TS-CRC Student project - The use of GIS as an input tool into the monitoring, management and sustainable utilisation of didgeridoo stick species in the Northern Territory

Northern Territory University, Darwin

Josh Forner


Background | Outputs | Research Methods

traditional harvester with didjeridoo and axe

Traditional harvesters of stems for didjeridus use an axe, are very selective and only take a few branches.

damage from illegal harvesting

Eucalyptus tintinans illegally harvested in the Yinberrie Hills. This tree was cut at the main stem rather than the branch.


As Aboriginal art and culture become increasingly popularised, large numbers of tree hollows or entire trees are taken from Northern Territory bushland for commercial didgeridoo manufacture. Much of the harvest is concentrated on the Katherine region and there is concern from the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the NT (PCWNT) and traditional owners (Jawoyn) regarding the sustainability of the practice, at a local scale. In addition to the apparent tree damage there is also the possibility that the practice may effect fauna which use the tree hollows for shelter or breeding.

At present, there is little knowledge regarding harvesting practices and recovery of affected trees. Currently didgeridoo harvesting is monitored via Section 48(2) of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission Act (1993), whereby individual land-owners are issued with Permits to Take Plants. The removal of didgeridoo sticks incurs a royalty payment and requires details on the extent and location of the harvest. However, PWCNT and the Jawoyn people feel a management plan is needed in order to maintain viable sustainability utilised populations of affected species.

The research study proposed here, in combination with concurrent work, will increase knowledge of didgeridoo harvesting and provide input into the framework for a management plan.


  • In cooperation with harvesters, Aboriginal people and other stakeholders, collect information of the characteristics of harvest wood including species, condition and environment.
  • Record fauna in harvested stems and associate stem characteristics to fauna preference.
  • Visit previously harvested sites to record long-term effect on harvested trees.
  • Using information on growth rates of favoured species and incidence of suitable hollows, estimate the rate of recruitment of harvestable trees.

Research Methods

Using GIS, combine data on themes such as vegetation, DEM, rainfall, soil, cadastral, etc to predict locations which:

  1. Are likely to be targeted by harvesters given their "selection rules"; and
  2. May support populations suitably attractive to harvesters.
  3. Provide suggestions towards management action in regard to sustainable utilisation and maintenance of viable wild populations of didgeridoo stick species .


Illegal harvests blight traditional didjeridu trade

Recent research into the harvest of native timbers for the didjeridu market suggest that it may be reaching unsunstainable levels in some areas of the NT’s Top End A… [read more...]