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frequent than only one.

Spears Constructed of Two Pieces of Wood.— The

Tirrer or reed spear generally consists of two pieces. The shaft is
made of a slender reed, Typha auf^ustifolia , into which is fitted a
tip of poisonous mulga wood. Towards the point, bound with
/kangaroo or other tendon-, is placed a barb of wood or bone. The
extreme length of the tirrer, which may be as much as 12 ft., re-
quires the use of both hands in trajecfting it, one being employed with
the wummera, and the other stretched forward to direct the spear.

Spears Constructed of Three Pieces of Wood.— The

**Koanie" form of spear is formed of three separate pieces repre-
senting respectively the butt, shaft and tip. Of these, the shaft is
firmly fixed to the butt, but more loosely to the tip which is spatu-


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42 Director's Annual Report,

late in shape, broader at the free end, and often provided with a
barb of wood, bone, glass or wire bound firmly to its face. The
object of the loose tip is to allow the shaft to break away from the
head when the enemy is transfixed, thus rendering the weapon
more difl&cult to extract. The shaft of the koanie is often well
ornamented with grooving, and proved weapons are elaborately
finished, highly valued, and difficult to obtain.

Many other forms of spear are found, but are not so well
known and general as the ones already described. Stone-headed
spears, the product of the north, are much prized. The trigonal
flaked head is fastened with resin covered with kaolin and the
haft is generally freely ornamented. Fishing spears, bident or
trident in form, are sometimes carried for use in war and the chase,
but should not be classified among the weapons of this paper.
Various specimens of the above forms of spears will be found in or
near cases i6 and 17.


Closely associated with the use' of the concave-butted spears
is the Wummera, a device for increasing the velocity and range of
the latter weapons by lengthening the arm leverage, on the same
principle as that employed with the better known sling. The
wummera consists in general of a wooden haft of varying length,
upon which the spear lies before trajedtion. At the distal end of
the weapon a small projedling peg i^ situated to engage the hollow
depression at the extremity of the missile. To throw the spear,
the native stands sideways, holding the handle of the wummera
firmly with the three smallest fingers of the right hand— the arm
being diredled backwards over the shoulder. Upon this support
the spear rests, adjusted to the peg, and retained in position with
the finger and thumb of the same hand. One hand only is em-
ployed with most spears, but the length of the tirrer or reed spear
renders the use of the left hand also necessary to support this form
of weapon. Great dexterity is shown in fitting the spear to the
wummera, a feat which the native readily accomplishes without
removing his gaze from the object of attack. The velocity im-
parted to the missile by the wummera is great, and an effe<5live
range of 100 yds. is obtained.

The possession of this weapon by the Australians is sometimes
regarded as rendering the use of any other device of trajedlion


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Aboriginal Wooden Weapons of Australia. 43

unnecessary, and thus sufl&ciently accounting for the ignorance
of this people of the bow and arrow. The occurrence of imple-
ments similar to the wummera in other regions, particularly among
some American tribes at the time of the discovery, and also among
European palaeolithic remains, is well supported. In these in-
stances the wummera antedated the bow and was supplemented
by it. Modem investigation points to the antiquity of the Aus-
tralian race and its isolation from the Asiatic continent in remote
ages. The use of the wummera in this case may therefore be re-
garded as the survival of a primitive weapon among a race which
has progressed little or not at all since its separation from the rest
of mankind, rather than affording evidence of high intelligence.
The boomerang and wummera were unknown to the Tasmanian
aboriginals, which suggests their emigration from the primitive
stock before the discovery of these weapons.

Many forms of the wummera are in use throughout the country,
the shape varying greatly according to the district of manufacflure.
The origin of each individual specimen is of great interest and im-
portance, and a systematic description of all the weapons of this
region arranged with reference to their source would be of great
value. The earliest form of the weapon under consideration con-
sisted of an ordinary straight branch, with a projecfling twig at one
end shaped to furnish the necessary peg. The breaking of the
latter would render the primitive form of weapon useless, and an
advance would be made by the substitution of a separate peg of
wood or bone attached with tendon and gum. Roughly fashioned
implements of this description are common. A new feature in the
wummera is seen in No. 191 3, Plate II, consisting of a well defined
broadening of the middle part of the haft. This was of use for
carrying the colored pigments used at initiation and other rites.
The peg of this weapon is a piece of shell, part of which has been
broken away. The wummera, No. 1910, Plate II, is an extremelj-
light and well made specimen in which the entire haft is adapted for
carrying. It is construdled of hard red wood, and the peg is neatly
shaped from a piece of light yellow wood. Weapons possessing the
broadened haft are known by the name '*Amera." They are made
in the w^ and are ornamented on neither side. The handle,
formed by a knob of gum, appears to be chara<5leristic of these


