As a teenager, international didgeridoo player Adrian Fabila Tjupurrula worked with what he had — and that didn’t include a didgeridoo.
Instead he improvised with the plastic hose of the vacuum cleaners he and fellow students at a Cairns boarding school were assigned on clean-up duty when they had been less than model pupils.
Influenced by the music of Charlie McMahon and the Gondwanaland band, Tjupurrula didn’t let the lack of an authentic instrument deter him.
“There weren’t any souvenir shops in Cairns in those days,” Tjupurrula says. “It was still a little bush town. I could only use the vacuum cleaners they made us use when you played up.
“If you turned the machine on, they wouldn’t even come and check on you. I would turn the machine on and sit down in the corner and practise, practise until the bell went and then switch it off.
“That’s where I started playing.”
These days Tjupurrula’s didgeridoo playing takes him all over the country and the world, both with his own group, Yarwah, and also as one of three didgeridoo players who perform with the Black Arm Band.
He plays both the traditional wooden didgeridoo and also the didgeribone, a multi-note slide didgeridoo invented by McMahon.
Tjupurrula’s shows combine ancient sounds with electronic music technology.
Next year he will be among a line-up of artists and performers appearing in schools across Queensland as part of the state’s Youth Touring Program.
Tjupurrula says he first became enchanted with the didgeridoo when he was in primary school in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and saw the White Cockatoo performing group in action.
“It was my first exposure to traditional Aboriginal music and dance,” Tjupurrula says. “We’d never seen anything like it.
“Once that didg started pumping, it was like ‘I want one of those’.”
It was perhaps also the first chapter in Tjupurrula’s discovery of his Aboriginal roots.
Years later he would learn about his great grandmother Rosie Bombay, a Djabera Djabera woman from Western Australia who had been taken to PNG with Catholic missionaries and who married a Filipino lay missionary there.
Tjupurrula had almost given up looking for the rest of his family when a chance meeting in a Broome supermarket put him in contact with his great grandmother’s people.
“In 1999 I flew over to Broome for a holiday,” Tjupurrula says. “I was in China Town Coles. It was an old fella who passed away in 2004, I think … Uncle Merv Torres, he yells out from the other end of the aisle, calling me all sorts of names and wondering where I’d been.
“It wasn’t until we got closer that he kind of thought I was someone else.
“We got talking and when I mentioned the name of my great great grandmother, he almost fell over. He said ‘Where the hell have you been?’ He was the eldest of his tribe.
“All the mob was Djabera Djabera and through talking with him over the years he was connecting all the dots for us.”
Tjupurrula says it’s the power of the sound of the didgeridoo that captivates people.
“It’s almost a spiritual connection,” he says. “People are entranced. It has that effect on everybody. It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet.”
Other performers in Youth Touring 2018 include Candy and Kim Bowers, who attracted international attention with their ‘Hot Brown Honey’ burlesque show. They will perform a show called MC Platypus and Queen Koala for primary school children. Candy Bowers will also take a one-woman show, ‘Definitely Beautiful’, into high schools.
The program also includes an adaptation of ‘Black Diggers’ by writer Tom Wright, which tells the stories of the Indigenous men who fought and died for Australia in World War I