Aboriginal Carved Weapons And Utensils

Elegant, inventive weapons and utensils hold a central place in Aboriginal material arts, not only because of their excellent design, balance and appropriate Aboriginal artists' apparent love and appreciation of the qualities of decoration itself. Artists invariably go to great lengths to select a branch or root of a tree in which the shape and grain are appropriate for the form of the implement to be made. Many excellent weapons and utensils are still made in traditional communities. The Aboriginal carver has always chosen his wood carefully, considering the function of the weapon. heavy hardwoods were used to make narrow shields needed to deflect attack from a club or boomerang, whereas broader, flat shields were requited for defence against spears, and these could be made of lighter timber.


All over Australia, the surfaces of most shields, clubs, and spear throwers were decorated; in the south with very fine engravings and in the north with complex painted surfaces. Even in areas where craftsmen eschewed decoration on weapons, they were invariably concerned with the beauty, quality and grain of the wood.! Shop Mizuno Team Sports! Never Settle!

Aboriginal carvers have always enjoyed making things to be used, sitting peacefully with others and undertaking work that gave them great satisfaction. In the design of weapons and domestic items, some of the earliest examples of the inventiveness unique to Australia can be found. Both the returning boomerang of the south-east and the leaf-shaped spear thrower of the central desert area explore concepts of multiple use and simplicity of design, which have intrigued all who have come in contact with them. Though the boomerang has long enjoyed fame, not only as a symbol of Aboriginal arts but also of all things distinctively Australian, the leaf-shaped spear thrower is relatively unknown.

In the design and manufacture of weapons, tools and other utensils, primary consideration was given to their effectiveness and portability. Each item had to be carried, often for long distances, and therefore if one piece could perform several tasks it saved the burden of too many possessions. Although simple, the weapons and implements were so ingeniously designed that a few light, transportable tools equipped nomadic people with the means of obtaining all their daily requirements. The boomerang, for example, although primarily a hunting and fighting weapon, was also used for making fire, stoking the coals when cooking and for scraping and smoothing other tools. Boomerangs were also used in traditional games. The design of the leaf-shaped spear thrower was such that it could be used as a chisel, knife or engraver, a receptacle for mixing ochres and a fire-making saw, as well as a spear launcher. Women bore the brunt of the load and were also often required to carry their babies on their backs, on their shoulders, or on their hips.

Despite this need for practicality, weapons were never simply tools, apart from stone flakes used as knives. People had a strong sense of personal identity related to their membership of tribal groups and those groups; ownership of land. Every person was related to ancestral beings who gave physical form to their land; ceremonies recalled this to mind and summoned the ancestral heroes to continue their influence over the cycle of life. All over the country, the decoration of weapons and domestic objects provided an additional forum for the display of clan designs and illustrated the ownership of land. This intention is clear not only in painted designs of the northern Arnhem Land areas, but also in the complex geometric engraved patterns on weapons made in south-eastern Australia. Even the carrying dishes of the centre, now patterned with designs formed by impressions made with red-hot wire, are decorated with journeys of ancestral characters and special places in the landscape. It is clear that even in the everyday, so-called 'secular' arts, there are frequently mythological and ancestral allusions in the decoration, bearing out the frequent statements by artists that they are 'showing their Dreaming', tjukurpa or spirit. 


In the well-watered areas of Victoria and New South Wales there was great variation in weapons and utensils, with many unusually shaped clubs and throwing sticks as well as boomerangs. Each was developed to fill a particular need for acquiring food, fighting or maintaining and making other utensils. The Aboriginal communities of the south-east bore the early brunt of European invasion and gradual usurpation of land for pastoral use by the new colonists. Whole tribes were decimated vey quickly, not only by violence resulting from forcible land  occupation but also by the spread of European diseases, particularly smallpox. An Aboriginal song composed in the early nineteenth century likens the burn of infectious smallpox to the spikes of a porcupine. Sung mournfully, imitating a dying person, the song (as recounted in 1881 by James Dawson) is one of the few recorded verbal laments of the agony that must have been part of Aboriginal existence as people watched their own families dying within a generation. Composed somewhere in the Sydney area, the song could be heard in many different Aboriginal languages.

Porcupine spikes
Burn like heat to fire
Someone pinching me
When I am up high
With affection like a sister.
Grinning, grinning, grinning,
Teeth mine.

