McMahon took up playing the didjeridu as a child, long before it
became popular outside its home in the tropical north, and has become the
most acclaimed didjeridu player in Australia. While Charlie revered
the playing of the Aboriginal people in their traditional ceremonies, he
did not seek to mimic their performance, but took the didjeridu to contemporary
music. Charlie learned how to tune didjeridus to concert pitch and
practiced different styles while jamming with bands at gigs.
At 16 years Charlie lost his right hand while experimenting with rockets
in his backyard. He reckons it was not all bad for afterwards he
“hooked” into school work & won a university scholarship. He holds
an Honours degree in Government & Economics from Sydney University.
In 1975 was appointed to the academic staff, teaching & researching
academic life “too much talk” Charlie took to the bush & learned &
skills he’d previously thought impossible one-handed.
In 1978 Charlie was appointed an adviser in the Department of Aboriginal
Affairs (now ATSIC) in central Australia, which at the time was moving
from administering big settlements to encouraging self determination.
While on secondment to the notorious Papunya Settlement 200km west of ALICE
SPRINGS, some Pintubi elders showed Charlie the WESTERN DESERT country
they called home. They asked if he could find & develop water
bores so they could move back. Charlie resigned from the DAA to work
for the Pintubi’s Councils. By 1984 a line of water bores extending
over 400km into the GREAT SANDY DESERT & across the NORTHERN TERRITORY
border into WESTERN AUSTRALIA was established.
“Never a dull moment in those seven years in the swag” Charlie says.
“I wouldn’t really call them highlights, but some big moments were
being bitten by a venomous snake while asleep & the encounter with
a group of nine nomadic Pintubi (the so called “Lost Tribe”) at KIWIRRKURRA,
where we were erecting the windmill on the last bore.
a break from bore drilling in 1983 Charlie recorded with synthesizer player
Peter Carolan the GONDWANALAND PROJECT instrumental album TERRA INCOGNITA,
which prefigured world music by almost a decade. This seminal album
showed the didjeridu could be a key component in contemporary music
- setting the mood & driving the rhythm. Documentary
film makers embraced the album for its distinctly Australian ambience.
The experiment worked so well that Charlie & Peter dropped the “Project”
tag and engaged percussionist Ed Duquemin to launch GONDWANALAND as a touring
& recording act. As well as regular pub & club shows GONDWANALAND
played epic outback tours and the live energy induced the up tempo style
more evident in their next three albums: LET THE DOG OUT (1986),
GONDWANALAND (1988) WILDLIFE (1990) & WIDE SKIES (1992). GONDWANALAND
hold the record for Australia’s largest live performance with their SOUND
CLOUD performance to 120,000 at Sydney Cove in 1988.
reputation and openness ensured he’s always in demand. In the bush
were he is always pleased to go, Charlie has been hired as a guide by MIDNIGHT
OIL on their DIESEL & DUST tour, WIM WENDERS for the film UNTIL THE
END OF THE WORLD and SHIO TANIMURA, a Japanese novelist. Charlie
has recorded on albums by SNAKEFINGER, MIDNIGHT OIL, JANES ADDICTION, HISASHI
SHIRAHAMA, ED KUEPPER, TED EGAN, JOHN WILLIAMSON, SUNRIZE BAND
& DEF FX. In 1994 Charlie toured the USA, Europe, South
Africa, Australia & New Zealand with MIDNIGHT OIL.
GONDWANALAND called it a day in 1992 Charlie took a more acoustic direction
performing and recording under the name GONDWANA. In TRAVELLING SONGS
by GONDWANA (Australia 1994, Japan 1995 & Europe 1996) Charlie has
broken new ground as a producer. TRAVELLING had significant
airplay with songs like CORRUPT WOBBLE, PIG WOBBLE & RIDE making the
sound more accessible. Arnhemland singer BOBBY BUNUGGURR has credits
on four songs & his Ganal Bingu lyrics reinforce the indigenous character
of the music. “The didj doesn’t wander & jump around so much.
It sets the groove and travels”.
The 7th album TJILATJILA (1996) under his own name is original
for its use of multi tonic didj playing techniques, which enable the didjeridus
to play melodic movements & chords that are the basis for the
string and piano arrangements. The acoustic direction reached a high
point with the symphonic track SWARM arranged for orchestra and performed
by Charlie with the Sydney Youth Orchestra at the official 1999 Australia
Day Lunch. Tonally, complex SWARM was written around the pitch shift
DIDJERIBONETM invented by Charlie
in the early 80’s, and now available. (www.didjeribone.com)
eight album repertoire gives the GONDWANA trio, a solid 2 hours of didj
based groove music for their live show. The 1999 European tour saw GONDWANA
sharing the bill with the likes of Dr. JOHN, FEMI KUTI, GARBAGE & JOHN
CALE. Carlos Peron (YELLOW) was so taken by the seismic sound he invited
Charlie to join him on stage, and re-mastered XENOPHON.
by Charlie led to the development of a SEISMIC recording device (Face Bass)
used to stunning effect on the release, XENOPHON. The Face
Bass picks up the didjeridu vibrations in Charlie’s body giving the didjeridu
a more complex & deeper sound. Produced with Paul McDermott and
Ed Duquemin, XENOPHON has a significant composition involvement by traditional
Aboriginal singers Bobby Bunuggurr, Djoli Liawonga and Tom Kelly.
As the only white Didj based group invited to play both city & bush
Aboriginal communities, Charlie and GONDWANA have succeeded in bridging
Australia’s racial divide.
In 2000 GONDWANA performed at the Australian Pavilion at World Expo,
Hannover and the opening ceremony the Sydney Paralympic Games.
Summer 2009 - 2010 Paul Schravemade is Gondwana keyboards player. Charlie and
Paul met doing music sessions for adults with Autism syndrome behaviours and
found a sympatico that they have taken to the stage.
tour dates page on this
site for info when and where the gigs are.