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44 Director's Annual Report.

weapons. The resistance of the wide surface of the amera to the
air must impair the efficacy of these weapons as instruments of
propulsion. In some cases the haft is even further developed by
hollowing a somewhat thicker piece of wood to the shape of a shal-
low trough in order to contain blood and other fluids at the cere-
monies alluded to. In fastening the peg to the amera holes were
pierced at the distal end through which to pass the binding tendon.
Instances of boring among the Australians, who possessed no
pierced stone weapons, are rare. The edge of the amera is some-
times used in the process of fire-making by drawing it across the
anterior face of the goolmarry shield in the manner already de-

The wummera seen in Plate II, No. 191 1 , has the tray develop-
ment entirely eliminated . This well balanced weapon is constructed
of light wood, and its great leverage should render it very effecflive.
The wooden peg is held in place by the usual gum -cement. The
handle is shaped from and forms one piece with the haft. By re-
ferring to the specimens in Plate II, three stages in the develop-
ment of the handle are noticeable. Wummeras construcfled of only
one piece of wood and elaborately ornamented are also found, but
this Museum is as yet unfortunately without a specimen. Other
weapons have the peg fitted to the edge of a lathe-shaped haft in-
stead of to the face as in the weapons considered. A not unusual
feature of some wummeras is a piece of shell fastened to the proxi-
mal end of the haft for use as a scraper or chisel. Besides the
materials already mentioned as furnishing the peg, the tooth of a
kangaroo or slain enemy was sometimes used. The tendon em-
ployed for binding the peg was furnished either by kangaroo or
emu leg, or by the neck of a snake.

The natives of New Caledonia poSvSess a device for throwing
spears consisting of a cord and loop. It is identical in principle
with the ancient amentum. The kotaha, or sling-stick of the
Maoris, formed of a wooden handle and a knotted dogskin thong,
is also worthy of attention here. The arrow to be propelled with
this implement was first loosely stuck in the ground, point upwards
behind the thrower, towards whom it inclined at an angle of 30 or
40 degrees, and to this the thong was then looped in a manner to
disengage readily direcflly the impetus of flight was imparted.


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Aboriginal Wooden Weapons oj Australia . 45


The order of arrangement of the following weapons shows the
line of development by which the more advanced may have been
produced from those of primitive form.

Straight Hand Clubs. — The simplest form of these weap-
ons is the straight, heavy pole of hard wood, uniform in girth
through most of its length, but tapering abruptly at each end, and
often grooved at one extremity to allow a good purchase to the
hands. This somewhat cumbersome weapon could only be used
at close quarters and was never thrown. A good specimen is shown
in Plate III, No. 7443. These weapons are more or less cylindri-
cal in form, and their weight and size i*endered the use of two
hands necessary to wield them. To deliver a blow the club was
grasped by both hands at one end, and swung forward from over
the head. In guarding, the adversary grasped his weapon with a
hand at each end, holding it either horizontally above the head, or
vertically to left or right to protect the part attacked. The two-
handed club was also used by the **gins" who stood ready to assist
or rescue in the civil combats already described.

The Waddy is a common form of hand club for use with one
hand only. It is much shorter than the above form and possesses
a well developed head, more or less diamond-shaped, which is
generally decorated with the usual incisions. The waddy was
frequently chosen together with the mulga shield in the single en-
counters, when the head was the only permissible object of attack.
Although this club was often thrown, its true place was among the
hand clubs. An endless variety of form is found among these
weapons, often due to the natural shape of the wood from which
they are made. Some of the lighter are pointed at the end in
order to turn over in flight and pierce the body of the enemy
when thrown at close range. Specimens in this collecflion can be
seen in cases 16 and 17.

