Decorated Aboriginal Traditional Boomerang by Bill Onus

Item AN01

This Item was Sold on 13 November 2012 for $153

Similar artifacts for sale are often found on the Aboriginal Boomerangs web page.

Historical Pricing information for this item and similar artifacts can be found at: Historical Artifact Prices.

Australian Aborigines are well known for making boomerangs. The majority of Aborigines had the technology to make throwsticks, or non-returning hunting boomerangs. Only a small percentage of the tribal groups knew how to make true returners and most of these came from the eastern coastal regions of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. During the past century, the majority of the Aborigines left the nomadic life style and were assimilated into the European culture. Many Aborigines began making returning style boomerangs to sell to tourists. The earliest ones were well made out of natural timber and with the grain following the curvature of the boomerang. Today, most hardwood boomerangs are cut out of a large board with the grain running straight between the tips of the blades. Boomerangs that are made with the grain following the contour of the blades are much stronger and more valuable. In addition, some boomerangs have good airfoiling. The majority do not. Most "tourist boomerangs" have painted upper surfaces that display Australian animals and decorative lines and/or geometric patterns. Most pre-contact returners have no artwork or the artwork is simple and etched into the surface. It is easy to tell the tourist boomerang from the valuable ethnographic artifact. However, tourist boomerangs that are made properly with the grain running along the contour and with good airfoiling and artwork do have good collectable value, especially if they are made by famous Aboriginal artists like Bill Onus, Lin Onus or Joe Timbery.
This boomerang is a medium large traditional art boomerang made out of a light colored wood with a beautiful fiddleback curly grain. The artwork on the upper surface is exceptional. Only black paint is used, but the detail is incredible with Aboriginal men painted on the elbow, emus painted on the lift arm and kangaroos painted on the dingle arm.. The figures are separated by vegetation which is also painted in fine detail. A significant number of these fine Bill Onus boomerangs were damaged by people who let their children throw them or they were stored in poor environmental conditions. Not this one. This boomerang was purchased in Australia as a fine art collectable in the early 1960s. It was brought to the United States where it was stored in a climate controlled environment and it is in mint condition. There is no damage, no warpage and it bears the "Bill Onus" manufacturing stamp on the reverse side of the elbow. This is fine art by a very famous Aboriginal craftsman. Please view the photos at the bottom of this web page.

Span = 55 cm ; Weight = 156 gm

William (Bill) Onus, Aboriginal Political and Cutural activist

Bill Onus was born in Cummeragunja in 1906 . His father was a drover and young Bill left home at the age of 16. His earliest political activity in 1929 can be traced to Salt Pan Creek, an Aboriginal squatters camp south-west of Sydney containing refugee families of the dispossessed and people seeking to escape the harsh and brutal policies of the Aborigines Protection Board becomes a focal point of intensifying Aboriginal resistance in NSW.

Significant alliances, strategies and future leaders were developed in this camp. People such as Jack Campbell, George and Jack Patten, Pearl Gibbs all spend time in the camp. This led to Onus becoming involved on the fringes of the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) during the late 1930s. In 1940, after Jack Patten had joned the army, Bill Onus became the secretary of the APA. During the second world war Onus was active in the ALP and trade union circles, at the same time as organizing fund-raising concerts in the Redfern Aboriginal community. In 1945 he was a co-founder of the Redfern All-Blacks rugby team.

In 1946 he returned to Melbourne where he became President of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) and through his involvement with that organisation organized support for campaigns such as the 1945 Pilbara strike in WA and opposition to the Woomera Rocket testing range in SA.

In the early 1950s developed and staged a concert called 'An Aboriginal Moomba out of the dark". He was asked by Melbourne's city fathers to provide a name for their new annual civic celebration and he suggested the name "Moomba". There has been considerable controversy of the years since as to whether Onus had fooled the festival organizers as many Aboriginal people have pointed out that "Moom" is a local indigenous word for 'bum'.

In 1952 Onus received an invitation from Walt Disney to visit the USA but was refused a visa by US authorities on the grounds of his alleged Communist associations. This incident is believed to have severly distressed Onus and he overtly changed his emphasis from political to cultural. Not long after being refused entry to the US he established "Aboriginal Enterprises" and opens a boomerang factory and shop in Belgrave on the edge of Melbourne.

He developed an interest in 8mm filmmaking and among the few surviving snippets of footage he filmed are shots of American film star Harry Belafonte being taught how to throw a boomerang in front of the Onus Belgrave shop in 1958.

In his later years Onus played a crucial mentoring role for his nephew Bruce McGuinness, who would later become one of Australia's most significant Aboriginal leaders in the 1970s and 80s. Onus continued to be politically influential both locally and nationally through his involvement with the Aborigines Advancement League in the 1967 referendum campaign.

Bill Onus died in December 1968. His son Lin Onus would become one of Australia's foremost contemporary artists before his untimely death in 1996.

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