as I and
that through talking about it that we can have some impact on an industry
that fluctuates very close to being environmentally and culturally
ETHICS- Background & Issues
Over cutting of didgeridoos forests
Some areas are definitely under extreme
pressure because of demand for hollow logs.
Where?- Close to cities and major tourist areas in didgeridoo country. Primarily the didgeridoo areas close to all capital cities, as well as Cairns and Darwin. Sometime it is from many cutters exhausting a particular area, or it can be from particular rogue cutters.
How?- Over cutting happens by indiscriminate cutting methods (More on methods below)
Is it getting better or worse? I sense its levelling out. It still at an unsustainable level in some areas only but regulation is creeping in stronger each year. Tags on all didgeridoos sold in Western Australia and heavy fines for illegal cutting in Queensland & Northern Territory, total bans in certain areas in Victoria, more National Parks, Nature Reserves and Roadside reserves with signs and heavy fines being issued. It is heading in the right direction.
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Cutting green wood/ finding dead wood ? - What is the effect of cutting a didgeridoo?
Most didgeridoos are cut green. They are
either single stem, or multistem trees, sometimes they are branches,
rarely they are picked off the ground and rarely are they specifically
searched out and found as dead trees or branches.
( Refer to article written below by one of the Heartland makers Munga Sheriff- "Cutting dead wood didgeridoos" )
Even though dead wood didgeridoos impact the least on the environment it is more how the finder approaches the particular area. I am lucky to live a long way between two cities and away from the heavy tourist flow through didgeridoo areas. I still have to search out areas far and wide but the areas I come by are generally only didged through by myself or one or two others. I am able to work with the environment without being part of something beyond my control dramatically.
Cutting an alive tree doesn't necessarily kill the tree. I go back through areas and see trees that are healthy again and years ago they gave a didgeridoo. Cutting green didgeridoos can be sensitive and respectful if done appropriately. In the arid areas the root systems are very strong, seeing they sometimes die back and then come back to life when the rains return; or being hollow and being blown down, they are able to shoot forth again. Because of the thinness of the living didg tree, wind is a common factor in taking out the tree.
Bearing in mind a given area e.g an acre may have a hundred or several 100 trees whilst only 1-10 suitable hollow didgeridoo trees, didgeridoo cutting can be very sustainable if approached with common sense. The few cut has little effect bearing in mind the many that also house termites in larger or smaller non suitable didgeridoo trees.
Taking this into consideration and realising that the didgeridoo cutting / sustainability problem is being put across as a blanket issue; a lot of the concern is unfounded, unless cutting is approached with disregard to the forest in all areas. It is in some areas; whereas in much of Australia there is room for sustainable didging. It is essential though to approach sensitively bearing in mind large areas of forests have been clear felled for farming and forests left are sensitive and valuable ecosystems.
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Cutting techniques is the big issue.
It is purely an issue of greed , impatience and insensitivity. If one is patient careful and uses appropriate techniques one can avoid cutting unnecessarily. I have it to the point, that I have only a 1-2 % failure rate in cutting and the wood that wasn't exactly what I wanted I endeavour to use in some way or another and I generally complete an imperfect hole and make it into a didgeridoo anyway.
There is no need to use an axe or tomahawk or chainsaw to check whether a tree is hollow or not. Going into a forest and seeing butchery from didgeridoo impatient cutters is a saddening sight. By using some ingenuity and common sense there are ways to check with 100% accuracy whether there is a hole or not, without damaging the tree, and discipline in selection can make for a 0% failure rate. Each year my success rate improves and I will get to 100%. Its simply patience and discipline. In the heat of the day I have my moments I don't listen, but those moments are rarer.
Its a matter of being fussy and selective.
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Dissection of tasks
One of the biggest problems in didgeridoo production reality is the creeping in of western "dissection of tasks" reality. Where a didgeridoo maker seller, finds his own, makes them, paints them and sells them; there's next to no chance that any facet of the process will be done in the extreme.
It has only been in the last 5- 10 years that the cutter as well as the maker have become separate realities. Since didgeridoos were made commercially there probably has been often a separate painter but this has less impact than the others.
The moment ones income is so clearly derived by one simple task that is repetitive and disconnected from other tasks, there is the tendency to push ones productive ability to the limit and to look for shortcuts.
Shops selling didgeridoos who have no direct contact with the land and the source of supply also makes for a disconnected reality that naturally leads to less conscience in matters of ethics.