The diaries of early colonists frequently comment on the appearance, customs and activities of the Aboriginals who lived on the edges of towns and who retained their camps close to country properties. The nineteenth-century fascination with the 'childlike' but faithful qualities of the people was coupled with a desire to collect examples of the unusual weapons and implements with which they had 'eked out their existence' in what seemed to the newcomers an inhospitable and forbidding land. Clubs, spears and shields drew the attention of the men; few European women spent much time among Aboriginal people.

The weapons that remain in museum collections are now the only evidence available of the decorative arts and skills of the south-east people. It is unfortunate that only the objects themselves have been preserved; none of the meanings of the designs. Although the patterns all had particular symbolic meanings to the artist, these were never elucidated. Like territorial maps, the patterns all related to tribal country and might have had much more detailed significance. Records of Victorian pieces include descriptions of several types of club. Clubs were used in single combat, in fighting, both between women and men, in tribal warfare and in hunting wild game where they were used to kill the prey after it had been caught in specially constructed nets. The simplest club was the nulla nulla. To make these, young tree was pulled up and simply fashioned into a club, the root forming the knob. The end was usually sharpened and the implement could therefore be used as a sharp missile or for digging up roots. More elaborate forms of clubs included the kud-jee-run of the Yarra River, the kul-kul of the Gippsland people and the lil-lil used in Victoria and throughout New South Wales. Clubs which are found along the Murray River and called by the people of this area moonoe or mannup are similar in form to the kud-jee-run, but much more sharply pointed around the flange at the hitting end. The pointed end of the kud-jee-run is exceptionally sharp and is sometimes thrown to enter the body of the enemy. These clubs are similar to others termed erambo in New South Wales.

Forms of the club or waddy vary with every tribal group; even men of the same tribe use clubs that are made and decorated differently. According to R. Brough-Smyth the upper parts of some are pear-shaped. Others may be like two cones placed base to base and so made as to present a cutting edge. A husband's chastisement of a wife who was thought to be unfaithful was usually carried out with a kud-jee-run. Another remarkable waddy is the kul-kul, once used by the people of Gippsland. Its shape is similar to a wooden sword but it is thicker and heavier. These weapons were decorated or bound with string at the handle end. The lil-lil, also called a throwing stick, is one of the most unusual weapons. It was used either as a club in those combat or thrown at the enemy from a distance, like a boomerang. The shape of the lil-lil was such that it could hook around a shield and strike the enemy in the face. The edge of the lil-lil, shaped like a hatchet or axe, is very sharply ground and may be beautifully decorated with fine engraving. Another form of club had a head similar in shape to a pineapple and comparable to some found in the pacific islands and New Guinea. It was carefully carved of hardwood, the sunken parts commonly painted with white clay and the protuberances with red clay.

Many different boomerangs were made. Of six examples illustrated by R. Brough-Smyth as the weapons used in Victoria in the late nineteenth century, only one is of the returning variety, and this is known as the wonguin. Others were variously shaped and could used either as missiles or in close combat, like swords. Spears were of soft and hard timber and could be barbed, using embedded pieces of flint or stone, or with the barbs elaborately carved along one or both sides of the spearhead. Special spears were used for every purpose. There were spears for kangaroos, for fish and even for eels. Along the lower Murray River reed spears were used. They had barbs attached with sinews from kangaroo tails, similar to those made in central Australia by the Pitjantjatjara today. 

Throughout the south-east spears were generally launched with the aid of a spear thrower, called a womerah or woomera. Many different spear throwers were made, some carved from a single piece of timber with flattened shafts. Others were made by attaching pegs with the aid of kangaroo sinew. These pegs were occasionally made from the teeth of kangaroos or other game. Many of the spear throwers are elaborately decorated and some designs are the artists' first attempts to record the coming of the British colonists. Examples of spear throwers on which simple figures can be seen, as well as guns or ships signifying aspects of an alien culture, are to be found in the major collection of the southern Australian states.

