Artist's Biography

Sydney UniversityCharlie 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 town planning.

Paper Clipping (Sydney Daily Mirror, October 1984) - Click for large sizeFinding 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. 

Midnight OilOn 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.

On TourCharlie’s 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.

Chromatic DidgesAfter  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. (

World Expo HannoverAn 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.
Experiments 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. 

For 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.

See the tour dates page on this site for info when and where the gigs are.

To contact Charlie by email:  charliemcmahon @

Booking agency contact

Matthew Donlevy
phone:  (+61) (0) 412169087