A tendency to lighten the two-handed club by flattening it — a
device which gave a more wieldy and at the same time a more
effe<5live weapon, is seen in No. 8761, Plate III. This formidable
paddle-shaped weapon is a splendid example of Australian work-
manship. It is fashioned from dark close-grained wood, probably
Erythrophleum laboucheria, and bears a pattern in white painted


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4^ Director's Annual Report,

at the distal end which has become indistinct through use. The
thickening of the handle to prevent slipping is noteworthy, as is
also the depression at the end. A cross secflion of this fine club
reveals one face more convex than the other— a characfleristic
feature, not only of all boomerangs but of many other Au.stralian
weapons. A splendid example of the so-called native sword is also
shown in Plate III, No. 8745, which exhibits a full development
to the spatulate form from the early cylindrical type. Specimens
of such weapons are rare and generally of ancient workmanship.
The handle of the specimen considered is covered with gum-
cement, and the remains of a few irregular red bars are seen at the
distal end. A more modern form of sword, which is said to owe
its shape to white influence, though unconscious imitation of the
boomerang may also have assisted, is shown in Plate III, No. 7444.
The unusual size of this weapon must have greatly lessened its
value. Ornate sword -shaped clubs are also found, the use of which
was probably ceremonial or executional.

Bent Hand Clnbs. — The earliest form of this weapon was
the simple cropk afforded by the natural bend of the branch from
which it was shaped. Its use at first was probably little more than
for reaching a body which had fallen in battle, in order to drag it
from the fight. Such a primitive implement is seen on the ceiling
of the Australian alcove. No. 8751. Soon, however, the efficacy
of this weapon as a means of attack was appreciated, and the in-
vention of the "Leonile" — the most dangerous of Australian close
combat weapons — resulted. The deadly quality of this club is due
to its shape, which allows the attacker to reach over the guard of
the enemy with a blow almost impossible to parry. Another fea-
ture, and one which probably greatly enhanced its value to the
native, was that the kidneys of the enemy, the seat of life, were
exposed to the attack of the leonile. The weapon is similar to the
simple hook club in general shape, but it is flattened and the distal
end is acutely pointed. To construct this weapon advantage is
taken of a suitable growth in the branches or roots of a hard wood
tree such as the Eucalyptus exurata. A far more formidable weap-
on of the same kind and of enormous reach is seen on the ceiling
among the Solomon Island weapons in the alcove devoted to that
region. Of such weapons the Museum possesses several specimens


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Aboriginal Wooden Weapons of Australia, 47

of excellent finish, contrasting strongly with the crude execution
of the Australian implements. Similar weapons may also be seen
in case 9 among the Nine specimens.

Throwing Clubs. — These weapons differ from those already
considered in the fact that they are generally lighter in weight
and are essentially missiles. At first little more than a sapling,
with the adhering wood shaped to form a head, the Nulla-nulla in
time assumed a more definite and well recognized pattern. In
general shape it consists of a cylindrical piece of wood some 2 ft.
long, sharply pointed at each extremity. Its diameter is little
more than an inch, which gradually increases a few inches from
the distal end to form a head and to weight the weapon. Speci-
mens of the nulla-nulla are seen on the wall of case P. 16. These
weapons were commonly in use throughout the country.

A well marked step in the development of the boomerang, or
at least a witness to the fact that the curiosity of the Australian
was dire<5led to investigating the possibility of extending the range
of missiles beyond that imparted by the impetus of the unaided
human arm is seen in the Weet-weet- This primitive device,
although used as a toy, was tapable of inflidling severe wounds.
Its form closely resembled an attenuated nulla-nulla, and its simi-
larity in flight tp the rat-kangaroo has sometimes given it the name
of that animal. The weet-weet consists of a small cylinder of
wood, two or three inches long, pointed at the ends, and bearing
at one extremity a tail of flexible wood some 20 in. long. It was
thrown closely parallel to the earth, upon which it continually
ricochetted in its flight. Its range has been measured at 220 yds.
Although no specimen of this curious device has been examined
by the writer it appears to owe its great flight to acceleration im-
parted by the vibrations of the flexible tail, set up by its frequent
impact with the ground.