There are two principal types of shield: narrow hardwood shields for warding off blows from clubs generally used in single combat and broad shields to use against spears. hardwood shields provide us with the widest range of decorative examples of the south-eastern wood engraving skills. Examples in collections and illustrated in early ethnographic works show the tendency of the artist to fully decorate the outer surface of these shields with fine patterns, frequently of parallel zigzags, diamonds and other linear non-symmetrical designs. Occasionally the shields are decorated along the full length with a series of concentric diamond, or they may be separated into bands, again with predominantly diamond or zigzag decorations. When compared with the carved trees, or dendroglyphs, of the south-eastern region the stylistic similarities are apparent and it is quite clear that these shields represented, as did the trees, the totemic affiliations and land patterns of the owners. The handle of the hardwood shield is integral to the body and the underside is seldom decorated. The space allowed for holding by the hand is very narrow and combatants often wrapped a piece of possum skin around the hand before inserting fingers through the handle. The broad shield was seldom used in single combat, being more frequently employed during tribal warfare in which spears would be hurled at opposing groups. Used skillfully, these shields could protect all parts of the body from spears.

Shields are made from the outer bark of the gum tree, and, in parts of north-western New South Wales there are still scars on old trees where the bark was removed for these shields last century. The bark was stripped from the tree and roughly shaped with the aid of an axe into the general form. Then a mound of earth was made about seven centimetres long and about the breadth of the piece of bark. Hot ashes were placed on the mount and the bark was then laid on top, covered with heavy stone and weighted. The green bark slowly took on the curve of the mound and this gave the wide shield its gentle, curved shape. On most broad shields the handles wee attached separately; a piece of wood was formed into a handle when green and thrust into holes made to receive the ends. When dried, this could not be extracted easily, and formed a firm handle.

Like the narrow hardwood shields, these weapons were elaborately engraved and decorated. An observer along the Darling River in New South Wales described the technique of decorating the early weapons in that area which could well apply to any of the south-eastern weapons. The rough shape of a boomerang was carved on the spot after the wood was removed from the tree. This was either taken to camp or to any desired spot, where it was finished while green and full of sap. The craftsman squatted over the piece of half-formed wood on the ground, holding it between his thigh and one foot, and an adze-flaked chisel held in both hands gradually reduced the wood to the shape required. This technique is still widely used in the desert to form spear throwers, boomerangs, dancing boards and other wooden weapons and implements. The fine finishing work was once done with a stone scraper and adze, but today in central Australia it is accomplished with a rasp or with other modern tools. Detailed designs were finely engraved on old weapons with the use of a stone made from black basalt, with an edge finely-chipped to a point, or with an incisor tooth mounted on a wooden handle. Both these tools wee bound with string and gum, held firmly and the end struck with the palm of the hand to etch fine lines of equal thickness. To obtain the desired sheen and finish of weapons and utensils, the pieces were hardened in ashes on the fire and greased. Ochred pigment was rubbed into the incised design.

Weapons throughout the south-east were not consistent. along the Richmond and Tweed River areas of northern New South Wales where a rainforest economy prevailed, the womerah, for example, was unknown. Although there was advanced technology in this area comprising elaborate hooks, nets, traps and basket work, there were neither multi-pronged, tipped spears nor spear throwers. It has been suggested that the womerah was simply not needed where the rainforest could provide a multitude of foods. It was invariably used for hunting large marsupials, particularly the kangaroo, and thy did not inhabit the rainforest. Wooden implements used in the Richmond and tweed areas included simple spears, shields, boomerangs and throwing sticks as well as women's digging sticks and fighting clubs. The women in all areas were exceptionally skilled at fighting with clubs. Not only were the men renowned for feats of strength and for hunting and fighting prowess, but the women wee looked upon as exceptional fighters and some individuals were particularly feared. 

One fine utensil, ingeniously carved out of a single piece of wood, was the dish made by women to carry water from one place to another. In many places oval bark dishes with curved interiors were used to carry water or food, but a particularly interesting bowl or pot was made from the elbow or root of a tree, and this was used to store food and water. The gnarled protuberances commonly found on eucalyptus trees were deftly hollowed out with the aid of stone tools to form examples of wood craftsmanship which can be marvelled at centuries later.

Among the Kaurna of the Adelaide plains two type of shield were made. The first was called mulubakka. This was made from the inner layer of the bark of a gum tree, usually the hard red gum. The second shield, termed wocaltee, was made from bark. Shields were painted with a mixture of animal fat, red ocher and white clay and we frequently carved. Some were blackened over the fire and then decorated with cuts and incisions that wee then filled in with ocher. The Kaurna shields are strikingly simple in their bright decorations, but few examples remain in collections. The following is an early description of the use of such shields and the agility with which the people all over Australia used their weapons in combat and warfare.

