Current Directions in Ecomusicology, Chapter 4

“No Tree—No Leaf”: Applying Resilience Theory to Eucalypt-Derived Musical Traditions
Robin Ryan
pages 57-68



© Robin Ryan, 2014

NOTE: Earlier didjeridus may have been made from  Bamboo (Bambusa arhemica).

Popular Gumleaf Music Species

Yellow Box (E. melliodora; called ‘Stradileaf’ by competitive leafists at Maryborough, Victoria)

Red Ironbark (E. sideroxylon; local name Mugga; played by Philip Elwood in Melbourne, Victoria)

River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis; leaf soundmaker of the Yorta Yorta, Victoria)

Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis; ‘music tree’ grown by Uncle Herb Patten in Melbourne, Victoria)

Red Box (E. polyanthemos; played by Will Lockwood in northern Victoria)

Candlebark (E. rubida; played by Wendy Eva in northern Victoria)

White Stringybark (E. globoidea; played by Lake Tyers Gumleaf Band in Gippsland, Victoria)

Gippsland Mahogany (E. botryoides, played by Lake Tyers Gumleaf Band in Gippsland, Victoria)

Coolabah; Coolibah (E. microtheca; played in Channel Country, SW Queensland)

Sydney Blue Gum (E. saligna; played by Aborigines at La Perouse, New South Wales)

Red-flowering Gum (E. ficifolia; played by Keith Lethbridge, Western Australia)

Popular Didjeridu Species 

Darwin Stringybark (E. tetrodonta; local name Gadayka in the Dhuwa moiety, Northern Territory)

Darwin Woollybutt (E. minata; Gulngurru or Gungurru in the Yirritja moiety, Northern Territory)

Yellow Box (E. phoenicia; called Scarlet Gum by the Mayali of Katherine, Northern Territory)

River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis; supplies didjeridus in Northern Territory and Murray River, Victoria)

Bloodwood (Corymbia polycarpa, local name Badawil in Northern Territory)

Bloodwood (Corymbia ferruginea)

Rough-barked Gum (E. ferruginea; local name Aiyangbarda on Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory)

Swamp Bloodwood (Corymbia ptychocarpa; supplies yigi-yigi, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland)

Mallee Didjeridu Species: (examples found in Western Australia Goldfields)

Silver Mallee (E. crucis)

Red Mallee (E. Oleosa)



© Robin Ryan, 2014

Ryan Table 2

Didjeridu PlayingEucalyptusGumleaf Playing
A major World Music tradition re-grounded in the Yolngu Cultural Bloc.A genus supplying discrete music-systems with differing histories.A minor musical fringe activity that peaked in SE Australia, 1920s-1940s.
A cultural and ecological victim of a commercially successful fad.A number of species have proven worth as ‘music trees’.All leaves are subject to insect damage and urban leaves in particular to pollution.
Harvesting requires strict monitoring in the face of anthropogenic forest assault and climate change.Eucalyptus musicians project sonic and political narratives of environmental knowledge.Changes in tree flora are expected, with increased CO2 levels already thickening some leaves.


FIGURE 1: Tim O’Farrell performs at Didgeridoo Breath, Fremantle, WA. Image by Robin Ryan, 2012, courtesy Tim O’Farrell and Sanshi




FIGURE 2: Leaf player and Gunai-Kurnai Elder Uncle Herb Patten with his sculptured self-portrait. Image by Robin Ryan, 2014, courtesy Herb Patten.



FIGURE 3: Potential musical instruments at Dubbo, New South Wales. Image by Robin Ryan, 2012.



FIGURE 4: Leaf Instruments of Red-Flowering Gum (Eucalyptus ficifolia), Perth, WA. Image by Robin Ryan, 2005.


FIGURE 5: Stringybark Eucalyptus tree at Bathurst, New South Wales. Image by Robin Ryan, 2012.






Allen, Aaron S. 2013. “Environmental Changes and Music.” In Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped our Culture, edited by Jacqueline Edmondson, 417-421. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

Allen, Aaron S., Kevin N. Dawe, and Jennifer C. Post. Forthcoming. The Tree That Became a Lute: Musical Instruments, Sustainability and the Politics of Resource Use. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Atherton, Michael. Australian Made… Australian Played: Handcrafted Musical Instruments from Didjeridu to Synthesiser.1990. Kensington, NSW: NSW University Press.

Australian National Botanic Gardens. 2012. “About Eucalypts.” Euclid.

Gammage, Bill. 2011. The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin.

Hughes, Lesley, E.M. Cawsey and Mark Westoby. 1996. “Climatic Range Sizes of Eucalyptus Species in Relation to Future Climate Change.” Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters 5/1: 23-29.

Jones, Trevor. 1967. “The Didjeridu: Some Comparisons of its Typology and Musical Functions with Similar Instruments Throughout the World.” Studies in Music 1: 23-55.

Kartomi, Margaret J., Robin Ryan, and Darren Williams. 1995. “Didjeridu.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG) II, revised edition, edited by Ludwig Finscher, 1234-1240. Kassel: Barenreiter-Verlag.

Lindenmayer, David B. and Joern Fischer. 2006. Habitat Fragmentation and Landscape Change: An Ecological and Conservation Synthesis. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing.

Lindner, David, ed. 2004. The Didgeridoo Phenomenon from Ancient Times to the Modern Age. Schönau, Germany: Traumzeit Verlag.

Moyle, Alice. 1981. “The Australian Didjeridu: A Late Musical Intrusion.” World Archaeology 12/3: 321–31.

Neuenfeldt, Karl, ed. 1997. The Didjeridu – From Arnhem Land to Internet. Sydney: John Libbey/Perfect Beat.

Patten, Herbert. 1999. How to Play the Gumleaf (CD with accompanying booklet). Sydney: Currency Press.

Ryan, Robin. 2003. “Jamming on the Gumleaves in the Bush ‘Down Under’: Black Tradition, White Novelty?” Popular Music and Society 26/3 (October), Special Issue: Reading the Instrument, guest edited by Steve Waksman, 285-304. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Walker, Brian, and Jacqueline A. Meyers. 2004. “Thresholds in Ecological and Social-Ecological Systems: A Developing Database.” Ecology and Society 9/2.

Woinarski, J.C.Z. and J. Westaway. 2008. “Hollow formation in the Eucalyptus miniata – E. tetrodonta open forests and savanna woodlands of tropical northern Australia.” Final report to Land and Water Australia (Native Vegetation Program). Project TRC-14.