William Barton

William Barton is widely recognised as Australia’s leading didgeridoo player as well as a highly esteemed composer, instrumentalist and vocalist.

He has composed works for didgeridoo and orchestras, string quartets, jazz and rock bands as well as collaborative contributions with some of Australia’s leading composers.

William started learning the instrument from his uncle, Arthur Peterson, an elder of the Wannyi, Lardil and Kalkadunga people. His mother, Delmae Barton, a singer, songwriter and poet who learnt to sing as a small child from listening to the bird calls, also encouraged his love of music leading William to work from an early age with traditional dance groups and fusion/rock jazz bands, orchestras, string quartets, and mixed ensembles.

William’s passion is to create a journey for people through music and present them a diversity of musical styles using the didgeridoo. William utilises his cultural heritage to present his didgeridoo fusion as a storyteller, engaging audiences in the uniqueness of Australia, it’s Aboriginal heritage and to challenge perspectives of the didgeridoo as an instrument. William works closely with classical music and composers to develop and sustain music for the didgeridoo in this environment.

Throughout his diverse career William has forged a path in the classical musical world, with major Commissions include writing for members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony and the Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra as well as for contemporary dance companies and dancers such as the Leigh Warren and Dancers, which the work Breathe was premiered at both Womadelaide and at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2012.

In 2008 the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony committee commissioned William as one of three composers for the Australian segment of the ceremony, which was broadcast to a world wide audience.

A renowned performer, William has performed at historic events including Commonwealth Day 2019 at Westminster Abbey before the Royal Family, at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, the Bob Hawke State Memorial and International Jazz Day with Herbie Hancock and James Morrison.

He has performed as a solo artist as well as collaboratively with orchestras, string quartets and mixed ensembles, traditional dance groups and fusion/rock jazz bands performing with his own works, others works and Improvisation often inspired by his surrounds at the time.

William has a strong desire to give back to his culture, people and community. One of his greatest enjoyments is his involvement in workshops with schools and children all over Australia, where he teaches the next generation didgeridoo and storytelling.

William has been named Queensland Australian of the Year for 2023, putting him in the running for Australian of the Year. In 2022 he was recognised for his work with the Australian Chamber Orchestra for the soundtrack from the film “River”, winning two Screen Music Awards, an ARIA award and AACTA award.

In 2021 William was the recipient of the prestigious Don Banks Music Award from the Australia Council. His other awards include Winner of Best Original Score for a Mainstage Production at the 2018 Sydney Theatre Awards and Winner of Best Classical Album with an ARIA for Birdsong At Dusk in 2012.

William holds honorary doctorates from both Griffith University and the University of Sydney, has released five albums on the ABC Classics label including recently HEARTLAND with Véronique Serret and the words of William’s mother Aunty Delmae Barton and has contributed to several more recordings with notable artists both domestically and internationally.

He was the 2019 artist in residence at Melbourne Recital Centre and has won multiple awards, including the 2021 Australia Council Don Banks Music Award for his sustained contribution to music. William is an Associate Professor at ANU and a Creative Consultant for Australia Day Live at the Opera House.

With his prodigious musicality and building on his Kalkadunga heritage, William has vastly expanded the horizons of the didgeridoo and has inspired composers such as Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards, Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Hindson and Liza Lim and others, to write for him.

He is currently developing a new musical language, epitomised in Heartland, in partnership with Aunty Delmae Barton and violinist Véronique Serret.

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©Keith Saunders

©Keith Saunders