Woomera (spear-thrower)

A woomera is a wooden Australian Aboriginal spear-throwing device.[1][2][3] Similar to an atlatl, it serves as an extension of the human arm, enabling a spear to travel at a greater speed and force than possible with only the arm.

Aboriginal craft
The woomera in this picture is the wooden object at left
Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera lies at his feet.


The word "woomera" comes from the Dharug language of the Eora people of the Sydney basin. The name was adopted for the town of Woomera, South Australia, founded in 1947 as the home of the Anglo-Australian Long Range Weapons Establishment, also known as the "Woomera Rocket Range". Now called RAAF Woomera Range Complex, it is considered the largest land-based test and evaluation facility in the world.[4]


The woomera is 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 cm) in length.[5] One end is 3 inches (8 cm) wide and possessing a hollow, curved cross-section not unlike an airfoil, while the other is more pointed and has a hook. The woomera was traditionally decorated with incised or painted designs that indicated belonging to a particular linguistic group that it may be returned to if found abandoned.


Records show that the implement began to be used about 5,000 years ago.[6] It is still used today in some remote areas of Australia. Like spears and boomerangs, woomeras were traditionally used only by men. Some woomeras, especially those used in the central and western Australian deserts,[7] were multi-purpose tools.[8] Often shaped like long narrow bowls, they could be used for carrying water-soaked vegetable matter (which would not spill and could later be sucked for its moisture) as well as small food items such as little lizards or seeds. Many woomeras had a sharp stone cutting edge called a tula adze[9] attached to the end of the handle with black gum from the triodia plant. This sharp tool had many uses, such as cutting up game or other food and wood. It is supposed that the woomera could be used as a shield for protection against spears and boomerangs. The woomera is held in one hand while the other hand places the butt of the spear on the woomera's hook; the hollow curved shape facilitates this alignment without looking. The woomera doubles the length of the thrower's arm, greatly increasing the velocity of the spear. Correcting for the game animal's lateral dodging is accomplished by tilting the wing-shape woomera during the throw for last-second corrections. The kinetic energy of a spear launched from a woomera has been calculated as four times that of an arrow launched from a compound bow.[6]


  1. ^ Phyllis Mary Kaberry, Aboriginal Woman, Sacred and Profane. Gregg International, Westmead, Kent 1970. p14 "The Aborigines generally use a spear-thrower (noslal) and a shovel-spear (djinad), the fashioning of which is a long and delicate process. The blade made of iron, mudagandji, must be welded into an oval shape varying from three to five ..."
  2. ^ Mitchell Rolls, Murray Johnson, Historical Dictionary of Australian Aborigines, Scarecrow Press, 2010. p157 "SPEAR-THROWER. A wooden implement that has a projection peg either carved into or secured to the butt, the spear-thrower greatly increased the range and accuracy of spears hurled by Aboriginal hunters. It could also be used for a ..."
  3. ^ Linley Erin Hall, The Laws of Motion: An Anthology Of Current Thought, 2005. p66, "In Australia the spear thrower is popularly called a woomera, one of the many Aboriginal names for a spear thrower"
  4. ^ RAAF Base Woomera Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  5. ^ Earp, G. Butler (1852). The Gold Colonies of Australia. London: Geo. Routledge & Co. p. 126.
  6. ^ a b "Extinction's group theory". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 25 June 2004. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  7. ^ Gould, Richard A. (Richard Allan) (1970). Spears and spear throwers of the Western Desert Aborigines of Australia. American Museum of Natural History, New York
  8. ^ Cundy, B. J. (1989). Formal variation in Australian spear and spearthrower technology (Vol. 546). British Archaeological Reports Ltd. Chicago
  9. ^ World Prehistory: In New Perspective

External links

Dharug language

The Sydney language, also referred to as Darug or Iyora (Eora) English, is an Australian Aboriginal language of the Yuin–Kuric group that was traditionally spoken in the region of Sydney, New South Wales. It is the traditional language of the Darug and Eora peoples.

The term Dharug, which can also be spelt "Darug", Dharukk, Dharoog, Dharrag, and Dararrug, etc., came from the word for yam: midyini. Dharug is the root, or the midyini, of the languages of the Sydney basin. The Darug population was greatly diminished since the onset of colonisation.Darug people recognise Sir William Dawes of the first fleet and flagship the Sirius as the first to record the original traditional tongue of the elder people of Sydney Darugule-wayaun. Dawes was returned to England in December 1791, after disagreements with Governor Phillip on, among other things, the punitive expedition launched following the wounding of the Government gamekeeper, allegedly by Pemulwuy.

