Art/ Collection/ Art Object


late 19th–early 20th century
Australia, Western Desert, Northern Territory, Victoria River region
Wood, ocher
H x W: 6 1/4 x 31in. (15.9 x 78.7cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
The boomerang is the most immediately recognizable of all Australian Aboriginal art forms. Produced by many, but not all, Aboriginal peoples, boomerangs served a variety of purposes. Like most Aboriginal boomerangs, this example collected among the Wardaman people on the northern fringes of the central desert region was nonreturning. Used in hunting and warfare, boomerangs were primarily specialized throwing sticks, intended to hit the target and fall to the ground. Among central desert peoples, boomerangs were typically adorned, as here, with shallow longitudinal grooves that follow the gentle curvature of the implement. The series of paired transverse grooves that appear on this example are somewhat unusual. Like most implements in the central desert, this boomerang is coated in red ocher, a natural mineral pigment that was mined from the ground at specific sites. The tip of the shorter arm also shows evidence of black paint. Boomerangs were occasionally painted for use in ceremonies, and the presence of the paint here suggests that, in addition to its practical uses, the present work may, on occasion, have been employed in ritual contexts.
Reverend J. T. Huston, West Queensland, Australia, until 1907; The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, 1907–1959; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

Davidson, D.S. "Australian Throwing-Sticks, Throwing-Clubs, and Boomerangs." American Anthropologist vol. 38 (1937).

McCarthy, Frederick D. Australian Aboriginal Decorative Art. no. 7 ed. Sydney: Australian Museum, 1966.

Jones, Philip. Boomerang: Behind an Australian Icon. Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 1996.

Barlow, Alex. Aboriginal Technology: Boomerangs and Throwing Sticks. Victoria Park: Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd, 1998.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 67.

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