Composer Manduway Dutton combines didgeridoo and strings at the Coffs Harbor Festival of Chamber Music


Manduway Dutton has a knack for experimenting with sound.

Musician Gumbaynggirr and Barkindji, originally from the north coast of New South Wales, started playing the didgeridoo when he was around 13 years old.

This sparked a passion for music which led him to master the piano, guitar, ukulele and, in his latest triumph, classical composition incorporating the didgeridoo.

In November Manduway was commissioned by the Coffs Harbor Regional Conservatory to write a piece of music to open the town’s Chamber Music Festival in 2022.

Thoughtless Dreams premiered at the opening of the festival this month, with Manduway performing the piece, on country, alongside the Australian String Quartet from Adelaide.

Manduway wrote a composition for the Australian String Quartet featuring the didgeridoo.(Provided: Simon Whittaker Photography)

Rhythmic, serious and guttural

Manduway said he was trying to emulate the depth of a larger group in a “different” way.

“There’s a bit of experimentation involved in doing this stuff,” he said.

“Strings will do…the prettiest, warmest chords.”


Manduway’s love of music is grounded in his love of the piano, the instrument on which he first composed Thoughtless Dreams.

Later, he learned how to introduce the traditional sounds of a didgeridoo throughout the composition of the strings.

“I used the didgeridoo in a more rhythmic sense,” Manduway said.

Manduway smiles at the camera while holding a didgeridoo.
Manduway will perform didgeridoo alongside the Australian String Quartet at the premiere.(Provided: Manduway Dutton)

Manduway said he “thought a lot about dreaming” when writing Thoughtless Dreams.

“This realization, in the morning [when] sometimes you forget what you dreamed of,” he said.

“It’s kind of like a thoughtless process, where you were really invested at the time, and then when you woke up, you can’t remember it.”

Manduway draws inspiration from his life experiences, his relationships and his home: Coffs Harbour.

“Just being in the area is quite inspiring…the countryside and the ocean,” he said.

Promoting local talent

Coffs Harbor Regional Conservatorium executive director Pat Brearley said he was delighted Manduway had agreed to write a play to open the festival.

“It’s unbelievable that we have so much talent on the coast,” Mr Brearley said.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase a local man from Gumbaynggirr who is just an amazing musician and a beautiful person.”

The view of Coffs Harbor Pier from Muttonbird Island.
Manduway spent much of her childhood visiting her extended family in Coffs Harbour. (ABC Coffs Coast: Indiana Hansen)

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