‘It’s Not About Me’: Musician Honours His Heritage


FLTLT James Evans reflects on playing the didgeridoo during the Anzac Day Dawn Service in France.

For me, playing the didgeridoo in Villers-Bretonneux, France was about those Indigenous soldiers who served over there. I mean, back then in WW1 they weren’t even citizens. By playing the didgeridoo I am able to honour them.

Honouring our Elders and our history is so important to me, that’s why I play [the didgeridoo]. Even when I go down to the river and play, it’s all about showing respect to our old people.

It’s not about me. It’s about those people who have done something so significant for our home and, somehow, remembering them.

As soon as I found out I was going over to France for Anzac Day, I looked into Indigenous soldiers who fought and died there. I discovered that 13 soldiers have been recognised with tombstones at Villers-Bretonneux, and we still haven’t identified everyone. I reached out to the family of one of our men laid to rest there, hoping to do a smoking or play for him.

Being there, I was able to represent our people, that’s how I see it. It hit home once I got there. I was first up in the order of events, which is pretty nerve-wracking, but it is gratifying to know the first sounds in the darkness were me calling out to our old people. I was playing the sound that we play at significant ceremonies; usually, it would be accompanied by a lot of dancing but this is a more sombre tune.

The didgeridoo I played is special to me, it’s from my boys’ grandfather, Ron Murray, who made it specifically for me. It is unique.

I actually only learnt to play because my uncle used to take me along when he was busking down the streets of Wagga. At eight years old, he would get me and my cousin on the didg’ and he would play his guitar. I started to see the effect it had on people and the significance of calling out to our Elders. I haven’t stopped playing since.

When people gather from all around the world to commemorate Anzac Day, it shows the respect they hold for what we have done. Everyone is human and we share an understanding that, wherever you are from, we pay our respects to the fallen. For me, this year is about those Indigenous soldiers before me who have risked their lives to serve country.

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