This is what has happened in our world of electricity and large communities, we become disconnected and forget our responsibility to the whole and what another does to the web so to speak.
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The supply of didgeridoos for the wider tourist market needs to be serviced more and more by manufactured, bamboo and other material didgeridoos rather than natural hollowed didgeridoos. This is happening more and more but it is necessary to step it up otherwise, quality natural hollowed logs in the supply currently provided will become supply restricted.
Unsustainable practices need to continue to be curtailed. The success of this over the next years will directly determine the future supplies.
The sensitive, finder/ maker will continue to be able to find and supply quality didgeridoos without detrimentally effecting the environment for as long as I can imagine. There are many ways of didging and places to didgeridoo that require more effort and creativity and only a passionate didger would consider.
Australia is full of hollow trees, they are everywhere if one looks or knows what they are doing. The areas that are being effected are the areas where you find a concentration of didgeridoo sized hollow trees. These spots and areas are rarer by nature, also considering that termites concentrate in patches or specific areas so that a larger area of didgeridoo sized trees generally has only small pockets of hollowed suitable didgeridoo trees. Consequently as long as large scale clearing and ridiculous hollow checking methods continue to phase out we are on the improve but its early days and thats is looking at things on the positive side.
We have the knowledge as a didgeridoo community to bring about change and guarantee balanced supply for the future.
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Pricing & Marketing
Didgeridoo prices have come down by 20- 50% over the last 5 years and the general pricing now is no longer reflective of the value of a quality hollowed and crafted didgeridoo. As one fella writing to the Mills didgeridoo list mentioned prices should probably come up. I agree.
It is not just that the maker who most often sells them onto a shop, gets too little for their work inputted, it is the pressure this puts on the didgeridoo maker to increase production to make a living, potentially forcing him towards insensitive practices; and also the undervaluing it places on the resource itself.
Its a negative spiral that is aggravating the problems.
In an ideal world I reckon didgeridoos would be best bought of those who make them. It would solve so many problems, this is not to say that all middlemen are problematic. Many are clear and respectful, it just becomes more important to be discerning as a buyer in buying from an onseller. I know too many makers who are simply ripped off when it comes to how much they get from an onseller in wholesale transactions.
The last three aboriginal makers I've bought from, I rejected there offer of prices and paid them more because its simply ridiculous what they have been used to getting. One fella we have an arrangement where I pay a bit more than market rate but when I sell for the higher more appropriate price I aim for, I pay him a bonus. It works well. Ultimately a maker should be getting 50% of the end price but this is not often the case.
So undercutting and undervaluing didgeridoos
is big issue that won't go away. We can do our bit though
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Black White- What is authentic ?
This is a double edged sword and a minefield.
If I was aboriginal I may understandably write that white fellas have cashed in on a market and a product that they have more right to and that a buyer should purchase a didgeridoo that is authentically aboriginal made. There are many cases of white fella operations that are totally disrespectful of the didgeridoo, the aboriginal culture and their artwork and there are many cases of white fella shops and onsellers ripping of aboriginal artisits.
But as with all people and all situations generalisations are unhealthy and unfair.
And to deal with this issue one has to polarise and express the different and diverse opinions on this subject.
Bearing in mind also that the commonly held view, is that the problem is one way as I expressed above, and that I am a white fella, I will express quite strongly other perspectives to contra to this above belief. This does not mean that I am one sided in this regard, rather choosing to stick my neck out to raise that there are two sides to every story. I share this, not to inflame colour issues but to diffuse colour as a factor in ethics.
So bare with my process. Now to polarise and express purely as a white fella.
Colour is not indicative of respecting the bush and culture. Many white fellas that are into didging have and live alternate lifestyles to the mainstream. As I experience it in myself, I am born of this land and I respect my right to celebrate my connection with the land in the way I do. My living comes from the land, my celebration of life centres around using a natural instrument that is my expression in my community.
It is easy to look at culture and judge it by pre /post colonisation . Black folk have this put on them a lot. The judgment that their culture is a historical thing that lived pre colonisation but hey it lives on today in a modern world. As Mandaway from Yothu Yindi sais, their modern rock songs are still love songs to the land. Its too easy to get locked in judgments and boxes in our thinking. White Black is another.
