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Boomerang Information

Types of Boomerangs

There are basically 3 types of boomerangs that are/were made and used by aboriginal people across Australia. These include hunting boomerangs, returning boomerangs and star shaped returning boomerangs. All tribes made and used the hunting boomerang, but, not all tribes made and used the typical returning boomerang or the star shaped hunting/returning boomerang.

Hunting Boomerang

This is a long curved teardrop shape, about 2 and a half to 3 feet in length (0.8 to 1 meter) and weighing about 4 to 7 pounds (2 to 3 kilograms ). It has sharp edges. The hunting boomerang is not built to return to the thrower. Its main purpose was to kill prey for food (e.g. Kangaroo, wallaby, emu, Cassandra, scrub turkey).
 

Returning Boomerang

V shaped boomerang. This boomerang is designed to return to the thrower. Usually about 16 to 20 inches (35 to 45 centimeters) long. Sometimes they may be smaller or larger.  The returning boomerang was not primarily designed for hunting as it is too light and wouldn't guarantee a kill. Rather, it was designed as a toy for young aboriginal boys. The toy would allow a youngster to practice throwing skills but still make it fun.
 
Sometimes this type of boomerang may have been used for hunting. When hunting ducks, for example, nets were set up at either ends of a creek or river. A boomerang was then thrown out over the ducks which gave them a scare so that they took off up the river and flew directly into the nets. From there they were collected. At other times during the hunting of birds the returning boomerang was thrown horizontally along the ground into a flock, and, as they took off the boomerang would follow them into the air. This may or may not kill the bird and a harder way to hunt.

Cross Boomerang

Shaped like a cross. Two flat wooden pieces tied together with lawyer cane. This type was only made and used by our people in the rainforest areas of Northern Queensland. It had sharp edges and was mainly used to hunt small rainforest birds because it was small enough to get around the trees

How Boomerangs are Made

Traditional Way

The traditional way of making a boomerang, whether it was a hunting, returning or cross boomerang, was to first take the wood from a suitable hardwood tree. The timber has to be green not dry. There are many types of hardwood and softwood trees in Australia. Hardwood is used for all of the weapons because it is stronger and heavier than softwood and more suitable for hunting. The heavier wood also provides greater stability in flight through the air. In our area (rainforest) the types of hardwood included Black Wattle, Iron bark, blood-wood or any of the eucalyptus varieties.
 
The part of the tree used was either the root or branch. The roots of trees were sometimes exposed along the banks of a river and were easily accessible. Once the correct shape is found it is hewn from the tree and debarked. Sometimes two returning boomerangs can be made from the one branch or root. To make two boomerangs the branch or root needs to be split down the middle into two equal halves. From there the halves are 
aerodynamically shaped depending on the type of boomerang being made.
 
When making hunting boomerangs the shape necessary is that described above, plus, the end elevation should look something like a flying saucer or Frisbee. The shape is slightly round on the bottom and a little more rounder on the top. This allows the boomerang, when thrown flat or horizontally, to sail through the air like a Frisbee with little or no variation from its intended course.
 
A returning boomerang is different in design. It needs to be like an aeroplane wing; flat on the bottom and round on the top with a leading edge. This shape makes the boomerang want to lift as it flies through the air. The returning boomerang must also have a twist in either one or both of its wings. When looking along the vertical elevation of the wing you should be able to see the twist. Believe it or not there are left and right handed boomerangs. On a right handed boomerang the twist is anticlockwise and on a left handed boomerang the twist is clockwise. The twist in a returning boomerang is achieved by heating the wing over the coals of a fire and twisting the wing. Green timber can be twisted once the sap in the wood is warmed. After achieving a suitable twist the boomerang is again heated to dry out all of the sap. Once this is done the
 twist remains in the boomerang.
 
Both hunting and returning boomerangs need to be given heat treatment to maintain the intended shapes, if this procedure is not followed then over time warping will occur as the sap dries out, making the boomerang  unusable. If the hunting boomerang develops a twist - it's not supposed to have a twist – then it will not fly flat and straight. If the returning boomerang looses its twist, or, the whole boomerang warps too much then it will not fly or return very well, if at all.
 
The cross boomerang is made using two flat pieces of hardwood of the same length, about 14 to 16 inches (35 to 40 cm). Each piece should be flat on one side and slightly round on the other.  A slight twist in each of the wings will also help. A hole is also made in the middle of each piece. Both pieces are then bound together with split lawyer cane which is threaded through the holes. The holes help to centralize the boomerang and also prevent the boomerang from decentralizing to easily.

Modern Way

Today, most boomerangs on the market are cut from either plywood or a wooden board. The way to tell whether one has been made from a board, ply wood or the root or branch of a tree is to have a look at the grain of the timber. In a boomerang cut from a board or plywood the grain of the timber goes straight across, while, in a root or branch boomerang the grain follows the wings around.
 
There are many boomerangs on the market today. Many are not made or painted by Australian aboriginal people, and, many boomerangs are sold as 'returning boomerangs' but do not return to the thrower.  Some other deceptive practices are listed here:
 
  • Boomerang made and painted in China or Bali (Indonesia), or, by backpackers in Australia, or, by other non-aboriginal Australians.  Sold as 'aboriginal style art’. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has determined in its wisdom, that, if a product is made by an Australian aboriginal person it can be called “Authentic Aboriginal Art”. But, if the product is not made by an Australian aboriginal person, then the product has to be called “Aboriginal Styled Art”. My point is, “What tourist would know the difference between 'Authentic Aboriginal Art' and 'Aboriginal Styled Art?'
  • Boomerang is made by non-aboriginal person but painted by an aboriginal artist.
  • Aboriginal artist gives his or her Art to a Business or Company. Business or Company sends artwork to Bali and artists copy the artwork and mass produce there.
  • Many try to pass themselves off as Australian aboriginal, but, are of some other origin, for example, Indian (from India), New Guinea, Maori (from New Zealand), or others. I have seen some of these imposters playing a didgeridoo and selling 'so called' aboriginal art on the streets and in shops to unsuspecting tourists who think they are buying 'Authentic Aboriginal Art' but are not. If visiting Australia it may be wise not to assume, that because a person has dark skin and sells aboriginal art, he/she is of aboriginal descent. (Please see information on 'Who is an Australian Aboriginal on this website).
  • Some retailers/wholesalers are using 'fictional' aboriginal names to authenticate their merchandise.
  • Some retailers/wholesalers are using the names of actual aboriginal artists to sell products their products, but, the product has not been made by that artist. Some aboriginal artists have walked into tourist shops in Australia, seen their names attached to a piece of artwork or souvenir and know that they have not made that item.
  • Some retailers/wholesalers play on words. For example, when advertising their 'so called' aboriginal styled product, they emphasize wording such as 'Made from Genuine Australian Timber'.  There is quite a difference, however, between this type of wording and “Authentic Australian Aboriginal Art”.
There are, however, boomerangs (and other aboriginal art, craft, gifts, souvenirs, artifacts) that are made and/or painted by Australian aboriginal artists, Also, many aboriginal artists and crafts persons try to be self supportive from making genuine products.  It is, however, very difficult to achieve a self sufficiency when other non-aboriginal people are practicing such deception.
 
The best way, possibly, of purchasing aboriginal art or craft that has actually been made by an aboriginal person, is to buy the item directly from the aboriginal person who made it. If this cannot be done, then, at least more questions should be asked by the purchaser if so be that the purchaser wants to spend their hard earned dollars on authentic Australian aboriginal art or craft.
 
Murruppi
Djirrbal/Ngadjonji Tribe
Rainforest Area. North Queensland. Australia.

 

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