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Boomerangs the World Around
There is mystery in the boomerang. Nothing more than a piece of wood, yet with uncanny accuracy it circles through the air and comes back to the thrower. Obviously enough the thrower holds no magnet that plays upon the sailing missile, has no magical·power that pulls it back to him—the secret rests entirely in the mechanical construction of the stick and the physical laws of ballistics. Yet, however completely these laws may be expounded and comprehended, there will always be something of magic in the uncanny ability of these flying sticks to find their way into the waiting hands of the thrower.
Doubtless this element of mystery has much to do with the universal appeal of the sailing boomerang. Certain it is that it holds a peculiar fascination to young and old of every clime. There is intrigue in the very appearance of the boomerang in the air, in the ease and grace with which it soars and sails, circles and double circles, and finally floats effortlessly back to its starting point. No bird ever soared the sky with more harmony of movement and easy elegance than does a good boomerang.
And then, too, coming as it does from the primitive, boomerang throwing carries with it that glamour that all things primitive have to the civilized mind.
Little wonder that the thrower takes so much pride in sailing these graceful sticks. The sheer beauty of the flight and the perfection and precision of the return are a never-ending joy—he throws until weary and obtains thereby excellent physical exercise and the self-expression that comes from good recreation. Almost equally as great is the appeal to the spectator: one glimpse of the floating missile and the onlooker is arrested—he remains to thrill and to enjoy aesthetic satisfaction.
Boomerang throwing has few equals as an individual sport. It offers as much of physical benefit as any throwing and catching activity. It grips and compels. It is one of those colorful activities that not only challenges the performer but has unique show value. It carries a romantic appeal—it does things to the imaginations of people. Being an unusual type of activity, it serves admirably as a hobby. I have never known a person to become familiar with the art of the boomerang and not be caught in the irresistible, sweeping tide of its appeal. The sport becomes a major interest and a constant source of pride.
But there is another aspect of this sport that plays a most conspicuous role in its appeal—the making of the boomerang is as interesting as the throwing. In fact the making and the throwing are inseparably related in the full enjoyment of the pastime. There is pleasure in throwing a boomerang that is purchased or obtained from some one else, but it is in no respect comparable to the joy and thrill that results in handling one which you yourself have made. All the time the boomerang is being whittled you are looking forward to throwing it—constantly in your mind is the question, "Will it come back?" And when the last chip has been removed, you hasten to hurl it—and it works! There is thrill and glowing satisfaction as can come from few other pastimes! Even the old-timer at the boomerang game never fails to experience it; he may have made a thousand boomerangs, yet each time he throws a new one and it works perfectly just as he planned that it should, he feels a surge of pride and satisfaction that is worth many times over the effort required for the making. It is a feeling of craftsmanship, of having been the cause! So great, in fact, is this joy that comes from seeing a newly-made boomerang work perfectly, that one is always tempted to put the stick away after throwing it enough to test it thoroughly, and then to make another designed to act in a different way.
And happily, the making is easy—nothing more forbidding than jackknife whittling, and not very difficult whittling at that. Most boomerangs are made from soft wood that is very easy to work. And when a boomerang is roughly whittled out, so anxious is the maker to see if it will function that he throws it before finishing it carefully. If it works, he is usually reluctant to touch it again with the knife and so it is left in a crude and rough state. But this crudeness enhances rather than detracts from its appearance. Since these are primitive instruments, a machine-like perfection in appearance unmakes the picture. All of this adds to the simplicity of the making.
PLACE IN THE EDUCATIONAL AND RECREATIONAL PROGRAM
The recreational value of boomerang making and throwing is clearly indicated in the foregoing paragraphs.
An ideal play activity serves two purposes: It is gripping and compelling at the moment—it appeals as play, and makes the typical contributions of play to growth—and secondly, it is an activity of the type that will carry on throughout life, that is, the learning of the skills necessary to play it is an education for leisure.
The use of boomerangs meets these requirements outstandingly. It is an individual rather than a team or group activity; experience indicates that the activities that can be enjoyed alone or with two or three others are the lifetime type. Once one is familiar with the art of the boomerang, he will doubtless come back to it again and again throughout life—he is equipped with an enduring and lasting hobby. This being the case, the use of boomerangs has a place in any school or club that attempts to educate in leisure-time activities.
