The Upside Down Under


Think of Australia and a boomerang may well come to mind as one of the country's most unique and distinctive emblems.

In the shorthand of our memories the boomerang is as Australian as the kangaroo, koala or Vegemite. As such, no-one was surprised to see Australia's 2000 Olympics logo featuring boomerangs.

Sydney 2000 Olympics Logo
... no-one was surprised to see boomerangs on the Sydney 2000 Olympics logo.

A boomerang is a tool, typically constructed as a flat airfoil that, when thrown, is designed to spin about an axis perpendicular to the direction of its flight. A returning boomerang is designed to return to the thrower. It is well known as a weapon used by Indigenous Australians for hunting.

Images of Awabakul country, Port Macquarie near Newcastle, NSW - Aboriginal of the Namoi River region, NSW

Boomerangs have been historically used for hunting, as well as a sport, and entertainment. They are commonly thought of as an Australian icon, and come in various shapes and sizes.

It may be surprising, for some, that boomerangs were used for many thousands of years in other parts of the world as well. A wooden boomerang found by archaeologists in Little Salt Spring in Florida, USA, was broken and discarded by its owner some 9,000 years ago. In the 1986 excavation of a limestone cave in southern Poland, a complete boomerang, beautifully carved from mammoth tusk and about 23,000 years old, was recovered

The enormous assortment of boomerang types seems to impress observers almost as much as their ability to come back. This multitude of forms has both intrigued and confused the public and scholars alike for well over a century.

One can easily imagine the perplexity of an interested person who has a number of these presented to him, some left-handed, some right-handed and some apparently of the like form, but not made to return.

A collection of Boomerangs
Boomerangs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

While most of us would imagine that a boomerang's curve is essential for its flying properties, less well-known is that the surface shape of a boomerang's arms are just as important.

The main technological secret of the boomerang is not its curve, but the surface shape of its arms. The aeroplane's wing provides a close analogy. The top surface is slightly convex while the underside is nearly flat. When a wing of this shape is exposed to a strong air current the air flow creates a pocket of low pressure above the wing, and a pocket of high pressure below it.

Boomerang's aerodynamic shape
The main technological secret of the boomerang is not its curve, but the surface shape of its arms.

These forces respectively pull and push the wing upwards. If the air flow is fast enough the wing will be lifted up and held in the current. An aeroplane creates this critical lifting force by gaining speed on a runway. The boomerang is hurled into the air with an initial speed of about 100km per hour.

A demonstration of throwing (and catching a heavy (156 gram) Boomerang Killer from Boomerang Hunter. Be careful when you catch, can damage your body.

Throwing a Boomerang

Getting your boomerang to return to you takes practice and experience. There is no exact or perfect way to throw each time since conditions are always different for each area and even different times through out the day. Throwing a boomerang is just like learning any other new sport and it does take time and practice to get it down right. The following diagrams and instructions are based on a right handed throw. Left handed throwers should always be to the left of the wind. For left handed throwers, imagine the diagrams inverted so that the wind and positioning is completely opposite of what you see.

Throwing a Boomerang
Throwing a Boomerang - Illustration by Ted Slampyak

Boomerangs are understandably frustrating. It’s not as intuitive as throwing a baseball or football. What separates a successful throw from an embarrassing one is rooted in a few fundamentals: the right grip, your throwing motion, and evaluating your conditions. Oh, and one more thing, make sure the boomerang you have is an actual “returning boomerang.” Many are just for decoration, which means they fly about as well as a snow globe.




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