The boomerang is undoubtedly derived from the clubs already
described, although to which group, if to any exclusively, its evo-
lution may be ascribed, is difficult to determine. It appears to
posscvss the greatest affinity to the bent hand clubs, which, as has
been said, were, on occasion, thrown; and it is certainly credible
that the first boomerangs were modifications of the leonile. Inter-


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48 Director's Annual Report,

mediate forms of the latter, and also of other weapons and the
boomerang, have been met with. In this reference it is interesting
to note the frequent occurrence among the Australian weapons of
specimens whose se<5lion shows one surface distindlly more convex
than the other — an invariable attribute of all boomerangs. It must
be remembered that the war boomerang did not return to the point
of trajecflion, and the development of this weapon to the conven-
tional pattern was more probably due to a slow process of experi-
ment and improvement than to accidental discovery, to which the
returning boomerang probably owes its origin.

The occurrence of the boomerang among the ancient Assyrians
and the Egyptians, whose sculpture occasionally represents weapons
of apparently similar construdlion, is often advanced, as is also
reference to such a weapon in ancient literature. Whatever former
people were familiar with its properties, it appears conclusive that
all authentic record of such knowledge has been lost.

One of the most characfleristic impulses of the Australian was
to throw at his quarry or adversary, and every weapon was, on
occasion, used in this manner. Following the same line of improve-
ment as had already produced the spatulate sword from the primi-
tive cylindrical club, the Australian was not long in learning that
a fiat missile cleaves the air more easily and has a greater effedlive
range than a round one. At the same time he unconsciously took
advantage of the fact that the suspension of a thin plane moving
horizontally with the earth is assisted by atmospheric resistance.
The gradual evolution of the boomerang was the result.

The war form of this weapon differs from the returning variety
chiefly in its angle of curvature, which is more obtuse, and in the
fact that it lies in one plane and is not twisted, to which latter de-
vice the return boomerang owes its elliptical trajecflory. All boome-
rangs, however, have the surface, which in flight lies upper, more
convex than the lower, and the convex or outer margin sharply
edged. The war boomerang is an effedlive and dangerous weapon,
having a range of 150 yds., and having been known to pass com-
pletely through an adversary when the body was first struck by the
point of the weapon. Boomerangs were often manufactured and
bartered in pairs, being cut together from one piece of suitably
shaped wood. The possessor of a good pair would not readily dis-
pose of them separately.


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Aboriginal Wooden Weapons of Australia, 49

The chief differences exhibited in the various forms of war
boomerang are those of ornamentation, size and angle measure-
ment. These characfleristics are chiefly of local significance. As
a rule the north and west produce the most interesting specimens,
thOvSe of the best decoration being made by the former ; and the
Kylie, a keen, effecflive little weapon weighing often only a few
ounces, and possessing two angles, coming from the latter. The
manufacflure of boomerangs is, however, general and their barter
extensive. The wood most generally used is a species of acacia.
The following forms of war boomerangs, based upon their orna-
mentation, are noteworthy :

Fluted. — Boomerangs of this kind were invariably ornament-
ed on both sides and uniformly colored red or black. The weapon
shown in Plate IV, No. 8737, is representative, except in its extreme
size, which reaches 49 in. It was used by the extinct Dieyeri
tribe of Central Australia, and was obtained at Coolya water-hole.
The color of this weapon is a dull red, and the irregularly parallel
flutings have been scored with a flint chisel.

Colored. — Boomerangs of this class are either colored red
throughout or are marked with broad transverse red bands. The
specimen No. 1369, Plate IV, is from the Albany tribe of West
Australia. It is chiefly remarkable for its lightness and for its
peculiar shape, which approximates to that of the sickle and fur-
nishes the weapon with two distinct angles.

Carved. — These weapons are charadleristic of the northeast.
They are incised with neatly made curved lines upon their upper
surface only. Two specimens are illustrated in Plate IV. Of these
No. 7030 bears representations of what may be reptiles. No. 1367,
from Queensland, is somewhat similar to the last specimen in de-
sign ; the compound line running throughout its whole length is

Plain. — Weapons bearing no ornamentation, either of incision
or coloring, are common. Specimens of these will be seen in the
Australian cases.

