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Boomerang belonging to Neville Bonner

Neville Bonnercirca 1966

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

Neville Thomas Bonner AO was an Australian politician, and the first Indigenous Australian to become a member of the Parliament of Australia. In the mid-1960s Bonner became a business owner. He had begun making boomerangs, taught at an early age by his grandfather and in 1966 he established his own boomerang manufacturing business, which he called ‘Bonnerang’. This was a nickname he had been given because of his boomerang throwing ability. The work was difficult and he and his son Tiny and a nephew had to make 400-450 a week to break even. It became even harder as they had to search further and further afield for the materials. Bonner refused to use synthetics and made each one from the roots of wattle trees. They would have to find and trim them, then soak and shape them while wet, and finally sand them smooth. Bonner’s first wife Mona handpainted them with traditional designs. The business lasted a year only and by the end Bonner was working 16 hour days, seven days a week. In his maiden speech in the Senate years later Bonner talked about his wish to have the boomerang copyrighted to the exclusive use of Indigenous people, because it was an Aboriginal art that was being exploited by others, who were producing cheap synthetic copies. He received many letters of complaint at his criticism of the boomerang industry, some saying that Aboriginal people couldn’t make them return. He was challenged to show off his skills and so soon after his maiden speech he gathered the press in the Senate garden for a demonstration. His first throw saw his boomerang return but become lodged in a tree behind him. He successfully threw several more, and then climbed up the tree to claim the missing boomerang, much to everyone’s bemusement and the media’s delight.

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  • Title: Boomerang belonging to Neville Bonner
  • Creator: Neville Bonner
  • Date: circa 1966
  • View on MoAD website: See Collection record
  • Medium: Black wattle root; paper
  • Dimensions: 560 (w) x 290 (h) x 5 (d) mm
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