Hunting Boomerang: a Weapon of Choice

In the absence of bows and arrows, the boomerang has obvious advantages over other hunting implements.

Boomerang E51243A

Boomerang E51243A
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

A word ‘Boo-mer-rit,’ used by Indigenous people of Sydney to describe the ‘Scimiter’ (or scimitar - sword with curved blade) was recorded first in 1790. Captain David Collins, an officer of the First Fleet, recorded the similar word, ‘Wo-mur-rang’ in his diary in 1798 as the name of one of the Aboriginal clubs . The word boomerang probably entered the English vocabulary in the early 1800s when proper boomerangs appeared in the Sydney region.

It appears that the boomerang as a toy, souvenir or symbol obscured its major original role as a hunting weapon. Over the years its original purpose has become increasingly distorted. Most of us still tend to see the boomerang as an ‘ethnological curiosity’ - a brilliant yet needless invention of the indigenous mind, mostly seen as a toy and an icon. In his popular book, ‘Triumph of the Nomads’, Professor Geoffrey Blainey dismisses the boomerang as an insignificant hunting implement. Benjamin Ruhe, in his 1977 book ‘Many Happy Returns’, goes even further, asserting that the boomerang could have never been a hunting weapon. The boomerang has made a long journey from the hands of Aboriginal hunters to national iconography. During this voyage its history has become distorted.

Those who witnessed Aboriginal cultures in the early colonial times left us different accounts. For example, the marine explorer Phillip Parker King observed in 1818 that a boomerang ‘is used by the natives with success in killing the kangaroo.’ Indigenous people throw the boomerang ‘making it revolve on itself, and with such a velocity that one cannot see it ... only the whizzing of it is heard’ reported Francis Barrallier in 1802. An average hunting boomerang of about 500 grams looks like a thin soaring edge in flight, ‘but where it strikes, it breaks through with excessive impetus.’ It is an effective missile within a range of 200 metres. This is nearly three times the range of a hand-thrown spear. In experienced hands the boomerang can be a deadly weapon.

The boomerang - as a hunting weapon - helps us expose some universal aspects of distant human history which, before agriculture, were shared widely across the world.


Francis Luis Barrallier ‘Expedition into the Interior of New South Wales 1802.’


Dr Stan Florek , Collection Officer
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