Who sais I haven't walked this land before as Black fella, and even if I didn't or even if I was an immigrant , if I surrendered to my relationship to the land and followed my heart and journeyed clearly then my indigenous relationship to this earth goes beyond any colour rights.
Its all about respect. And its all about healing where the few spoiled it for the many. White folk have an ancestral responsibility to give back and offer support and do that bit more. We have no room for mistakes , our ancestors made too many. Any mistakes we make now will naturally be shouted from the mountain tops by black fellas and we'll all be tarred with the same brush.
But that doesn't mean that colour means ethical.
I have seen white and black fella didgeridoo operations disrespect the bush. As I see it is pretty line ball. I wouldn't say one is worse than the other. I do see that the dominant western culture that has been forced on aboriginal people has made for a demanding environment for them to adjust to and work to. Their natural way is to take from nature what is needed, trusting nature will keep providing. If the need is over the top they are being forced to step beyond what they would have naturally taken. Some are not considering the environmental effect , similar to many white folk.
In one state a particular tribe has continually gone into a National Park didging in a highly sensitive environment, leading to quite an issue between their mob and the National Parks Service. One can understand their feelings, their land has been stolen and abused, and they are left financially impoverished on the whole. What right have we got to tell them where or when.
Stories abound on both sides, whether this one, or helicoptors dropping cutters into areas and then lifting up didgeridoos and carting them to big trucks. Major operations that seem on the scale of an army operation.
At the end of the day, blame and segregation of any kind will only take the eye of the ball.
Black White I don't see as the issue. Its what we do that is, and the respect or lack of it.
We need to focus there and build anew.
From this place an authentic didgeridoo
is one that has been hollowed out by termites and has been made with
love, respect and honouring of life, nature and culture.
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Art Ownership? & Who should paint a didg ?
This is another hot potato . Again Black White has been the battle ground, and as mentioned above some have spoiled it for the many. There have been examples of direct copying of art by white fellas; as well as white and black folk posing as another artist to cash in on their name.
Some, perhaps a lot of indigenous folk, feel that white folk shouldn't paint didgeridoos. Bearing in mind the appropriation of their land and dissection of their culture, these are understandable feelings. At the same time I question whether this is what's needed to correct or heal what's happened.
Many white folk involved in didgeridoos and art are the ones that are endeavouring to learn from indigenous people and become more attuned to their way of thinking. Some in their efforts to do so, are even becoming more the purists. At the same time there are those also taking advantage of an opportunity and not working clearly.
As I mentioned above, in art, as with didgeridoo making, I see abuse of art in the commercial sense by both white and black folk. The drive for the dollar disrespects or cheapens the art and its power.
So no matter the source of art, firstly, no one should directly copy anothers work. The other question is ownership of art styles, in aboriginal art, dot styles and line/hash work are two styles that come strongly from aboriginal cultures.
Some say that these should be patented.
In reality I see it as both impossible and ridiculous when you get
beyond the natural feelings which I accept and respect.
( It may seem contradictory that I say I can respect the feelings, but disagree. Feelings are there to be felt and take us towards healing or our passion. They are not logic or necessarily reality, they are the dreaming or spirit drawing us on.)
Dot art and hash line work art both come from the honouring of the natural environment. Dot art can be seen in a geckos skin patterning , in a crabs sand patternings created from clearing out his hole, in the placement of colour on a butterfly's wings. Hash- line work stares us in the face in most every snakes skin pattern, sometimes in the patterns formed in the sand by water or in a spiders web.
Anyone into didgeridoo, who loves the land and nature and marvels at the magic, the dreaming behind it all , can't help but be drawn towards natural styles of art that reflect its simplicity and beauty. I love the ochre colours and the symbolic and reflective quality of aboriginal artwork. Inspiration came from aboriginal art but more and more as time unfolded my love for the bush and all that lives in our land.
It is natural to receive
inspiration from others, that is evolution, its what we do with it that
matters , its how we respect it. So trying to control who paints or
judging from that head place, is like trying to damn creativity . Can we
really not allow another to explore, grow and evolve. If their
exploration involves a craft and earning a living, what matters is their heart
space not their colour.
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Choosing an Ethical Supplier of Didgs for the buyer is a concrete way to take steps to support an improvement in the environmental and business didgeridoo world.
The following are some of what I suggest to look for in a an ethical operator.
* Preferably buy direct from maker who
does the lot. A seller who still goes finding didgeridoos is more
connected than one who buys logs. It is not a rule, so use your
discretion and intuition as always.
