The Boomerang Returns, Obviously

Aboriginal hunters managed to curb the boomerang's returning nature to turn it into an effective hunting weapon.

Boomerang E92398

 © Australian Museum

Returning is the boomerang's inherent property in much the same way as hopping is the distinctive trait of the kangaroo. Aboriginal hunters did a great deal of practical engineering and carving to eliminate or reduce, what was for them, an awkward behaviour. Their genius was not in the invention of such an extraordinary toy, but the way they managed to curb the boomerang's returning nature sufficiently to turn it into an effective hunting weapon.

Yet to westerners the returning behaviour was an irresistible attraction. Interestingly, boomerangs were adopted by Sydney Aborigines primarily to meet the curiosity of the European public. It happened about fourteen years after the British settlement at Sydney Cove was established. One early demonstration, with real life drama, was reported by the Sydney Gazette in 23 December 1804. The apparent fight that took place between Aborigines at Farm Cove in Sydney was probably staged. Bungary, an Aboriginal man, well-known amongst European settlers, threw the boomerang at his adversary. The ‘incredible force’ with which the boomerang travelled, and the severe injury it inflicted, astonished observers.

In the years and decades that followed, boomerang throwing demonstrations became one of the few aspects of Aboriginal tradition in which the white public showed any interest. As a result, the boomerang's role gradually shifted from hunting weapon to toy and souvenir. It is in this context that the boomerang has been adopted by non-Aboriginal Australians. For instance, in the early 1970's a single small Queensland company, Lorin Hawes, was producing some 60,000 boomerangs annually. At the same time, the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs was selling 40,000 boomerangs each year, made by Aborigines living on missions.

Boomerang clubs, in their hundreds, are now established in many countries around the world. Boomerang throwing is gaining wide recognition in international sport competitions. Inventors have come up with numerous different designs, using modern materials such as fibreglass and plastic. Toy boomerangs are being refined to fly further, stay in the air longer and to make multiple circles before falling to the ground. All this attention has served to reduce the boomerang to symbolic and recreational roles, obscuring its roots and history.

Reference:
A Better Boomerang. Time Magazine, Vol.100 No.10, 1972

 


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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