What is a Boomerang?

A boomerang is a curved throwing weapon traditionally used by Aboriginal Australians for warfare and hunting. Boomerangs are also a form of Aboriginal art, decorated with painted or carved symbols that tell Indigenous stories and legends. Boomerangs hold historical and cultural significance, with a rich history of use in religious ceremonies, where they’re clapped together and hit against the floor as an accompaniment to Aboriginal chants. The boomerang’s unique pattern can help identify which ceremony it is used for.

What is a returning boomerang?

Boomerangs come in many shapes and sizes. The two most common boomerangs used by Aboriginals are the returning and non-returning varieties, however, a plethora of boomerang-shaped clubs exist. The most popular variety is the returning boomerang which was derived by the Turuwal tribe. It is 30–75cm long and can weigh up to 340 grams, with twisted arms which produce the aerodynamics of returning flight. These arms are usually skewed in opposite directions when the boomerang is being made or when it’s being heated in ashes. Returning boomerangs are well balanced and light, with their shape varying from a deep curve to almost straight sides, and a flat bottom surface and curved top surface, which aids with flight.

How is a returning boomerang thrown and held?

The action of throwing a boomerang should be practised somewhere with at least 50 metres of open space because it can be a tricky skill to learn. Ideally, the boomerang should be held on one end at eye height, above and behind the thrower’s shoulder. The curved edge of the boomerang should be facing the front, which should be followed by a rapid swing forward. To increase impetus, the boomerang should be released into the air with a strong wrist movement that resembles a spin. The power of the throw is also determined by the angle of the edges, with a boomerang that is parallel or downward-facing to the ground sweeping upward to a height of 15 metres or more. Alternatively, if one end of the boomerang is thrown down to strike the ground, the boomerang may complete a full circular or oval shape, spanning 45 metres or more, followed by several smaller circular shapes until it drops to the ground in front of the thrower. This may also be followed by a figure-eight course.

What’s the difference between returning and non-returning boomerangs?

Returning boomerangs are commonly used as children’s playthings, in tournament competitions or for imitating hawks to hunt game birds. When hunting, the boomerang is thrown towards flocks of game birds to imitate a bird of prey, and when the birds fly down, they’re met with the hunter’s net made from trees. The returning varieties were developed from non-returning varieties, which swerve when they are thrown

Non-returning boomerangs are straighter, longer in length, and heavier than returning boomerangs. Some non-returning varieties have a hook at one end, while others are more traditionally shaped with a curve. These varieties were customarily used as a hand club, to inflict injury or to maim and kill animals. Variations of non-returning boomerangs were also used as weapons by Ancient Egyptians, Native Americans in Arizona and California, and in Southern India to kill small to medium size prey, such as birds and rabbits.

Boomerangs today

Today, boomerangs are used in Australia, America, Europe, North America and Japan in sport and international competitions which measure the speed, distance, accuracy and catching ability of the thrower. Modern boomerangs are often made from plywood, plastic or fibreglass, and are one of the most popular tourist items in Australia.