September 13, 2006

Cairns - Wednesday

Driving on the left side of the road, day 2: today, Liz and I decided to take my newly acquired skill to a new level and brave driving the road to Kuranda, an aboriginal tourist attraction (mostly shops) up through the Kuranda mountains. Getting there is a bit of a nightmare; the road up through the mountains is mostly switchbacks - it looks less like a road and more like a two-year-old's squiggle-drawing on the map.

The hardest part, for me (the driver) was going around the curved switchbacks as large heavy-duty construction trucks came flying around the curves from the other direction, leaving little room for error; to drift too far one way means getting flattened by the truck, and to drift too far the other way is to run into the mountainside. Needless to say, I was a bit high-strung the whole way there. Once we got there (to my great relief), we ate lunch at a little cafe. As we ate, I noticed a little place across the road that sold aboriginal art - and didgeridoos.

I've wanted a didgeridoo since I heard of them. When I was in college, Mike, CP and I spent an evening and a decent amount of money on PVC piping to try and build our own didgeridoo, under the theory that perhaps we could combine the didgeridoo with the bagpipes, or at least the trombone. In the end, the trombone thing sort of worked, but it was CP's project and he got to keep it; I still wanted one of my own.

The didgeridoo is a quirky instrument with a rather interesting story. Since I first learned of its existence, I've often wondered what posessed the first aboriginal to use a termite-eaten tree limb as an instrument. To make a didgeridoo:

1) Wander the outback - a vast expanse of nothingness full of many poisonous things that can kill you several times over - and find a tree limb that's been hollowed out by termites, and remove the limb from the tree. The limb should ideally be wider at one end than at the other.
2) Eliminate the termites from within the tree limb. Enough said.
3) Sand down the outside to a smoothness of your liking.
4) Paint and stain the outside with a story of your choice. Often this involves the stories of your fathers ("you" usually being a man, as women are not allowed to paint the animals involved in storytelling). The designs used are done by pointilism, an art form that takes time and precision, something the aboriginals have in abundance and do very well.
5) Affix a rim of wax to the smallest end of the tube. This is more for comfort than function. Cure the wax to relative hardness, and you're finished!

The didgeridoo, when played by those who created it, is a magical instrument capable of a wide variety of expressions that are used in the aboriginal storytelling circles. Like a language, the sounds are put together to create stories. These stories are beautiful, and take many forms. As you may have noticed, I love storytelling, in its many forms - writing, art, and of course, music. Me and the didgeridoo were fated to meet at some point.

I spent the better part of an hour working through nearly every instrument in the place, each an original work of art by an aboriginal craftsman. When I found the one - and it's a beauty - Liz and I went for a walk to think it through. They're not particularly cheap, but it was an opportunity I'd been waiting for for years. Obviously we bought it; it's a D instrument (it drones on the note of D) and has a carved-painting of a snake that runs the length of the tube. I'll have to wait to get home to america to unpack it to play it again, as the lady who packed it up did such a good job that it can be shipped as-is. I'm not sure I want to chance re-packing it, and so now comes the hardest part - waiting.

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