What Goes Around, Comes Back Around
The movie “Australia” stars actors Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (directed by Baz Luhrmann), and is set in September 1939 just after Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The movie is narrated by Nullah, a bright, insightful young boy with an aboriginal mother and white father, and the grandson of the local “magic man,” or medicine man. Nullah reportedly inherits the magic of his people, especially in his clear, haunting voice. Not only does his singing stop a herd of stampeding bovines, he claims that he can sing a person to him. In their relationship with Nullah, both lead characters are challenged to first protect, then release him when his grandfather calls him to begin the initiation rite of walkabout.
Australian aboriginal people traditionally believe in two components of time: daily activity as measured in hours and minutes, as well as an infinite spiritual belief called the “dreamtime.” The dreamtime establishes the values, rules for social behavior and laws of aboriginal culture, and some individuals are believed to contact the dreamtime through their spiritual powers. Dreamtime proposes that the land was sung into existence and these stories shade the continent of Australia with cultural distinction and meaning. In addition, these traditions encompass the history of the aboriginal civilization, provide a geography text and establish a manual of rituals and rites.
Early European settlers arriving in Australia first heard the name “bou-mar-ang” (aka, boomerang) from the Turawui aboriginal tribe of the Georges River district. According to the Turawui, their ancestors obtained the returning boomerang and other culture items and beliefs from the Uru (the creators of man) during a long-ago dreamtime. Since the Australian aboriginal people are one of the few cultures in history never to develop a bow and arrow, their heavy dependence on the boomerang for hunting has ensured its preservation. Recent archeological digs in an Australian swamp have unearthed boomerangs over 25,000 years old. In addition, rock art depictions of boomerangs being thrown at animals such as kangaroos exist on some of the oldest rock art in the world in the Australian Kimberly region. And Australia is not the only country to use boomerangs; they have been used in India, North America, Europe and Egypt. King Tut had some of his favorite boomerangs in the burial chamber!
Pick up a stick and give it a good throw. Unless there is an interested dog in the immediate area, you now have to go and get the stick you just tossed away. But, if the piece of wood was actually a carefully crafted boomerang, bystanders would be amazed at both the speed and trajectory of the projectile. In fact, stick-chasing dogs have been known to become dizzy and disoriented trying to find a boomerang. Technically speaking, a boomerang is a weapon constructed as a flat air foil that, when thrown, spins about an axis perpendicular to the direction of its flight. Boomerangs have been historically used for hunting, and more recently for sport or entertainment.
Originally boomerangs were throwing sticks or long-distance missiles. A throwing stick may have the shape associated with a boomerang, but it is designed to travel on a straight path and when thrown with great force, it will bring down game or injure an enemy. However, a returning boomerang curves its path using aerodynamic and gyroscopic forces so that it travels in an elliptical manner and, when thrown correctly, returns to the point of origin. These returning boomerangs are primarily used for recreation, although they can be thrown above long grass to frighten game birds into flight or decoy birds of prey.
In a Fox News article published October 17, 2016 scientists think they might have discovered the remains of a boomerang-attack victim. The bones were found eroding out of a riverbank in New South Wale’s Toorale National Park two years ago, and have been identified as belonging to a male between 25 and 35 years old with a long gash in his skull (from the frontal bone to his jaw on the right side, ICD-10-CM code S02.0XXB). He was named Kaakutja (a term meaning “older brother” from the local Baakantji people) and had crayfish and possum for his last meal. Conflict was apparently common for Kaakutja – he had two head injuries that had partially healed, rib fractures and a wound to his right upper arm. Radiocarbon dating showed that he died over 800 years ago, which is at least 600 years before Europeans brought metal weapons to Australia. In the study, which is detailed in the October 2016 issue of the journal Antiquity, the team concluded that the sharp edge of a wooden boomerang most likely caused this lengthy cut (ICD-10-CM code X99.8XXA). Since Kaakutja did not appear to have any defensive injuries on his forearms, the study authors think he may have been killed in a surprise attack, perhaps while he was sleeping.
And there are boomerang enthusiasts today! Boomerang Billy (aka, John McMahon or “Mr. Muscle”) made and sold boomerangs on South Padre Island, Texas. He threw his creations to the delight of tourists and once threw/caught the same boomerang 495 times in succession. Then there is Joe Timbery, a famous Aboriginal artist, who not only crafted these instruments but was known to catch the returning boomerang with his feet. And of course, Frank Donnellan, one of Australia’s earliest boomerang champions and record holders, who could throw and catch boomerangs blindfolded. His favorite trick was to throw a boomerang that would knock an apple off his head when it returned. All of this shows that even when you understand the physics and science behind the flight of the boomerang, it still seems like magic.