The feat of throwing the boomerang is difficult to any but a
native. The peculiarities of each weapon have to be considered

Occasional Papkrs B. P. n. M., Voi.. II, No. 2.-4.


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50 Director' s Aiinual Report.

and the owner of a good boomerang, by frequent pradlice. can use it
much more eflSciently than a stranger. Before throwing his weapon
the native carefully observes the condition of the atmosphere, and
holding the boomerang much as a sickle is grasped essays two or
three preliminary passes in the air and then discharges it in a
position nearly vertical with the ground. The bias imparted to
the weapon by the arm movement at the moment of release causes
it to quickly assume a horizontal position which is retained during

The final step in the development of the war boomerang is
reached in the specimen shown in Plate IV, No. 8748. The
**swan-necked** or **hooked'* boomerang resembles an ordinary
one with a well developed horn borne upon the convex margin of
the distal end. This remarkable form of weapon is rare. In some
weapons the. horn is itself curved, its concave edge lying nearest
to the convex margin of the main shaft. The object of the horn
is to swing the weapon round upon the guarding club of an enemy,
the horn engaging with the latter and revolving upon impact.
Some ordinary boomerangs have a hook of this kind attached to
them, and occasionally a weapon of ordinary form shows a mark
where such a hook has been broken off. The hooked boomerang
could also be used effe<5tively in close combat in the same way as
the leonile. The specimen figured is from North Australia. It is
entirely covered with the fluting ornamentation, and is colored
red throughout.

A description of the returning boomerang, called by the natives
**Come back", is not within the scope of this paper. The imple-
ment was not of use in war and is merely referred to here as mark-
ing the culminating point of Australian invention. The discovery
of this weapon was undoubtedly accidental, and the flight of the
first returning boomerang most probably resulted from the peculiar
twist of a specimen of the ordinary form. That such an accident
should have been inquired into, and the cause of its return not only
appreciated but applied to similar weapons is significant of the
acute observation of the people. The occurrence of the returning
boomerang is confined to Australia, and evidences of its use else-
where are unreliable. In the first weapons of this kind the return


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Aboriginal Wooden Weapons of Australia. 51

motion was probably not much more than a distinct curve from
the line of original impetus. A good thrower is said not only to
be able to make a come-back complete three gyrations, but also to
be able to throw any ordinary boomerang in such a way as to make
it return to his vicinity. It is needless to say that the aim of a
weapon thrown in order to return is erratic, and its range is far
more limited than when propelled in a direct course.


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Occasional Papers B. P. B. M., Vol. II.

Plate I.


« 7 49

.S743. (ioolmarry Shield. Length. 24.75 In.; width, 7 in.: thickneni*. 2.75 in.: weight, 4.2."»
IbH. EnealyptnH wood(?).


N738. MulffH Shield from VUtorln. length. HI lu.: width, 3 in.; thlcknpHH. 4 In.: welprht.
1.25 IbH. Acada wood(?).

8749. We«t Aiwtrallan Shield from .Kiniberlj. Len^rth, 28 In.: width. 7.25 In.: thlrk-
nwH, 0.25 In.: weight. 1.5 IbH. Er,vthrlna wood(?).

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niniti^pdhy Google

Occasional Papers B. P. B. M., Vol. II.

Plate II.

1913. Wammera from Sonth Anotralia. I^nirth. 21.7R In.: width of tray. 2.5 In. Pejr
of shell Imbedded In tram.

1»10. Wuniniera from Went AuHtralla. Lenirth. 2n In.: breadth. ».2fi In.: thIrkneHH. U.2
In. Wooden |)egr. K«ni handle.

l«ll. Wnmmera from North QneenHland. Len^rth. 3S In.; Kreatent width, 1.75 In.: thirk-
neMH, (r.5 In. Wooden pej?.

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Occasional Papkks B. I'. B. M.. Vol. II.

Plate III.


744». Two-handed Clnb. Length. 42 In.: dinmeter. 1.75 In.; woifrht. Ibn. North
AnHtralia (probably QneenHland).

H761. Taddle-Hhaped Club, or "MpyarroU." with flHhtail handle. Leugrth, 52 In.: width,
.'1.7') In.: thh-kneHH, 1.25 In.; welgrht. 4.2 llm. Port EHHln>?ton. North AuNtralla.

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