Indigenous cross boomerang from the Cairns area,1900

Cross boomerang made from lawyer cane

Aboriginal cross boomerang, Queensland

Australian Museum Photography Unit © Australian Museum

Description

This is a cross boomerang consisting of two pieces of thin pointed wood tied crosswise with split lawyer cane, which is threaded through a central hole. Both pieces of wood are painted with red and white ochre bands, some outlined in black charcoal. Each piece of wood measures 30 cm in length and 4.2 cm in width and ranges from 2.7 cm to 0.7 cm in depth.

Educational value

Cross boomerangs such as this one were used in throwing competitions by older Aboriginal boys and men of the Yidinji language group near Cairns in northern Queensland. The contests judged both the skill of the player and the quality of their boomerang's construction. The tips of cross boomerangs were lit at night and thrown to produce a fireworks effect. Cross boomerangs were made and used along the coast of northern Queensland from Cardwell to the Mossman River.

This cross boomerang is made of wood from a softwood tree, possibly a fig tree. The wood would have been easily shaped by splitting, chipping and scraping it with a sharp stone or shell and then rubbing it with a coarse stone. The central hole was formed with a drill made from a piece of wood or cane with a sharpened bone or shell point. Lawyer-cane fibre, used to tie the pieces of wood crosswise through the central hole, is an extremely strong and widely used plant fibre.

The two pieces of wood are thin, light and pointed at each end, flatter on the lower side and more curved on top to aid the boomerang's flight. When it was thrown straight into the air, it flew in a path similar to boomerangs of other shapes, except that it flew in a circle rather than an oval and made a double circle around the thrower at the end of its flight. When thrown into the ground in front of the thrower, it curved right or left.

Both pieces of wood are painted with red and white ochre bands, some outlined with black charcoal. If the ochre was not available locally it would have been acquired from another language group through trade. The striped pattern would have appeared as a circular pattern when in flight. The design would have had cultural significance, but its meaning is not currently known.

This is an example of an Aboriginal toy used for entertainment. Toys had an important role in preparing Aboriginal children for adulthood. Games were invented by adults using small-scale models of tools and weapons made with light materials and blunt edges. The toys were used to teach children vital survival skills related to hunting for food and defence. Rattles, dolls, spinning tops, balls and string were also used as toys.

A rare surviving example of an Aboriginal toy, this cross boomerang was collected from Cairns in 1900 by Dr Walter Edmund Roth, the first Protector of Aboriginals for northern Queensland from 1898 to 1905. Roth's role was to oversee the administration of Aboriginal people. He was interested in Aboriginal cultures and collected more than 2,000 ethnographic objects. In 1905 the Australian Museum purchased the objects, and the collection is now known as the Roth Collection.
 


Ms Helen Wheeler , Education Project Officer
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