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Piar-piar made from a pandanus leaf that has been folded twice in the centre, forming a Z shape. The toy imitates the flight of the boomerang. This object is from Cape Grafton, Cape York, Queensland and acquired in 1905 from Dr. W. E. Roth.. Image: Finton Mahony
© Australian Museum

The Australian Museum collection includes two plaited strips made by boys from several strands of pandanus leaf. These were collected from the Cape Bedford region of north Queensland by Dr Walter Edmund Roth, and acquired by the Museum in 1905. Roth's notes imply these were made solely for amusement of boys, and that girls didn't engage with them.

We also have several toys made from folded pandanus strips. Some, referred to as propeller toys, are made from four strips of folded pandanus. These were thrown in the air, and also whirled on the end of a spindle. Piar Piar’s were made from one strip of folded pandanus.

What is known as the piar-piar accomplishes the flight of the boomerang, and is therefore termed familiarly the ‘little fella boomerang’ … is made from a strip from the side of the leaf of one of the pandanus palms (Pandanus pedunculatus). The prickles have been sliced off with a knife or the finger nails, two distinct half hitches are made in reverse order. Each end is shortened and roughly trimmed, the knots creased and squeezed to flatness between the teeth and lips, and the toy complete, the making having occupied less than a minute. Before throwing the ends are slightly deflexed. The toy is held in the right hand lightly between the thumb and first and second fingers, concave surface down, and is thrown to the left with a quick upward turn of the wrist. After a short rapid flight almost on the plane of the hand of the thrower the toy soars upwards, and taking a sinistral course, returns, twirling rapidly, to the thrower, occasionally making two complete revolutions. The ends are deflexed prior to each throw. Boys and youths are fond of the piar-piar, and men of sober years do not disdain it, being frankly pleased when they succeed in causing it to execute a more prolonged and graceful flight than ordinary.

Dunk Island, Queensland. Edward Banfield My Tropic Isle, 1911

More information
Haagen, Claudia, Bush toys: Aboriginal Children at Play, Aboriginal Studies Press Canberra, 1994.