Addict to Artisan: A Drum Maker’s Journey


 Making drums has taken Graeme “Wolfy” from a tortured childhood and years of addiction to success.

Emotionally abandoned by his father, from early childhood Graeme was physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abused. After leaving school, he turned to alcohol, drugs and gambling to medicate the pain of his past. When his lifestyle caught up with him, he was introduced to a recovery program. The male mentor who took him under his wing asked a second male mentor to assist, because he felt Graeme needed more than one person’s dedicated support. Graeme credits these two men with “getting him sober and saving his life”.

Graeme remained within the recovery program and was able to move on from his first two mentors to a third mentor who he says taught him “how to be a human being”.

Ten years after becoming clean and sober, Graeme regained full memory of the horrific events in his childhood. Until then he had little recall of his childhood before the age of 14, at best his recall had been patchy. He was referred to a psychiatrist who stated that the type of abuse he’d endured when he was a child would require five to ten years of therapy. After three months of therapy his psychiatrist told him if at his next visit he had not improved, she would prescribe medication.

From darkness to light

The ugly incidents he remembered from childhood sent him spiralling down into depression during which he became isolated and reclusive. Wanting him to get out and about, one of his daughters invited him to go with her to a drum circle. Graeme picked up a drum and his life changed.


Two weeks later Graeme made his first drum with the woman who had facilitated the drum circle. Graeme assisted her in drum making workshops for about a year all the while working on his own unique style of drum making. It wasn’t long before he realised that the wood working skills his grandfather had introduced him to at the age of 8 would become valuable.

The drums Graeme made in his own time at home were often given to friends as gifts while others he kept for himself. Graeme was also keeping up his regular consultations with his psychiatrist.

Graeme would drum every day to reveal past issues to discuss with his psychiatrist. After 18 months his therapy was officially complete. Drum therapy had cleared his mind and he became open to a new future for himself.

The power of dreams

During his first year of drum making, Graeme recalled a dream he’d had many years earlier. In the dream he was surrounded by drums and he was told to: “Take the drum to the people because they need it.” At the time of the dream, Graeme had never picked up a drum. Graeme’s first drum making experience was a turning point in his life. When Graeme next met with his psychiatrist, his improved mental state meant he was not prescribed medication.

A few years after Graeme started making Native American style drums he bought many books on the Native American style flute.

Long hours of research, trial and error went into the development process of his flute making to once again formulate his own unique style in crafting beautiful instruments.

During this time Graeme had another dream in which he was shown many beautiful flutes yet to be made. In this dream he was told: “The thunder from your drums has been heard in many countries. The songs from your flutes will be heard around the world.”

Graeme will quite often be shown a drum or a flute in a dream that needs to be made. He has no idea who it is for. Invariably, within a few weeks or months of the drum or flute being finished the “owner” turns up to buy it.

Sustainability and development

Graeme uses sustainable materials for his drums, flutes and craftwork. All the cedar used for his drum hoops comes from sustainable harvest or recycled sources while all skins used as rawhide are by-products from the meat industry. Timber for his flutes comes from recycled, or legal forest or urban salvaged sources.

To progress in his craft, Graeme decided he would learn to process his own rawhide for his drums. For tuition, he turned to a highly skilled taxidermy tanner to learn the various ways of processing hides. Over the years he has developed his own technique to process hides without the use of harsh chemicals. About 11 years ago Graeme wanted to learn how to bend his own drum hoops. He sought out a master wood bender who taught him the basics of wood bending which he has gone on to develop further.

Materials affect sound

The cedar Graeme uses for his drum hoops is a highly resonant timber and combined with the naturally processed rawhide it gives his drums a spiritual and moving sound.

Graeme believes that Australia has some of the best acoustic timbers in the world, which he searches out for his flutes from a variety of contacts. Graeme says that one of his “passions in life ever since a young age was to work with timber as a hobbyist and professional wood worker.” Graeme loves working with beautiful Australian timbers and burl, crafting them into flutes that bring people so much joy.

“I favour making flutes from burl timber. So if anybody out there is in possession of a burl they don’t need, I hope they’ll contact me,” he said. The density of the timber will affect the sound of the flute.

As well as being a dedicated craftsman and a master of his craft, Graeme is a qualified addictions counselor, with further qualifications in co-dependency, self-esteem and anger management.

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