We know what it is, we’ve seen it, popularised it, maybe even bought a cheap souvenir of it. But never has it been a designer item.
Chanel has released a “boomerang” made of wood and resin priced at $1,930. The product has come under fir e on social media for being an appropriation of Aboriginal culture. Bob Katter, the federal member for Kennedy, has taken the item to court, saying it’s unacceptable that the product was “being sold as a highly valuable item when it remains to be seen whether there are any Indigenous qualities to the [Chanel] boomerang whatsoever."
The cultural appropriation of Indigenous artwork and artefacts is a common practice. Community leader Dean Kelly believes that not only is the Chanel boomerang disrespectful, but it is a theft of the Aboriginal identity.
Image: Yugambeh Aboriginal warrior throwing boomerang during cultural show in Queensland, Australia., Shutterstock
It's been happening for a long time, and no-one seems to be listening to Aboriginal people that this stuff is important to us and it belongs here in this country.
The first recorded mention of the Boomerang was in 1790. According to Captain David Collins’s diary, the Indigenous Australians residing in Sydney referred to the curved weapon as a ‘Wo-mur-rang.’
The ancient weapon has had its use and meaning distorted over the years. From tacky souvenirs to the designer appropriation by Chanel. Popular authors: Geoffrey Blainey (‘Triumph of the Nomads) and Benjamin Ruhe (Many Happy Returns) dismiss the boomerang as an Indigenous toy, something that could never be used as a hunting tool.
The earliest witnesses of the boomerang provide us with a different account. Phillip Parker King in 1818 observed that a boomerang “is used by the natives with success in killing the kangaroo.” Francis Barrallier in 1802, reported that indigenous Australians throw the boomerang so hard they make it:
revolve on itself, and with such a velocity that one cannot see it ... only the whizzing of it is heard.. but where it strikes, it breaks through with excessive impetus.
It acts as a missile where only the edge of the boomerang is visible from the air. The boomerang’s range is even more impressive, at 200 metres, it’s nearly three times the range of a spear.
When a Boomerang is thrown correctly, it will return to its starting point, spinning at an axis perpendicular to the direction of its flight. The common boomerang was originally non-returning and was used to kill birds and larger marsupials like the Kangaroo.
Image: Pearson Scott Foresman - Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation
The Chanel’s designer Boomerang and the souvenir business in Australia is robbing Indigenous art makers of 3 million dollars to 20 million dollars a year.
The act of crafting a Boomerang is highly spiritual and is not something non-Indigenous Australians should ever profit from.
Our people didn't have money — they had different systems of how we valued things and money certainly wasn't part of it, it's not just something we put in a fancy packet and sell for the fun of it. It's part of who we are as a people.
Cultural appropriation is harming the Indigenous Australian community. The fashion juggernaut, Chanel issued a statement apologising for the product, saying they were:
Extremely committed to respecting all cultures and regrets that some may have felt offended.
However, the item remains for sale on their website.