Legendary busker Tristan O’Meara will break new ground at the Gold Coast’s award-winning Buskers by the Creek in 2019 when he brings his amazing didgeridoo-making skills to the public stage.
Having performed for hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of cities across the world, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has crafted a reputation in recent years as a master didgeridoo craftsman working out of his forest workshop near Byron Bay.
Now, for the first time, he will showcase his incredible skills in the street by channelling his inner busker and setting up a makeshift worksite at Buskers by the Creek from 18 to 20 October.
The roots and folk music magician will also officially close the festival when he takes to the Balter Brewery stage for ‘An Intimate Night with Tristan O’Meara’ on Sunday, 20 October. We were so curious we just HAD to shoot him some questions ahead of the event.
How many didgeridoos do you think you’ve made over the years, and how many do you have in your personal collection?
It’s hard to put an exact number on how many I’ve made but I would estimate around 1500 high end instruments and maybe 3000 or more cheaper budget beginner didjis. I don’t really make those budget beginner didjis myself anymore though and just focus on making the high end, quality instruments that is my main market today.
As for my personal collection, you would be surprised to know that I only have a few… I keep two high end players in Europe that are just used on tour (I have a whole collection of instruments that remain in Europe). I keep one pumping little G didge that I was gifted from a guy who helped teach me to make didjis 16 odd years ago and one F# traditional yidaki style player that I made from the first batch of logs I harvested myself from the bush 15years ago. I also have the first didge that I purchased and learnt to play on which is in key of C. I don’t get attached to didjis I make these days, I prefer to pass them on to people who will love and cherish them as I can always make more. So I guess in all that means I have just 5 didjis in my permanent collection.
Can you tell us a bit about the craft – what makes didgeridoos different pitches and how do you get different timbres?
So the different keys or pitches are made by chiselling out the didge from the bell end of the log. The more we open it up and the more wood we remove from the bell end inside of the log, the higher the key goes. You can also tune the didge by trimming the length down but this doesn’t ensure quality sound. To get it perfectly tuned for both the overtone horn notes and the drone / key note of the didge, you must tune by chiselling and slowly shaving the inside of the bell. This is the most crucial part of making a didge play well.
I harvest a number of different types of eucalyptus timbers for making didgeridoos with. Up in NT you get different species growing in different areas and some areas have a mixture of tree species. Timbers such as NT bloodwoods, sand bloodwoods, black or yellow woolybutt and NT stringy barks. In other places around Australia, timbers such as box gums and mallee can also be used. I stick mainly to black woolybutts and NT bloodwoods with the odd stringybark that is a good find. Stringy bark and the Darwin black woolybutt are the most commonly used traditional woods for making didgeridoo (the correct name in yolngu martha for didgeridoo would be yidaki).
Who was instrumental in teaching you the craft?
I had some help learning my craft from both white Australian men and Aboriginal men from Arnhem land, both taught me many great skills and offered me a world of knowledge to explore and begin my journey in the didge crafting world. I was taught how to find the correct trees and ones that are hollowed to just the right interior bore to start from and how to make them play very well. I was also shown how to make the manufacturing of didgeridoos a profitable business and to work ethically and sustainably with the environment. You may be surprised to learn that I was encouraged to pursue and was taught the business side of didge making by a Yolngu man from Arnhem land and the white fellas taught me more about how to fine tune and finish the didjis to a higher standard aesthetically (of course aesthetics is a matter of personal opinion or choice). Both European heritage Australian men and Aboriginal Australian men gave me my foundation of essential skills to go on my way and continue learning on my own, which a lot of what I’ve learnt has been through trial and error and experience on my own as the years rolled on.
How did you get involved with Buskers by The Creek?
I first heard of Buskers by the Creek in its first year from a friend who lived near Currumbin at the time. He suggested I get in touch with Cindy the organiser. I messaged her and got in at the last minute. We had a chat about my experience busking around the world for the last decade and she was really welcoming to me to come and play at the festival. It was a great weekend and I did really well with CD sales and donations over the weekend, it was heaps of fun. I just loved her vision of what she wanted to create and her attitude to why she wanted to create it! A family event for everyone that was focused on the super inspiring and connecting artform of street music otherwise known as… busking! I liked her vision of a non-alcohol event with good food, good music, art, and sharing love amongst the community. I’m so stoked to see how far she has taken her dream. She’s had struggles and setbacks on the way but she never gave up and always had the attitude of give give give. She’s done a remarkable job with soooo much work and she really deserves a huge hug from everyone who enjoys the festival (even though their smiles are enough).
What are you looking forward to the most at this year’s event?
I’m honoured to be playing at Cindy’s closing ceremony on Sunday 20 at the Balter Brewery. I’m really looking forward to the festival this year when I’ll be doing some didge making demonstrations working alongside an Aboriginal mate (Anthony Walker) who helped me in my early days of didge making with his support through his commercial Art Space in Byron Bay. He will be painting onsite during the festival. I’m also really looking forward to perform with my band at the closing ceremony / party at Balter Brewery! It’s going to be a really warming night for me as a performer and hopefully for those who attend too!
What can audiences expect from your appearances at BBTC?
On site at the festival I’ll be setting up and making didjis from raw log to finished playable didge to demonstrate the whole process to anyone who would like to learn. I’d love to host workshops for people to make their own didge next year if people show a lot of interest in my performance. This year I will focus on educating people on the sustainable and ethical methods that should always be used when harvesting timber from our native Savannah bushlands and I’ll be demonstrating how I make didjis all by hand with traditional styled hand tools. I will also have some high end didjis I’ve made previously, available for purchase or viewing on the day, along with some budget didjis for people to just play around with and have a go at. I will happily try teach them how they can have fun playing the instrument with the hope that they may get the same joy out of it that myself and thousands more have around the world. I will also be doing a concert at Balter Brewery with my band for the closing party of BBTC! It’s going to be a really fun show with my original music spanning multiple moods and genres with bass drums, lapsteel guitars, banjo, ukulele, acoustic guitars, harmonicas, didgeridoos and of course me singing like a bird or a drunken lullaby or two!
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
I would just love people to have a great weekend and please remember…. all us musicians get paid by…. YOU!
We do what we do out of love and joy, and we do what we do to try and live from what we love. So if you love what we do… then please help support us musicians on the day and if you like what you hear drop us a coin or two (or three or four). If not, then a smile will do and if you enjoy what you hear then I’m sure people will have CDs available for purchase so bring lots of money and smiles to share!
Buskers By The Creek runs from 18 to 20 October at Winders Park, Currumbin. For updates, visit buskersbythecreek.com.au.