* Its not easy to buy direct ,so find out clearly where the didgeridoo is from, who made it, and did they get a fair cut on the sale. Tough questions to get a clear answer on but do try.
* Are their didgeridoos worked and sealed on the inside? Are chisel marks and gashes visible? Answers to these questions are an indication of a maker who cares as much for the internal & sound qualities as to how they look.
* Are therir artwork didgeridoos standardised and do they have the vibe of being knocked out, or is there a thread of individuality that runs through the suppliers work and stock.
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What else can the buyer do?
* Restrain from buying or supporting buying of
blanks. This has the effect of cheapening the didgeridoo energetically
and supports the dissection of tasks that aggravates the problems.
* When In Australia don't get tempted by the , on mass - make your own didgeridoo operations that again cheapen the instrument.
* Restrain from going for the cheapest and so be willing to pay a good price for a didgeridoo.
* Educate/ encourage others to see the issues involved and so make informed choices.
* Some passionate didgeridoo folk question whether we should limit our personal collections. A valid consideration, whilst personally I think that is not where the problem lies. Its more important really whether they were found and made in a sustainable way. With this in mind I reckon a personal collection of 4-10 naturally hollowed didgeridoos is not excessive. Beyond that we may like to consider including Agave, bamboo, Hemp and other didgeridoo possibilities.
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Restrictions / Code of practice.
*Any push to control specifically
who is allowed to make and sell didgeridoos, will only aggravate
matters and take our focus of the real issues.
*Accounting for didgeridoos via a tagging system needs to be Australia wide, requiring that each didgeridoo sold have a permit tag.
* An education program is needed that involves registering cutters so that appropriate methods are used, and appropriate processes are taken in interacting with the bush.
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We are all responsible, the seller the maker and the buyer. The finder- maker needs to stick to his sense of worth in pricing and selling the didgeridoos. The marketer seller needs to not bargain down the maker and place a healthy price on the product and not try to undercut others in desperation for a sale. And the buyer needs to look for respectful operators and not be drawn by price and so be willing to pay an appropriate price.
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* Could avoid pushing the white black divide and focus more on quality and genuine love for the instrument as the main criteria for their choice of supplier.
* Steer the prices upwards and ensure that the maker is getting a better cut from the sale dollars.
* Should preferably buy finished logs and so discourage dissection of tasks. If they were makers themselves this is different. In this case it is important to be clear as to what methods, who they buy of uses to cut didgeridoos. Checking will help keep them honest.
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* Be disciplined and trusting finding
didgeridoos, and so being discerning in what to cut and to take from
the bush. Find new areas, don't exhaust known spots, or rotate and only come
back years later.
* Get a permit
* Be true to ones value in making a didgeridoo and not undervalue the didgeridoo and ones work. Therefore all time taken is valued not just petrol money going bush and a value should also be put on the didgeridoo itself over and above trip cost and time inputted. This is particularly relevant for new operators who often jump in and undercut others.
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Approaching a didg trip in an earth - spirit connected way.
I find trips bush to be more than a business process. They are a powerful journey. I experience them in a sacred context, like a vision quest or as aboriginal people called them a form of walkabout.
Didgeridoo is a gift from the earth, and I am lucky to find sustenance for myself and my family direct from the earth. These days most life and work is so disconnected from nature and where it all comes from, so when I go bush I am so grateful for the reminder.
I treat this reminder with respect, I trust the journey and as I am often by myself out hours from anywhere, I surrender into a place of feeling looked after. As I've come to feel comfortable in the bush I find myself guided to where I need to be and I am no longer surprised by the synchronicities that guide me to the next patch or didgeridoo.
My human fears and concerns are there, I treat with caution driving for I don't want a flat or the car to brake down when I'm a day or twos walk away; but on the whole I slip into a place of feeling at home. The worldly concerns slowly drop off and all is in perspective.
I don't take chainsaw or any battery operated tools. I do it by hand, me, one vehicle and a trailer. I feel into whether to cut a didgeridoo tree and sometimes even though a perfect didgeridoo I leave it be.
