This special award recognises a close- knit group of Australians who, because they lived many centuries ago – before their spoken language had been written; before the invention of paper on which their exploits might have been recorded – will forever remain unknown. Even if we knew their names they could not be used here for cultural reasons, for these nominees were members of an Aboriginal Nation.
Labouring without the advantage of tools, without an accepted theory to guide them, these people, in what must surely have been a stroke of genius, crafted the first BOOMERANG – a stick which they altered in such a way that, when they threw it, it flew through the air and returned to them. These men had discovered the AEROFOIL.
The isolation of the Aborigines in the unexplored continent of Australia meant that their discovery of the aerofoil remained unknown to the rest of the world. Explorers looked upon them as uncivilised, in a world where the adoption of the wheel was regarded as a definitive step on the ladder of civilisation. Far from being uncivilised, the Aborigines had leap-frogged the wheel altogether; they went straight to the aerofoil 30,000 years ago.
Their Boomerang became an instant success. It revolutionised hunting, converting every hunter to whom it was demonstrated. They proved to be not only great designers but also precise teachers and accurate instructors in the art of throwing the Boomerang. Its use spread beyond their own Nation into many of the Aboriginal Nations of Australia. Children learned the skills by using the boomerang as a plaything. Experience soon taught them and those to whom they passed on their skills, which timbers were best suited to Boomerang making.
It was not until the 19th century that settlers became aware of the boomerang. Its first mention by non-Aborigines was in the Journal of Francis Louis Barraillier, a surveyor and explorer who unsuccessfully tried to find a way across the Blue Mountains in 1802. More was said about it in the Sydney Gazette in 1803, but it still had no name. It was not until 1822 that the Turuwal people of the Georges River, a sub-group of the Dhurug Nation, when questioned about this fascinating device, gave their own name for it, which was interpreted as ‘Boomerang’. It was not long before the new settlers could launch their own simple missile on a pre-programmed flight path and experience for themselves the exhilaration of catching it on its return. Yet the settlers remained blind to the importance of this technology. No use was made of it to further the efforts taking place on the other side of the world to promote heavier-than-air flight, which was precisely what the Aborigines had already discovered.
In England Sir George Cayley, in the first half of the 19th century, worked hard to discover basic aerodynamics, not knowing that it had been perfected in Australia long before.
In Germany in the 1880s, Otto Lillienthal ‘carried out fundamental research on birds and aerofoils and founded the science of wing aerodynamics’, totally unaware that the Australian Aborigines had done so in pre-history times.
We now have a great opportunity to set the record straight- to give credit where credit is due.
The Australian Aviation Hall of Fame proudly pays special recognition to the Indigenous Peoples of Australia for the design and practical use of the aerofoil – the Boomerang.