The Indigenous elder revered by some as Australia’s Dalai Lama is the spiritual keeper of the didgeridoo. A new exhibition honors his legacy and the immense significance of the Yolngu instrument that is helping to heal a divided country.
The old man with straggly hair, long wispy gray beard, and wraparound sunglasses sits at the back of the grandstand overlooking the verdant expanse of Alberton Oval the traditional base, if no longer the home ground, of the historic Port Adelaide Football Club.
He is Djalu Gurruwiwi: a Yolngu elder and lawman from north-east Arnhem Land, a songster, healer, virtuoso and master craftsman of the yidaki (didgeridoo), as well as the instruments spiritual keeper. From up here, he surveys his Australian Rules team, smiles and nods in approval as his players go through their pre-season paces, calling for the ball and kicking and marking, on this humid morning.
In other Aboriginal nations and among non-Indigenous people, the instrument is known as the didgeridoo or didjeridu variants of the same word that probably has its etymology in English spoken by a European Australian. Yidaki is the Yolngu word and Djalu, the keeper of the instrument in north-east Arnhem Land, is widely regarded across Indigenous Australia as its custodian more broadly.
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