Inspiration Online Magazine


Is Australia an island or a continent
and what about boomerangs?

Night Boomerang in Sydney, Australia

There is really no guideline for differentiating between a continent and a big island. Geographers just decided that Australia should be a continent. In fact, Europeans consider the New World (North and South America) to be one continent, not two, because it is one land mass. Why they don't use the same logic and consider Europe and Asia to be one land mass and therefore one continent, is baffling.

Sixteenth-century sailors found it difficult to plot their courses on a chart because early maps did not take into account Earth's spherical shape. On Earth, the lines of longitude converge on the poles. A man named Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) found a way to put segments of this sphere on a flat paper so that sailors could lay out their compass course by a straight line. Mercator imagined them on 2-D paper. To make the segments fit onto a flat square, the northernmost and southernmost regions had to be exploded or expanded to larger than their actual proportions. A map of this type is called a "Mercator projection." This is why the island of Greenland and the continent of Antarctica look much larger on a map than they do on a globe. Australia is actually three and a half times the size of Greenland.

Now about boomerangs ... the word is Australian, but the boomerang is not exclusively an Australian device. Boomerangs are simply a curved version of the old throwing sticks that have been around for about fifteen thousand years in various ancient cultures. The Hopi Indians of North America used them to hunt rabbit; the ancient Egyptians and Australian natives hunted and fought wars with them. The returning boomerang — the type you and I are most familiar with — was specially invented by Australian aborigines.

How could aborigines get their boomerangs to return to them if they actually hit something while hunting? They didn't. As you would suspect, if a returning boomerang actually makes contact with something, its flight is cut short and it won't return to the thrower. It is believed by some experts that the device was used to scare birds out of their nests and into the hunters' nets.

The notion that an Australian aborigine can kill a large animal with a boomerang that returns obediently to its owner is quite false. The boomerang used for this purpose, sometimes called the war or hunting boomerang, is not designed to return to the thrower, nor is it thrown in the same fashion as the return, or "sporting," boomerang. When thrown with serious intention by an expert, it is indeed a weapon. But its flight is straight, not curved; thus it doesn't come back but must be retrieved. Today, returning boomerangs are used as toys or sport devices around which there have developed some quite sophisticated clubs and tournaments.

~Sources: "Thoughts for the Throne" by Don Voorhees
"Just Curious about History, Jeeves" and
"More Misinformation" by Tom Burnam

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