In any group or class of children, there will be some who for temperamental or physical reasons do not participate regularly in the usual team games. Boomerangs will hold a peculiar appeal to such types. In individual corrective work in physical education, this activity has much to recommend it. But its glamour is not confined to these special types of people—practically all boys, girls, and men will be challenged by the boomerang in any play and recreational program.
Viewed from the handicraft standpoint, boomerang making has a purpose, an objective unknown in the usual crafts—it has a reward beyond the satisfaction of good craftsmanship—that of throwing the boomerang when completed. This activity is therefore ideal for use in clubs, playgrounds, camps, and schools, both as a craft and as a sport. In schools the making of boomerangs is usable in manual-training and industrial-arts departments, and the throwing of boomerangs is delightful in the physical education department. Most boomerangs of the types we shall recommend work more effectually indoors where there are no air currents to interfere and consequently, the school gymnasium is an ideal place for their use.
The element of danger immediately comes to mind when boomerangs are mentioned, and this fear has often militated against the consideration of the activity in school manual-training departments. The element of danger has been greatly exaggerated, due in part to the fact that few are familiar with types of boomerangs other than the curved Australian type. This boomerang is heavy and does carry a considerable element of danger. Not so, however, with the come-back sticks which will be described in the chapters that follow. The use of the curved Australian boomerangs is not recommended for boys. There are other types which are light and much more efficient, operate in a small space, and are relatively safe. Given instruction equal to that afforded for other sports, the element of danger can be reduced to the point where it is no more important than in any of the usual activities of children.
TYPES OF BOOMERANGS
The art of the boomerang, both in respect to the methods of construction and the manner of throwing, is practically unknow n as far as the general public is concerned. The secrets of the boomerang have been held in this country by a very few actors and circus performers, and even these can be counted on the fingers of one's hand. Many of the boomerangs described in the chapters which follow are entirely original in design.
To the average person, the word boomerang brings to mind the curved weapons used by the Australian primitives. In fact, Webster's dictionary defines the word as "a curved or angular club used, mainly by the natives of Australia, as a missile weapon. It can be thrown so that its flight will bring it back near to the place where it was thrown."
For the purpose of this book it is assumed that the name, boomerang, is applicable to any missile which when hurled will return to or near the place from which it was thrown. With this as a definition, there are many types of boomerangs in addition to the curved style used by the native Australian. In fact the curved Australian type (Figure 34, page 66) is the least efficient type as a come-back stick. There are of course excellent and perfect boomerangs of the curved type, but they are few in number and as a type they are not comparable in efficiency to the others that these chapters will describe. No boomerang is worth the name if one has to step to reach it as it returns.
In addition to the curved or Australian style, there are three main types, each with many variations: (1) The Cross-stick Boomerang, (2) the Boomabird, and (3) the Tumblestick.
The Cross-stick Boomerang consists of two or more sticks fastened together— Figure 4, page 19, shows the appearance of a boomerang of this type. The methods of construction and the many varieties are described in Chapter II.
The Pin-wheel Boomerang, which, in fact, is a variation of the Cross-stick, is made of three sticks as shown in Figure 18, page 37. It is the ·most popular and efficient of the boomerangs. Chapter III describes it in detail.
The Boomabird is a boomerang so constructed as to look like a bird. This novelty, shown in Figure 26, page 51, is unique both in appearance and performance—it does many fascinating and clever things in the air. The Boomabird and its variations are described in Chapter IV.
The Tumblestick is in many respects the most unusual type of boomerang. It is essentially a straight stick that will return to the thrower. Figure 31, page 59, shows it and the methods of making and throwing are presented in Chapter V.
There are many other styles of boomerangs described in the following chapters but each is related to one of the four main types mentioned above.
THE BOOMERANG IN HISTORY
Although the art of the boomerang was common in many parts of Australia, it was a single tribe of Australian primitives living in New South Wales that applied the name boomerang to the come-back missiles they used in hunting, the other tribes using other names for these same weapons. The word boomerang, however, has become universally accepted in the English language. The Australian word womera is occasionally seen in print as synonymous with boomerang, but this is incorrect—womera refers to spear throwing.
It should not be assumed that boomerangs were the exclusive property of the primitive Australians. The ancient Egyptians are said to have made extensive use of a boomerang-like missile, and today there are certain sections of northwest Africa in which returning weapons resembling the Australian type are still used. Furthermore, the natives of South India use a boomerang-shaped weapon made of ivory and steel which can be made to return in the direction of the thrower. The Hopi (Mosquis) Indians of Arizona use a type of boomerang resembling the Australian for hunting, this being the only record of the use of boomerangs on the North American continent.
