The aboriginal boomerang has been around for at least 40,000 years. It is an iconic symbol associated with Australia. What most people do not realise is that many aboriginal boomerangs don’t come back. Only a few of the many forms of boomerang return.
The aim of this article is to look at the variety of Aboriginal boomerangs from around Australia. The boomerang is a weapon but it is also a collectable aboriginal art form.
I buy old traditional Aboriginal Boomerangs. If you want to sell an Aboriginal Boomerang please send me an image.
Aboriginal boomerangs come in a large variety of sizes, forms, and decoration. Different boomerangs had different functions. This variation reflects the social and cultural diversity of Aboriginal people. Aboriginals were not one group but had over 200 language groups.
As mentioned most boomerangs were not made to return. Boomerangs are designed to hit and kill whatever they are being thrown at. Some boomerangs were for hunting but others were for fighting. Some huge boomerangs up to 2 metres long were used as clubs. The majority of aboriginal returning boomerangs were for hunting birds or as toys.
The Aboriginal boomerang has great aerodynamic properties. It ia capable of going 200 metres compared to a throwing stick which will only travel for 60 metres or so. Boomerangs were also used in other non aboriginal prehistoric societies. Rock paintings of boomerangs in North Africa date to 9,000 years ago. In Poland archeologists found a 23,000 year old boomerang made of mammoth tusk. In fact ancient boomerangs were in Germany, Vanuatu, Indonesia, India and the Hopi Indians in Arizona. What makes the Aboriginal boomerang unique is that it has continued to be useful until recent times and has such a diversity of forms. Other cultures abandoned the boomerang after the invention of the bow and arrow.
As Pitt Rivers observed in his essay on cultural evolution “The desire to strike an enemy at a distance, without exposing one’s self within the range of his weapons, is one deeply seated in human nature, and requires neither explanation nor comment”.
Aboriginal Boomerangs were often engraved and painted with ochre for ceremonial purposes. These designs are not decorative but relate to the dream time, ancestors and totems. Collectors like boomerangs with designs far more than simple chip carved examples.
Although the Aboriginal boomerang is a hunting weapon it is also used as a digging tool, for making fire and as a club.
Collectors like boomerangs that are old, unique, rare or have elaborate designs.
Kimberley Boomerangs often have longitudinal fluting that follows the contours of the boomerang. Those from the Coastal region have one arm longer than the other. Inland Kimberley boomerangs tend to be symmetrical. They often have red ochre and white pipe clay stripes. The most collectable form has a tight zigzag or la grange style of fluting on the reverse.
Kimberley Fishing Boomerang
Fishing Boomerangs are asymmetric longitudinally but convex and symmetrical in cross section. It is often undecorated and not ochred. They were often used in shallow tidal water to kill larger fish and other marine animals. Most were carved of heavy woods but some late examples were even made of steel. They are thrown with great force at fish near the surface and often retrieved after the tide had gone out.
Lake Eyre and Darling River boomerangs
These boomerangs are popular with collectors because they are lovingly incised. There are two main types.
Long fighting boomerangs used as a club, are thick because they don’t need to be aerodynamic and up to six feet long. These should to all intents and purposes are an Aboriginal club. They are boomerang shaped though and known as fighting boomerangs.
Smaller throwing boomerangs were also used in combat and tend to be flat on the bottom and concave on the top. Collectors value them for the designs but pinched ends are also desirable.
Central Australian Hunting Boomerang
These boomerangs are quite common and do not vary much from the example shown. They often have longitudinal grooves and are convex on the top and flattish on the bottom. They are normally covered in red ochre. It is possible that the longitudinal grooves improve its aerodynamics in a similar way as dimples on a golf ball.
Central Australian Fighting boomerang
The central Australian Fighting boomerang is often referred to as a number 7 boomerang or a swan neck boomerang. The most collectable variety has a small notch at the top of the neck.
The design of this boomerang is for fighting. The protrusion will catch on the opponents shield and the long shaft whip around and inflict the damage. These boomerangs were so sort after that they also acted as a form of currency. They were during traded between tribes over vast areas.
West Australian Boomerangs
West Australian Boomerangs are not decorated, with a thin blade and rounded ends. They are not highly sort after by collectors but there are exceptions. The main exception is boomerangs from this region with one straight arm and the other with a concave twist.
Northern Queensland Rainforest boomerangs
North Queensland boomerangs are brightly painted with designs like the shields from this region. The area around Cairns also has one of the rarest form of boomerangs called a cross boomerang. Cross boomerangs were a child’s toy.
Central and Eastern Queensland Boomerangs
Boomerangs from this area are generally a crescent shape and tend to be quite large averaging 90 cm long. They lack decoration or have only a few shallow incisions. Other than those from Mornington Island they are not painted with ochre or pipe clay.
Two main types of Boomerang come from this region. Small often steeply curved returning boomerangs used for hunting birds. Thesesmall boomerangs are plain and not ochred. The second type is fighting boomerangs. These were up to 90 cm and used to kill game or enemies. These are symmetrical longitudinally but convex on top and flatter on the bottom.
Also from this area is a form of rare club called a Lil Lil club. Lil Lil clubs are boomerang shaped and aerodynamic.
Collectable Aboriginal Boomerangs
All boomerangs are collectable but some are much more collectable than others. The most collectable boomerangs are the rarest, old est authentic examples. Designs on the boomerang are often unique and are important.
When used in ceremony boomerangs were often used in pairs, so to have a pair of matched boomerangs is more desirable than a single item. Boomerangs that are at the extremes of their type are also sort after. Collectors want the longest fighting boomerang or a returning boomerang with an extremely tight angle. Anything that is bizarre or unusual so long as it is old and authentic is a collectors delight.
For more detailed information on Boomerangs please read Boomerang behind an Australian icon
Is it a Boomerang?
When a light weight returning boomerang for hunting birds is compared to a long sword Club from Queensland this is an easy question. As the diagram shows the transition of throwing club to flattened throwing club to boomerang is gradual. The transition from wooden hatchet to Lil lil club to boomerang is equally gradual. In gereral if it is flat and made to throw it is a Boomerang.