Aboriginal people made and used four types of boomerang in traditional society. They were:
- The returning boomerang
- The club or hunting boomerang
- The hooked boomerang
- The X shaped returning boomerang
1. The Returning Boomerang
This boomerang was traditionally used in aboriginal Australia for recreational and sporting purposes rather than for hunting and fighting. It is usually made in the shape of a wide arrowhead.
It is light and aerodynamically shaped so that it not only returns to the thrower if thrown properly, but will remain in the air for a longer period of time than other types of aboriginal boomerangs, or more correctly, ‘throwing sticks’.
The wide arrowhead-shaped returning boomerang was sometimes used for hunting ducks on a river. Nets were stretched at either end of the river with the ducks in between. A returning boomerang was thrown out over the ducks to scare them into flight. When ducks take off from the water they take off like an aeroplane, not like a helicopter. The ducks fly into the nets and hunters quickly gather the prey.
The V-shaped returning boomerang was also used by aboriginal children for games and for developing hunting skills. As a game aboriginal children would throw the boomerang in a horizontal rather than a 60-degree position. This would cause the boomerang to skim along the ground, shoot quickly high up into the air and come back down again skimming along the ground. As the boomerang skimmed the ground on its return the children would try to jump over it. This game developed coordination and speed, both of which are good skills for budding little hunters and warriors.
Another game the children used the returning boomerang for was target practice. If the boomerang missed a specific target it would return to the thrower. This action encouraged children to engage in target practice more often. As hunters and warriors in a harsh environment the shills of speed, accuracy and coordination were paramount to survival.
How The Returning Boomerang Is Made
Traditionally, the returning boomerang was made from the green root or branch of a tree that already has the boomerang shape, more specifically a hardwood tree such as mulga, black wattle, gidgee or mangrove. A hardwood is used because it can withstand the stresses of impact (during target practice) and it more readily succumbs to heat treatment – a vital process during its manufacture.
After selecting the ideal branch or root of a tree it is then shaped like the wings of an aeroplane: flat on the bottom and concave on top, as the following illustration shows:
This shape gives lift to the boomerang. Air flowing over the top of the wing has a lower pressure than the air flowing under the wing because it has a longer distance to travel and is thinner. Next, one or both wings have either an anticlockwise or clockwise twist put in them (depending on whether the maker is right- or left-handed) through heat treatment. While the timber is still green it is heated over hot coals. This makes the timber pliable. It is then held at both ends and twisted in opposite directions. Once the twist is placed in the boomerang it is then further heated so that all of the sap in the timber is dried and the twist becomes permanent. Once heat treatment is over, emu oil or animal fat is rubbed into the timber to preserve it.
These days most returning boomerangs are made from different materials (e.g., plywood, plastic, chip wood or saw milled timber) as that described above, but the aerodynamic principals are the same. To get a boomerang to fly properly and return, it must have its wings shaped like that of an aeroplane’s and have a twist to make it return.
2. The Club Or Hunting Boomerang
As its name implies, this boomerang was used for clubbing and hunting animals such as kangaroo, emu, goanna, wallaby, cassowary or turkey. Hunting boomerangs do not return to the thrower. They are much heavier than the returning boomerang, and they have sharper edges. They are also larger (up to one meter [3¼ feet] in length) and are shaped differently. In traditional life aboriginal hunters and warriors are expected to hurl this boomerang and hit prey up to a distance of 100 meters (or 328 feet). The saucer shape of this boomerang allows it to slice evenly through the air without lifting or dipping suddenly.
3. The Hooked Boomerang
In our tribe some shields can be as big as the person holding it. When fighting shields, the hooked boomerang used to hook the opponent’s shield out of the way. Also, from a distance, if the boomerang was thrown at a shield it would sometimes hook the side of the shield, spin around the back and injure its holder.
4. The X Shaped Boomerang
This boomerang is in the shape of a cross and returns to the thrower. It was used specifically for hunting birds. When making a returning cross boomerang, two shaped and twisted blades (made using the same methods used for returning boomerangs) are tied together and bonded with tree gum and charcoal. This type of boomerang was unique to our people, the rainforest dwellers.