Although boomerangs are commonly associated with Australia, historical traces have been found throughout the world. Many consider boomerangs to be the first heavier-than-air-flying machines invented by man. In various forms, they have been found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. 2,000 years ago, Egypt's King Tutankhamen had an extensive collection.
No one knows what long ago hunter first had his throwing stick return to him. It is believed that this happened by accident. According to this theory, a hunter was 'fine tuning' his throwing stick to allow it to fly straighter or farther, and ended up having it fly back toward him instead.
Of course today, when most people think of boomerangs, they probably automatically think of a thrown stick that returns to you. However, in the past, the non-returning boomerang, or throwing stick, was more commonly created. These were used for hunting or as weapons.
While various types of throwing sticks were used by many aboriginal people around the world, the boomerang is most often associated with Australia, for a reason. The boomerang, or particularly the non-returning throwing stick, is an ideal weapon to use in the flat, treeless bush for hunting upright prey, such as the kangaroo or emu.
Perhaps, because of this, Australia's aborigines never developed the bow and arrow. The boomerang has thus been well preserved in Australia. When 17th century explorers arrived there, they reported that the natives carried 'wooden swords' in their belts.
Because of their shape, they likened these to Arabian scimitars. It wasn't until some years later that they first saw one thrown. Even then, there was some confusion between non-returning throwing sticks and returning boomerangs.
Today, paxolin and carbon fiber have largely replaced wood as the preferred materials for boomerangs, although Finnish birch wood has been found to work very well, and beautifully decorated wooden boomerangs can be purchased from many specialty stores.
Some of these are self-explanatory, such as accuracy and time aloft. The Aussie round event includes points for accuracy, distance, and catching.
In the endurance event, the competitor tries to make as many throws and catches as he can in five minutes. The fast catch event is similar, except in this case, he tries to throw and catch his boomerang five times as fast as possible.
Boomerangs have come a long way since the first hunter accidentally had his hunting stick return to him. Today, computers and programs created to design aircraft windfoils are being used for boomerangs.
As a result, they probably fly better and farther than ever before. The boomerangs used in competitions can stay aloft for minutes at a time, and fly distances greater than 200 meters.
Although today, boomerangs are a favorite toy for many children and are often beautifully decorated, they have an exotic and deadly serious history. Still, whether we're young or old, there's just something fascinating about a stick that comes back to you when you throw it.
By Earl Hunsinger
By Earl Hunsinger