You Throw it Out, it Comes Back. How the Heck does that Work?
The boomerang is thought of as an Australian icon and has been used for thousands of years as an essential tool in the arsenal of a hunter. I spoke to Billie Edwards, the cultural promotions co-coordinator at the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre on the Gold Coast, who told us a bit about the boomerang as well as life as an Aboriginal woman. Here goes...
1. The boomerang was only used by men
The Aboriginals had a very gender specific culture. Even today, the culture remains gender specific to some extent, although there are some exceptions that wouldn’t have existed pre-contact. The men had the job of hunting meat, while the women did a lot of repair work and gathered other foods. The boomerang was used to disable animals like birds and kangaroos, preventing them from escaping the hunters, and therefore only men could use it. Meat, however, only constituted about 10% of the Aboriginal diet, so the women actually collected around 90% of the consumed food, which was nuts, berries, fruits and other nutritious flora.
The Burleigh Mountain on the Gold Coast was a great spot to hunt. As you come to the waterfront, and you look up, there’s a feasting site surrounded by grass. Above the feasting site is a flat plane, so the Aboriginal people used to burn the grass around the feasting site which would make animals run up to the flat plane thinking it was safe and this would create a hunting ground for the people.
2. Boomerangs weren’t just used to hit animals
Boomerangs were used to hunt in many different ways. Some boomerangs were built to circle more than once. This meant that the Aboriginal hunters could get close to some birds, then throw the Boomerang high in the air where it would circle multiple times. The hunters would then mimic the sound of a bird of prey, which would fool the birds into thinking they were under attack from a predator. They would then flock together and fly low towards the hunters who could then attack them.
3. Boomerangs come in different sizes and shapes
Like all weapons, boomerangs came in lots of different shapes and sizes and had different purposes. Some boomerangs were designed to travel fast, so that if the target was missed, it would come back in time to have another throw. There were bigger boomerangs that weren’t symmetrical, having one heavier side that picked up momentum as the boomerang spanned through the air. These heavier ones were used to disable bigger animals like kangaroos. They were designed to break their legs, meaning the Aboriginal hunters could kill them before they escaped.
Some boomerangs even had serrated edges which helped to clip wings or break legs of animals.
4. It was used as a toy
Like kids today who love competing together and playing with toys, the Aboriginal children were no exception. They used the returning boomerang to play games. They would see who could throw it the furthest, who could throw it for the longest time and who could catch it without having to move at all. What do you think makes a better child’s toy - a fluffy teddybear or a super awesome boomerang that comes back to you when you throw it?
5. Boomerang record breakers
The world record for the smallest returning boomerang is held by Sadir Kattan of Australia, who set it in 1997 at the Australian National Championships by throwing a 1.9 inch long boomerang that was only 1.8 inches wide. The boomerang flew the mandatory 20 metres before returning.
A Guinness World Record was set by David Schummy in 2005 who threw a boomerang 427 metres.
And that's it! If you want to find out more about Aboriginal weapons and the culture check out the Jellurgal Culture Centre. It's the Gold Coast's dedicated Aboriginal Cultural Centre and is fully owned and operated by the local Aboriginal community.