Curved throwing sticks were once found throughout the world. Several were discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, Hopi Native Americans once used them, and a 23,000-year-old example made from mammoth ivory was recently found in Poland. Since that time the invention of the bow and arrow superseded what Aborigines call a boomerang or karli, but their innovation of a stick that returns has kept the boomerang alive, not least in people’s imaginations – they were originally used as children’s toys but were then modified into decoys for hunting wildfowl. The non-returning types depicted in Carnarvon Gorge show how sophisticated they became as hunting weapons.

Usually made from tough acacia wood, some are hooked like a pick, while others are designed to cartwheel along the ground to break the legs of game. Thus immobilized, one animal would be killed while another could be easily tracked to meet the same fate. Besides hunting, the boomerang was also used for digging, levering or cutting, as well as for musical or ceremonial accompaniment, when pairs would be banged together. At Carnarvon Gorge, the long, gently curved boomerangs stencilled on the walls in pairs are not repetitions but portraits of two weapons with identical flight paths; if the first missed through a gust of wind, for instance, the user could immediately throw the second, correcting his aim for the conditions.

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