Boomerangs: Which One Returns?

Basic distinction in defining a hunting boomerang.

Boomerang E068349A

Boomerang E068349A
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

The trouble is that a boomerang endowed with aerodynamic properties displays a peculiar tendency: it flies in a circular, or rather, an elliptical path. As we know, the boomerang has derived its fame from returning. This association is so strong that in casual use the word ‘boomerang’ is equated with ‘coming back.’ Needless to say recreational boomerangs accentuate these aerodynamic properties to achieve spectacular returning performance.

The flying ability of a boomerang is achieved by balancing its main physical properties such as size, weight, curvature, thickness and convexity of the top surface. For the hand-thrown wooden boomerang, the total length should not be much more than one metre, the weight best kept under half a kilo and the thickness not much beyond one centimetre. If the boomerang is too large, too heavy or too thick, it will fly poorly. Even minor changes to the convexity of the surface or curvature of the form can have a visible impact on the boomerang's flight.

The gift of flight is best achieved by avoiding extremes in design. The several thousands of Aboriginal boomerangs held in Australian public collections show that their vital attributes have been manipulated and re-combined in various forms. However, most of these boomerangs show dimensions that can be best described as typical of a ‘common boomerang.’

The larger and smaller forms most visibly stand out from the ‘common boomerang.’ The small boomerangs usually have their arms bent closer to each other. The larger the boomerangs, the more their arms tend to be open. This is the major distinction in defining and understanding the hunting boomerang.

A large boomerang with wide-open arms is what the scholars defined as a ‘hunting or war boomerang,’ as opposed to the small, deeply-curved ‘come back’ form. The practical problem is that most boomerangs are in the middle, where the curve and size variation is small and where one form grades into the other. There is no obvious line of demarcation.


William Thorpe, Boomerangs. The Australian Museum Magazine 1924, 55-58
Daniel Davidson, Australian throwing sticks, throwing clubs and boomerangs. American Anthropologist 38, 1936, 76-100
Frederick McCarthy, The Boomerang. The Australian Museum Magazine 1961, 343-349


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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