I find in the bush, that I do a lot of processing, stuff that's happening back home, and all the feelings that come up being a didger. I question myself, I question cutting down something alive. Different trips I go through different things. Many a time when I'm deeply questioning didging, maybe sitting against a tree contemplating or exhausted after cutting a didgeridoo and from a day in the sun and this wave of feeling comes over me and I feel the earths giving and feel the rightness of the didgeridoo being taken, I sense how powerful a tool its is in our times and the forests willingness to support this and give freely. One may think its me justifying, maybe, but the way the feeling come over me, I have learnt to recognise, that its spirits way of letting me know something.
In life sometimes there is a sacrifice made for a purpose. I feel at the moment the earth is making sacrifices to help wake us up. We can't take this for granted for ever. We need to join with her, be conscious, speak our truth and act following our heart and conscience. The more of us who do so, the sooner sustainability and sense will prevail. The sooner earth can replenish herself.
The message I also get is to share our didgeridoos and didging with others , share our droning and sounding, it is healing and reassuring, it is awakening the earth connection that our culture has lost.
All power to the journey!
A rainbows photo taken on the way home from a bush trip
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dead wood didgeridoos rather than green wood. "Environmentally sensitive
By Munga Sheriff
The first didjs I made were all found lying on the forest floor. Some extremely old dead branches still in very good condition, hardened by extreme temperatures and weathering. With thousands of trees bulldozed in QLD each year I set about being the greenest didj maker I could in respect to Mother Nature, by only cutting dead timber and recycling off bulldozed piles etc, before they are burnt into the atmosphere. Being a lover of nature a lot longer than a didj maker, it was only natural that I cut dead trees and branches and others that I found lying around, to create this brilliant instrument. By recycling, life will improve - restoring the old to make new.
I was talking to a local young Murry bloke as he was looking at my didjs at the markets, and he told me a story of this old uncle who made a traditional didj. This uncle picked a tree and waited 15 years for the tree to die and harden naturally. Then, he said, the wood was cured and ready for cutting, making and playing. This Aboriginal bloke shook my hand and said "Keep up the good work Bro". This story only fortifies my commitment to only cut trees that can be recycled into class didjs, in respect for the trees and Mother Nature and in respect for Aboriginal culture.
Six tonne trucks, cutting with chainsaws, big teams of men. Cutting acres of live forests, two varieties of trees under threat. Big sheds stacked with thousands of didjeridoos. No respect to the trees and our earth. These are some of the stories I hear.
I have always loved the big dead grand daddy trees in the forest, home to so much life. I realise they are as important to the forest as the live trees are, as part of the whole ecosystem. By only selectively cutting dead wood there is minimal damage, whereas live trees are not only food and shelter for a miriad of life, but also create oxygen and are part of the seedbank.
If there is no visual sign of leaves, the white ants have usually finished eating the wood out, then the branch or tree dies. hardens and dries. I like to see the green leaves on the branches of the trees because we are not replanting what is going missing. Everyone, not only didj makers but farmers, land holders etc, seems to be taking but who is replanting these beautiful trees. My guess is not many. People just keep on cutting and bulldozing, not enough planting back. Some varieties sprout back, nature is strong, but others die.
All in all, we take too much. But the good news is the Australian Aboriginals have given us a very special instrument that helps us attune to nature in a very mystical way. Through this ancient log of sound I've seen people from all over the world laughing happily together just by blowing into it. Its such a good vibe. And it reconects us with the earth.
These are some of my thoughts and ideals. I strive to make the best didjs I can but cause the least damage I can. Love, peace and rainbows to all. Munga.
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Letters taken from the the Mills didgeridoo list
I have enclosed below a few letters taken from the Mills mailing List that were part of a discussion about ethics. There is both good suggestions, opinions and content and also some I question. This is of course only my opinion.
>----- Original Message -----
>From: Wes Pryor <W.Pryor@latrobe.edu.au>
To: The famous didjeridu mailing list. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2001 11:57 AM
>Subject: [DIDJERIDU:2780] The didgeridoo code of practice Dear all,
Some of you may recall a post some time ago concerning my communication
with the federal minister for forestry (among other things in his
portfolio) concerning the regulation of didgeridoo harvesting. I asked
the Honourable Minister for an assurance that his department was aware of my
concern (shared, as it turns out by others on the list- and wider) that
the then impending olympics and the associated tourist influx would strain
the already limited resources for eucalyptus. I recieved a reply on behalf of
the minister, that stated the departments concern for harvesting
"whatever the end use." and, further that the regulation of permits for harvesting
was a matter for the individual states. In my view, didgeridoo cutting is
a very low priority for the department, and further the department has
grossly underestimated the number of didgeridoos being cut, and the
consequences of these practices.
