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Souvenir becomes a national symbol

Advertising poster featuring several boomerangs in dfferent sizes and colours. The text reads 'THERE AND BACK WITH TAA, TRANS-AUSTRALIA AIRLINES'. - click to view larger image
'There and back with TAA, Trans-Australia Airlines' poster, about 1950s. National Museum of Australia. Courtesy: Qantas

Boomerangs have played an important role in Aboriginal culture as objects of work and leisure.

With European contact they became items for acquisition and display and, later in the 19th century, souvenirs for a tourist market.

The boomerang's popularity as a souvenir helped transform it into a national symbol and it has branded a range of products — from brandy, to butter, cigarette papers and flour — as distinctly Australian.

The boomerang's ability to return has made it a favourite symbol for the tourism and transport industries.

Australian military emblems have featured the boomerang, as have gifts and memorabilia associated with visiting royals and other celebrities.

Both uses express the wish that the recipient or wearer might return 'like the boomerang'.

Postcard featuring a kangaroo and a boomerang. The text reads: 'Like the Boomerang may You Come Back. Good Luck. We are Waiting Your Safe Return. Oh, let it go, it must not tarry, For does it not my wishes carry? Let it travel never tire. Your safe return, my one desire - Leuname. No. 49'. The word 'Cooee' is written on the boomerang.
'Like the Boomerang may You Come Back' postcard. Josef Lebovic collection, National Museum of Australia
Australia Day badge featuring a kookaburra sitting on a boomerang. The text at the top of the badge reads 'Australia Day 1918'. - click to view larger image
Australia Day badge 1918. National Museum of Australia

Hunting tool with many uses

Not all boomerangs are meant to return.

Hunting boomerangs fly at high speed close to the ground and kill or stun the animals they strike.

Made in Australia from the curving roots of mulga or wattle trees, similar curved throwing sticks were also used in other regions of the world, including southern India, Egypt, and parts of North America and Europe.

Highly effective for hunting, boomerangs are also used as hand-held weapons, as musical instruments and for sport.

Poster featuring an Indigenous man wearing a white shirt and brandishing a boomerang. The text reads 'Mine tinkit. You come back for Pelaco - 'They Fit'. - click to view larger image
'Pelaco Bill' poster. Photo: James Northfield Heritage Art Trust, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7721244

Pelaco Bill

The 'Pelaco Bill' character, seen here brandishing a boomerang, was used to advertise Pelaco shirts from about 1911 to 1950.

Under variations of the slogan 'Mine Tinkit They Fit', Bill was initially portrayed wearing nothing but a crisp white shirt, though later was shown in less demeaning attire.

Although the characterisation of Bill evolved, it was always racially stereotypical. Such advertising caused offence to many people at the time and would be considered inappropriate today.

'Pelaco Bill' was modelled on Fred Wilson, known as Mulga Fred, a stockman from Port Hedland in Western Australia.

Wilson arrived in Adelaide around 1905 and worked as a buckjumper in carnivals and travelling shows in south-eastern Australia. He won a number of Victorian titles, gaining a reputation as one of the finest riders of the period, and was an expert stockwhip exponent and boomerang thrower.

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