What makes this example distinctive is not so much its connection to Daisy Bates, but how it carries signs of a provenance of another kind. Each side has been carved in distinctively different styles, suggesting that it was owned, traded, and used by more than one desert-dwelling family long before it fell into Daisy Bates’ hands at Ooldea.
In a trade of a different kind, in 1938 Bates gave it to the Carr family in Adelaide, in return for favours rendered.
By contrast, this plastic boomerang was designed and manufactured by Frank Donnellan (“Champion Thrower”) and (apparently) marketed by Stephen Silady (“Champion”) in the 1960s.
Here is Frank giving a demonstration at the Australian Pavilion of Montreal’s Expo ’67. (Life photo: Bob Gomel).
Neither Frank nor Steve was of Aboriginal descent.
If you search for more about Frank Donnellan, you’ll find “Moves to Boost Boomerang Throwing (But Do Aborigines Care?)” in Dawn (“A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of New South Wales”, published by the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board). In this article it becomes apparent that by the 1960s the “sport” of boomerang throwing was no longer an Aboriginal affair. Despite his best efforts (and challenges to famous Aboriginal boomerang makers) Frank could not get the Indigenous spectators to participate in his displays. Steve was already the champion.
Notwithstanding its non-Indigenous origins, the plastic boomerang carries a printed caricature of a “traditional” blackfella.
On the other side, one finds an official “Australian Made” label – complete with its own boomerang trademark – plus the moulded brand name (Derwent Plastics, the Silady family company) and the printed label which confirms its provenance, all of which contribute to a very particular cultural significance.
Material culture provides us with such clues to historical realities that would otherwise be lost to our cultural consciousness. Given that it was designed to be thrown away, how remarkable is it that this (injection-moulded) boomerang has survived intact?
By contrast, in the case of the artefact from Ooldea, I can’t tell you the maker’s name, nor am I able interpret the symbolic value of the complex imagery on either side. The plastic boomerang conveys more mundane messages about its origins. However we can but marvel that both artefacts have survived to the 21st century with this much of their provenance intact.