I have communicated concern with this list and other sources that too
many didges are being cut. I have suggested that a code of practice be
developed, and that there be global education concerning its contents and
use. To reiterate, two fundamental terms of reference for any such arrangement are:
- all didgeridoos sold for profit be accounted for
- all individuals who harvest didgeridoos be educated and regulated
Secondary components must include:
- development of didgeridoo specific agroforestry initiatives
- regulation of import and export of eucalyptus didgeridoos
- regulatory measures must be applied with an integrated effort on the
part of the Department of Natural resources and Wildlife, Parks and
Wildlife, and the Ministries (and their state equivalents)
Key players should include representatives from:
- state and federal Ministries
- Indigenous leaders and didgeridoo experts
- the didgeridoo manufacturing and marketing industry
consumer groups (ie, the mills list)
One does not need sophisticated training or experience to appreciate that
tens of thousand didgeridoos per year is equal to tens of thousands of
trees per year. Of course, these number are small in contrast with the
total number of lignotubers in the top end and the number of trees
removed for other purposes, but the unique requirements for a didgeridoo stalk
make this a unique situation. The constituents of a suitable stalk for making
a didge, means that only a very small proportion of the wood in a given
area with appropriate termites and so on, is suitable. Ten thousand, 20
thousand, even three thousand per year thus becomes a much larger figure.
In my view, we still underestimate the environmental consequences of
passion. Irrespective of individual motivations and practices on the part
of the purchaser, every eucalyptus didgeridoo costs a stalk. Relative to
other instruments, the didgeridoo is potentially an ecologically sound
musical instrument in that it's harvest and manufacture use very few
natural resources. However, the specificity of timbers means that a very
unique ecosystem is required for didgeridoos.
I encourage the members of this list to write to Minister Truss, and
express your concerns as you have done on this list. This is perhaps a
constructive use of the passion that is emerging.
I have resisted the temptation to write a letter on your behalf that you
might forward to the minister, because the opinions stated here are my
own,and perhaps a development of our collective standpoint and strategies is
more constructive at this stage.
The ministers contact details are as follows
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
The Hon. Warren Truss MP
Address: M1 26, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: (02) 6277 7520 Fax: (02) 6273 4120
Home Page: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/members/member.asp?id=GT4
Please do not hesitate to contact me. I am especially interested in
developing an informal code of ethics for didge purchasers and sellers
that might be a surrogate for a more formal solution in the interim. I would
like to post this on the web, and display forms in compliant retailers etc.
I will post a paper on this point in the near future, pending the outcome
of any communications we might have with the honourable minister.
Regards to all, Wes Pryor.
From: Hixson, Eric [mailto:Eric_Hixson@bmc.com]
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2001 11:34 AM
To: The famous didjeridu mailing list.
Subject: [DIDJERIDU:2803] Re: The didgeridoo code of practice
> -----Original Message-----
From: Martin O'Loughlin [mailto:email@example.com]
Subject: [DIDJERIDU:2796] Re: The didgeridoo code of practice
I think the prices of didges should be set
according to the availability
of quality instruments, and the impact that their harvesting has on the land and also on the
sustainability of this harvesting. This means that the prices of eucalyptus didges should
probably go up by a lot (to something like 400 or even 500 $US) for a good quality termite bored euc, but I
would certainly be willing to pay that price if I knew that in doing so it was encouraging sustainable
practice with low environmental impact.
My first observation about this thread is to agree with Randy that we *are*
just as responsible as the generic tourist, if not more so, because as
musicians and connoisseurs of the instrument, the folks on this list are
likely to have some extensive collections of the "real" thing. Hell, I'm a
relative newcomer, and I've already got a handful of nice sticks from the
top end. I quickly learned to distinguish and request only
aboriginal-crafted instruments, but not knowing any better, my very first
Euc stick ended up being one of the whitefella-made variety out of
Katherine, where they have Central Desert women come up and paint the sticks
so they can be sold under the guise of being an authentic stick.