During the 1990s and the new millennium some descendants of the Darug clans in Western Sydney have been making considerable efforts to revive Dharug as a spoken language. Today some modern Dharug speakers have given speeches in the Dharug language and younger members of the community visit schools and give demonstrations of spoken Dharug.Bowern (2011) lists Dharuk and Iyora as separate languages.

HMAS Woomera

HMAS Woomera was an Australian naval vessel operated by the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy (RAN). She was one of a class of 32 wooden motor vessels built for the Army and entered service in late 1945 as AV 1356 (Ashburton). She was transferred to the RAN on 23 January 1946 and commissioned as Woomera. The ship's main role was carrying stores and dumping obsolete ammunition at sea. In this role she visited many ports in Australia and New Guinea.

On 11 October 1960 an accidental explosion occurred onboard HMAS Woomera while she was dumping ammunition into the sea off Sydney. As a result of the explosion the ship burst into flames and sank, killing two of her crew members. The surviving crew members were rescued by HMAS Quickmatch and HMS Cavendish.

Hunting weapon

Hunting weapons are weapons designed or used primarily for hunting game animals for food or sport, as distinct from defensive weapons or weapons used primarily in warfare.

No. 20 Squadron RAAF

No. 20 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) support squadron. Coming under the control of No. 96 Wing, it is responsible for the management of the airfield at RAAF Base Woomera, South Australia. The squadron originated as a maritime patrol unit during World War II. Raised in August 1941, it operated PBY Catalina and Short Empire flying boats from bases in New Guinea, Queensland and the Northern Territory, conducting search-and-rescue, mine-laying, anti-submarine and bombing missions against Japanese targets in the Pacific theatre. Following the conclusion of hostilities, the squadron was disbanded in March 1946. It was reactivated as an airfield support squadron in April 2015.


A spear-thrower or atlatl ( or ; Nahuatl languages: ahtlatl; Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈaʔt͡ɬat͡ɬ]) is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to store energy during the throw.

It may consist of a shaft with a cup or a spur at the end that supports and propels the butt of the dart. The spear-thrower is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the cup. The dart is thrown by the action of the upper arm and wrist. The throwing arm together with the atlatl acts as a lever. The spear-thrower is a low-mass, fast-moving extension of the throwing arm, increasing the length of the lever. This extra length allows the thrower to impart force to the dart over a longer distance, thus imparting more energy and ultimately higher speeds.Common modern ball throwers (molded plastic shafts used for throwing tennis balls for dogs to fetch) use the same principle.

A spear-thrower is a long-range weapon and can readily impart to a projectile speeds of over 150 km/h (93 mph).Spear-throwers appear very early in human history in several parts of the world, and have survived in use in traditional societies until the present day, as well as being revived in recent years for sporting purposes. In the United States the Nahuatl word atlatl is often used for revived uses of spear-throwers, and in Australia the Aboriginal word woomera.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used a leather thong or loop, known as an ankule or amentum, as a spear-throwing device.


Spearthrower may refer to:

Spear-thrower or atlatl, a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to store energy during the throw

Woomera (spear-thrower), a wooden Australian Aboriginal spear-throwing device similar to an atlatl

Strandloper (novel)

Strandloper is a novel by English writer Alan Garner, published in 1996. It is loosely based on the story of a Cheshire labourer, William Buckley. The historical figures of Edward Stanley and John Batman also appear as characters in the novel.

Swiss arrow

A Swiss arrow (also known as a Yorkshire arrow, Dutch arrow, Scotch arrow or Gypsy arrow) is a weapon similar to an arrow, but thrown with a lanyard, retained via a small notch close to the fletching.

Wolf Creek (TV series)

Wolf Creek is an Australian horror web television series which screens on Stan. The series is a spin-off of the movies Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2. John Jarratt, who portrayed Mick Taylor in the films, reprises his role for the show.The first season of Wolf Creek consisted of six episodes and was released on 12 May 2016. It follows Eve, a 19-year-old American tourist, who is targeted by the crazed serial killer Mick Taylor, but survives his attack and embarks on a mission of revenge. The show was renewed for a second season of six episodes in February 2017, which was released on 15 December 2017. The story centres around Taylor meeting a coach full of international tourists.


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