There are two types of boomerangs used by the Australian Bushmen—the return boomerang and the non-return boomerang. The names used in this classification are scarcely correct, however, in that both can be thrown so as to return toward the thrower, although they must be thrown in different ways. The return type, when held in a vertical position and thrown straight forward will circle to the left and return. If the non-return type were thrown in this way, it would go straight forward with great speed and accuracy in the direction of the target at which it was hurled, showing not the slightest inclination to turn either to the right or left. However, if one of these non-return boomerangs is held parallel to the ground and thrown, it will rise high in the air and then volplane down to the ground near the sender.
Much of myth has been said and written regarding the use of the boomerang by the Bushmen. For example, we hear the boomerang glorified as a weapon of warfare. Certain it is that the non-return boomerang would have been a valuable and efficient fighting weapon, for it is probably true that the Bushmen had no other weapon that could be hurled so accurately for so great a distance. However, these boomerangs were so difficult to make, the materials so hard to find, and there were so few really expert boomerang makers, that it is doubtful that they saw much service in battle. Spears and clubs did good enough service in the close fighting that primitives enjoy and were much easier to fashion. A fine boomerang was so highly prized for hunting that its owner would be reluctant to risk losing it in warfare—and lose it he probably would, sooner or later, for when hurled so as to go straight for the target, the boomerang would not return to the sender, either if it missed its mark or if it hit it. But in spite of all this, there is no doubt that boomerangs did fighting duty, although not to the extent that is popularly supposed.
Boomerangs were chiefly hunting weapons. Here again, there were limitations to their use contrary to the common conception. It is true that the non-return type was used in hunting the kangaroo, and there is no gainsaying that a three or four-foot boomerang would easily cripple an animal of that size. True it is, too, that it would zip toward its prey with amazing speed and accuracy. However, such use in hunting animals was incidental to its use in hunting birds. The method here was not to throw at a perched or standing bird so much as it was to hurl the boomerang into a flock of flying birds. When the non-return boomerang is thrown horizontally it rises high into the air, and if sent into a flock of flying birds, its arms, whirling about viciously as they do, would have an excellent chance of bringing meat into the lodge. Curiously enough, birds are attracted to flying boomerangs, rather than being frightened away from them. The appearance of the boomerang in the air resembles a flying bird so much as to serve as a sort of decoy.
While the smaller and lighter boomerangs of the return type were also frequently used in hunting birds, they found their greatest use as playthings in sport. If such a boomerang were thrown at an animal or bird and missed its mark, it would circle back toward the sender. However, if it hit the object, it would not return, but rather drop to the ground.
While boomerangs have been used elsewhere in the world, it was certainly on the Australian continent that they found their greatest development. The flat country that is the home of the Bushmen is ideal for the manipulation of these curved sticks and the little brown men of that region who were so adept in their use relied heavily on them for meat. The Bushmen made upwards of twenty different styles of curved boomerangs, ranging from ten inches from tip to tip, up to four-and-one-half feet in length.
The large non-return type of boomerang is of little interest in recreation. In appeal it gives way rather completely to the smaller models of the return type. A boomerang that circles around to the left and comes back to you is always more interesting than one that merely sails up and then skids down again.
The difference in construction of these two types of boomerangs is described in Chapter V.CHAPTER 2
Making Cross-Stick Boomerangs
The Cross-stick Boomerangs are the pinnacle of boomerang perfection. They are the most accurate of all the boomerangs and consequently are the most satisfying. So accurate is a good Cross-stick Boomerang that an expert can stand upon a stage, even in a small theater or hall, and throw it out over the heads of the audience without fear that it will hit a wall or dive surreptitiously onto the head of an unsuspecting spectator. So accurate is it in fact that one can often "call his shots," that is, throw the boomerang and immediately hold out his hand indicating the exact spot to which it will return. The symmetrical, balanced construction of these boomerangs causes them to cut a more perfect circle in the air and return with more precision than any other type. A good Cross-stick or Pin-wheel can be depended upon to act in precisely the same way each time it is thrown.
The Cross-stick Boomerangs are usually made of light, soft wood, and this, together with their accuracy and dependability, recommends them as relatively harmless, delightful playthings. They can be used with safety in any gymnasium or large hall, following the directions given in Chapter VII, "How to Throw Boomerangs."
Excerpted from BOOMERANGS by BERNARD S. MASON. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted July 2, 2012
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