My second observation is that ultimately, money talks, and that is the root
of the problem. No matter what regulation and monitoring practices the
Australian government sets up, the reality is that if the demand for sticks
is there, then the demand WILL be met. Especially in the sparsely-populated
territories, "poachers" will always find a way to cut as many trees as they
need. As long as the demand is there, there are too many suppliers who are
willing to overlook the long-term consequences to meet the demand and make a
quick buck. It's just human nature. I'd venture to say that in this
respect, the whitefellas and asian producers are no more susceptible than
the aboriginal craftsmen. While the aboriginal crafters may take a slightly
more holistic and long-term view of their local resource management, they
still need to eat. If they can provide for their families by crafting
didges, do you think they're gonna let whitefella laws stop them from
cutting and crafting what they're capable of producing, if the demand for
their product is there?
As for managing demand by increasing prices, that's not a good approach.
The only ones who will benefit will be the middlemen and the
whitefella/asian operations. I sincerely doubt that aboriginal crafters
will see any more money from such a scheme. And any of the whitefella/asian
operations are bound by the basic tenets of marketing. If they raise the
price too high, then demand drops such that their overall revenue is lower.
If they set the price too low, then demand may be higher but they'll still
make less overall revenue. No, the price point manages to find its way to
the intersection where the greatest revenue results. That's where it is
now, and nothing's going to make it move other than long-term market trends.
The only practical solution that we on this list can have any real control
over is to be selective in whom we purchase our sticks from. If you want to
be personally responsible and not contribute to this problem, then it's up
to YOU to apply personal ethics and discrimination in how many sticks you
buy and in whom you buy them from:
1. You shouldn't buy more sticks than necessary to meet your
2. You should make the effort to identify resellers/suppliers who are
ethically and environmentally responsible.
3. You should buy your sticks *only* from those resellers/suppliers.
Now, beyond what we as individuals can do, a much greater responsibility and
opportunity befalls the vendors who participate in this list. Selling
didjeridu isn't exactly a cash bonanza--I'd venture to say that none of the
vendors we all know and love are making money hand over fist. I'd say it's
closer to reality that most of them are just getting by on the revenue from
their didj sales, and that they're in the business because of a love for the
instrument rather than any profit motive. What I'm gonna suggest does NOT
make their lives any easier. It may make them sleep better, but it won't
make their bottom line go up.
What vendors need to do is continue their efforts to buy ONLY from
aboriginal crafters, or from middlemen/agents in Oz who are ethically
reliable to find only 100% aboriginal-crafted instruments for them. I got
my Katherine-made didj from a very reputable shop here in the states (and
from whom I've gotten most of my truly authentic yidaki), and at the time I
bought it had no idea that it wasn't a true, 100% aboriginal-crafted
instrument. Nor did I even know at the time that I should care about such
So what am I saying? That we consumers, especially those of us new to the
instrument and not knowing any better, *cannot* always make informed,
responsible buying decisions. So the real burden of ethics falls upon the
Now, I don't want to start an argument about whether or not the
Katherine-area producers are legitimate or ethical or not. Or whether
certain whitefella operations are responsible cutters/producers or not. Or
whether the aboriginal crafters are ethically responsible cutters/producers.
(As I said at the start, I have my doubts about even that, human nature
being what it is and the economic/social situation of Australian aboriginals
being what it is.) All I'm trying to point out is that as consumers, we can
only do so much--the main burden falls upon the end-product suppliers to
ensure that they purchase their product only from responsible
producers/middlemen. As consumers, all we can do is try to patronize only
those vendors that seem to be ethically responsible in this way.
Personally, I know that when I play one of my yidaki for which I know the
aboriginal crafter's name (and even have a photo of one stick being played
by the crafter at Garma festival), I feel good about the stick. When I play
the whitefella-made stick, I don't feel so good. That's what it boils down
to, and that's what will continue to make me very choosy in any future
purchases I may make. That's the personal accountability that Randy was
From: dooley [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2001 3:05 A
To: The famous didjeridu mailing list.
Subject: [DIDJERIDU:2791] RE: Didgeridoo Article from AACC, Alice
Good to see this sort of thing discussed sensibly..... no debate from
me...... just a few comments.
Each Australian state has regulations covering harvesting. It is illegal
does the damage. Illegal cutting is difficult to monitor and control because most of
it is done in remote areas and the courts are very lenient. There is already a
tagging system being used in Western Australia but it wouldn't take a genius to work
out how to get around it.
