Boomerangs are iconic objects of Aboriginal Australian art but their meaning within Aboriginal culture is not widely known. We have just acquired a boomerang that measures an impressive 59 inches – far too lengthy to be thrown as an instrument in hunting. Boomerangs of this scale were found in western Queensland and parts of South Australia.
This boomerang was used primarily as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat, yet like almost all objects in Aboriginal culture, it had a great number of other purposes. It may have been used as a digging stick, for fire-making, for clearing grasses and soil to prepare camp sites or perhaps for ceremonial purposes. It has characteristics that are common to all boomerangs: it is light and thin (it had to be easy to carry – Aboriginals are nomadic), with a lower surface that is flat, and an upper surface that is convex.
All Aboriginal art is utilitarian, and almost all Aboriginal art is sacred. There were no professional artists within Aboriginal culture, and there is no word in their language for artist. The works were mainly created by men, and were not made to be sold, or to be kept permanently.
The patterns on the boomerang relate to spirits and events of the Dreamtime, “the Creative Time when these [Spirit] Beings set the pattern of life for the natural world and defined the form of much of the inanimate world as well. “ (Art of the First Australians, by John Carrick and Shorty Lungkata Kjungurai (Australia, 1994). Aboriginals believe that those spirits live as they did at the beginning of time. Works of art, such as a boomerang, are a link between humans and the spirits, bringing spiritual power to everyday work, and they reinforce the significance of their mythology.
Many of the patterns and forms of Aboriginal art are prescribed through tradition, and patterns are believed to have originated from the Spirits, and to deviate from the traditional pattern would reduce the object’s usefulness. Nevertheless, there are subtle variations within the designs.
Aboriginals travelled from Southeast Asia to the area now known as Australia more than 40,000 years ago. They sustained themselves until relatively recently as hunters and foragers. They were almost completely isolated from the rest of mankind for thousands of years, living a life in delicate harmony with their environment. This boomerang a great example of the simplicity and economy of the Aboriginal way of life.