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Much more than a tool

About 20,000 years ago: Earliest evidence of the boomerang in Australia

Earlier 1700
Year level

4

7

Learning area

History

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Can you think of other symbols of Australia? Some may be official and others unofficial, some old and others new. You will find some ideas about symbols of Australia on the National Museum of Australia website. Which symbols do you think are the best at communicating a sense of Australia as a nation? Explain your answer.

 

National Museum of Australia

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the earliest evidence of the boomerang is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Video activities

Watch The Boomerang, a short animation produced by students at the Australian National University.

1. What different kinds of boomerangs does the animation tell us about?

2. Which is your favourite type of boomerang? Why did you choose it?

 

3. Using the animation as inspiration, draw your favourite type of boomerang and show it being used.

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Map of Australia showing the distribution of boomerangs</p>
SuperJew, https://bit.ly/2PurUVk, https://bit.ly/2w6rUUM

In a snapshot

Boomerangs are a symbol of Australia recognised by people around the world. The boomerang features in Aboriginal creation stories. For Aboriginal people the boomerang is as old as the continent and symbolises their cultural endurance. Boomerangs continue to be made in Aboriginal communities and are an important link to Aboriginal history and country.

Map of Australia showing the distribution of boomerangs

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. How old do Aboriginal people consider the boomerang to be?

2. List as many uses of the boomerang as you can.

 

3. Are boomerangs still important today? Give reasons for your answer.

How do boomerangs feature in Aboriginal creation stories?

‘The Dreaming’ is the European name used to describe Aboriginal belief systems which explain how the universe, landscapes and lifeforms were created, as well as rules and laws for living. The Dreaming stretches from the past into the present. In the Dreaming many important features of the landscape — rivers, rock formations and mountains — were created when Ancestors threw boomerangs and spears into the earth. For Aboriginal people the boomerang is as old as creation and a symbol of the enduring strength of Aboriginal culture.

What does archeological evidence tell us about boomerangs?

In the 1970s several boomerangs were found in Wyrie Swamp, South Australia. They are thought to be about 10,000 years old, making them the oldest Australian boomerangs discovered so far. But the oldest images of boomerangs in Australia are in rock art paintings in the Kimberley, and are about 20,000 years old.

Australia was not the only place in the world where people used throwing sticks like the boomerang. For example in 1986 a 23,000-year-old mammoth tusk carved in a shape like a boomerang was found in a cave in Poland.

Research task

 

Look closely at the TAA advertising poster. What is being advertised? How and why is the boomerang being used?

‘There and back with TAA’, Trans-Australia Airlines poster, 1950s.

Why are Australian boomerangs so diverse?

Before European colonisation there were more than 250 different Aboriginal language groups across Australia. Because of cultural differences between Aboriginal groups and the materials available in different environments, there are many different types of boomerangs across the country. Inland and desert people use larger, heavier boomerangs; coastal and high-country people throw lighter boomerangs. The carving and colouring of boomerangs also differs. Most boomerangs do not return when thrown.

Aboriginal groups traded boomerangs across the continent. This continued after European colonists arrived in 1788, and Aboriginal people still sell boomerangs today, especially to tourists.

<p>&nbsp;‘Like the boomerang may you come back’ postcard</p>

Josef Lebovic collection, National Museum of Australia

<p>&nbsp;‘Like the boomerang may you come back’ postcard</p>

How are boomerangs used?

Boomerangs have many uses. For example they can be used for hunting birds, fish and marsupials. A hunter can throw a boomerang directly at an animal, make it rebound off the ground or use the boomerang to scare an animal in a particular direction to capture it.

Boomerangs are also weapons. Smaller boomerangs can be thrown at an enemy and large boomerangs, up to two metres tall, can be used as fighting sticks.

Research task

 

Ancient throwing sticks similar to boomerangs have been found in many places around the world. Find out when and where one of these throwing sticks was found, and its estimated age.

Wooden boomerang.

Boomerangs can be used as a digging stick when looking for root vegetables or for scraping ashes away from a fire. They can also be used to make fire. When the sharp edge of a boomerang is rubbed along a softwood surface, it makes enough heat to create a spark that can set fire to grass.

Finally boomerangs are used in Aboriginal dance and music. They can be used in ceremonial dances, and as a percussion instrument when a pair are rattled together.

‘The Old Men carved their boomerangs in preparation for battle. They were Dreamtime Men and they sat carving boomerangs so that they could go and attack other Old Men.’

Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Warlpiri elder; on the Purlka-purlkakurlu — Old Men Dreaming

What does the boomerang symbolise today?

Boomerangs that come back after they have been thrown have become a symbol of Australia recognised around the world. However this gives the impression that all Aboriginal groups use the same type of boomerang, and that Aboriginal communities all have the same culture, which isn’t true.

The boomerang has been appropriated to sell a range of products including brandy (an alcoholic drink), butter, cigarettes and travel to Australia. Boomerangs have also become mass-produced souvenirs and a typical gift to visiting dignitaries and royalty.

But boomerangs are also still made in Aboriginal communities. Although rarely used now for hunting and fishing, they are a tangible link to Aboriginal history and country.

 

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. How old do Aboriginal people consider the boomerang to be?

2. List as many uses of the boomerang as you can.

3. Are boomerangs still important today? Give reasons for your answer.