Very few tourists buy a didge to hang it on the wall. I haven't met one yet
who doesn't either play or intend to play and most of them are probably more informed
than you might think. I don't condone illegal cutting but I can understand why some of the cutters
disrespect the laws. In Western Australia it is local councils who decide whether
cutting will be permitted in their shire. From Perth the cutters have to travel about
600km to cut legally... 1200km round trip. In some much closer areas councils clear
land for roads etc and the cutters are not allowed to go in first to remove suitable
material. In legal cutting areas councils also clear land and gold miners clear land.
Some of the cutting rules mean that only a small percentage of potential didges may
be cut. In the areas which are going to be cleared the cutters are still required to
observe all the rules and in some cases are not allowed in anyway.
The drive to legal cutting areas takes one through the heart of the
there is an estimated fifteen billion fewer trees than there were 150 years ago.....
many fertile low lying areas turned into salt pans. Some progress is being made in
improving landcare in these areas. A lot of the effort comes from volunteers from
Perth and much of it was initiated by a mining company that doesn't and doesn't
intend to operate in the area. For that they won a global environmental award.
Previous recipients were environmentalists... people like David Suzuki.
Changing laws won't change much. Effective monitoring could but it probably
isn't practical. Education will. However, that is a slow process that takes place over
Keep talking about it..... that's part of the education process.
From: Randy Graves [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2001 12:53 PM
To: The famous didjeridu mailing list.
Subject: [DIDJERIDU:2763] RE: Didgeridoo Article from AACC, Alice
I agree that there needs to be a concerted effort to reduce the number
Eucalyptus trees harvested to make didjeridus. I don't think the problem is
centered on those like yourself and I, along with the rest of the guys on
this list, we who are serious about the didjeridu. I think there needs to
be a better solution than having us sacrifice the enjoyment of playing an
authentic didjeridu(s) or yidaki(s) because some rich tourist want a
conversation piece to hang over his fireplace mantle.
You're saying that because people are on the didjlist, they can order as
many didges as they want over the internet, without ever having been to
Australia, and without really knowing anything about the suppliers and the
market over there, yet all the blame lies with tourists who pick up one
while visiting? We're somehow better because we might play the instrument?
We somehow have an intrinsic knowledge of what an authentic instrument is,
and a right to own it?
For the most part, didj players are hardly better informed, largely because
of didj sellers who are either bending the truth to move product, or who
really have no idea what they're selling because they're just being supplied
the instruments by people who are bending the truth. Honest Euro-Australian
sellers will tell you, and told me both in Katherine & Cairns, that 90% of
the instruments are not made by Aboriginal people, despite the painting that
may be on them. This applies to the collections of most people on this list.
They're less likely to admit non-permitted cutting, but the numbers speak
for themselves on that. Even with permitted cutting, who decides, and why is
the number chosen? 3000 is still a hell of a lot more than the amount that
would have been made 40 years ago.
"A rack of what looks like a few hundred didjeridu, all selling for less than $100."
Your attribution of that site was a little wrong, but it doesn't matter...
there are lots of websites with similar images, and they all turn my stomach
a bit. That's a lot of friggin' trees- not compared to the grand scheme of
things amidst all the other deforesting industries, but you'd hope didjeridu
sellers and players would be different. I personally would much rather see a
website that has 20 instruments attributed to individual people than one
claiming, "we've got the biggest, cheapest selection anywhere!" Then how
will the demand be met?! Well, guess what, it's an instrument that's
supposed to be made one at a time. Any situation at all where this
instrument is available in any numbers, beyond its original context, is an
unnatural compromise, no matter who's buying it. I'd much rather it was a
little more difficult to get an instrument than to know that our impatience
and materialism can be satisfied at a moment's notice.
But let's not penalize the faithful who were playing authentic
didjeridu long before the Olympics or Survivor.
Just because there's been an increase in interest recently doesn't mean that
the problem is new. The didjeridu industry started long before most people
on this list began playing the instrument. We are not the old faithful. We
are part of the problem, newcomers just one generation before the most
recent newcomers. You're saying that people who have been playing a
thousands of years old instrument for 3 or 4 years have some sort of right
to it more than people who have discovered it in the past year. And that
people who use it as a musical instrument outside of its native context are
better than people who use it as art outside of its native context. Sorry,
but at this point, it's for everybody.
I don't intend this as personal, or flames or anything. I think it's a
reality check. A few years with an instrument and signing up for an email
list does not give us some innate rights above anyone else, and does not
relieve us of responsibility.
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