The shield is the only defensive weapon they possess and the manner in which it is handled is particularly striking. When they quiver their limbs, shake their spears, clatter their shields and raise them above their heads accompanied with shouts, the effect is wild. The shield is grasped in the left hand and the spear in the right. In the attitude of defence it is held slantingly across the breast ready to move in any direction required. Add to this a fierce face, bone through the nose, and feathers, etc., on the head, a naked body ornamented with white and red dots or strips and then the beau ideal of a savage is pictured. In this mode of warfare a disregard for life is very observable, but very few are killed, on account of the extraordinary agility they possess in evading the spears. It is nothing uncommon for a native to jump on one side to escape a spear, at the same time stoop to another, and the next minute jerk his body to void a third, and this is done with perfect composure and with all imaginable sang-froid.

Native grass trees were frequently used for spears in the Adelaide area. The shaft was formed from the grass tree stem and was between seven and thirteen centimetres long. Into this was fixed a well polished and hardened piece of mallee wood about 180 centimetres long. A kangaroo tooth was fastened to the womerah with string made from kangaroo tail sinew and packed with gum resin.

The wirra (the Kaurna word for nulla nulla) was formed in this area from the trunk and root of small bushes. The root formed a knob and was hardened by fire and streaked with patterns. The weapon was used for fighting and hunting, and the Aboriginal hunter was extremely adroit. He would walk or stand with his arms elevated, holding the club in one hand with the knob resting on his shoulder and his eyes intent on the prey. The club was thrown from this stationary position with unerring aim. It was one of the principal weapons in procuring food, either knocking down birds or killing game, and its force on impact often broke limbs.


In Queensland, shields were made from light, soft wood, including corkwood. They were both carved and painted and each main encampment used separate characteristic patterns on the surfaces. Examples in the Queensland Museum collections are all decorated with designs including fine parallel fluting, half diamond patterns and polychrome painting in red, white and black. It seems that the shields were not used in the Cape York Peninsula and the need for defence against clubs or spears was fulfilled by the use of the broad-bladed spear thrower. Shields that were common south of the Mitchell Rive were slightly convex on their outer surfaces with simple decorations including blackened bands and white spades or central blackened panels. Around the Tully River and the rainforest areas of north Queensland, a particularly distinctive shield was made from the flanged buttresses root of the pican tree. It was cut from the tree by making a curved incision in the flange above and below and the shape of the shield by piercing the wood with hot cinders and the shield's surface was smoothed using pumice stone, excess wood being scraped off. A variety of patterns were used but no meaning or interpretation has been given for these.

Nulla nullas or clubs were common throughout Queensland although few examples of women's digging sticks were ever collected. In the Tully river area and along the north-eastern coast of Australia, the decorative pineapple club was found.

In the Rockhampton district, nulla nullas were made from wattle and there wee six or seven varieties. These could be heavy or light, small or large, depending on use. Heavy nulla nullas wee used for hand-to-hand combat and light ones were thrown from a distance. Excellent examples show fine fluting that could be done with a stone chisel. In later years weapons wee collected in which the craftsman's ingenuity was used to great effect by utilising cast-off materials of European settlers. Weapons were improved by the addition of horseshoe nails stuck into the ends of the nulla nullas in imitation of the pineapple ridges. Queensland nulla nullas include single-pointed, knob-headed examples, as well as pineapple-headed, three-pronged, flattened spatulate and big-headed types.

One of the most interesting weapons made in Australia in past times was the sword from the lower Tully region. A two-handed sword was once known in the Rockhampton district and was used to strike with either the convex or concave edge. Swords were from ten to twelve centimetres in length, although this varied. Single-handed swords were found in the Cardwell and Bloomfiekd district and on the lower Tully River. To make these, slabs of wood were taken from the tree and split down the centre, then adzed into shape. A handle was formed at one end, bound with hand-spun string and covered with beeswax. The edge of the sword, usually the convex edge, was finally sharpened.

A range of boomerangs was found in Queensland although they were not known in Cape York. An interesting variation was the bent or moonshaped spar thrower used to spar fish or birds at close quarters. It was comparatively short and made of light timber.

Unique spear throwers up to a metre long are still made in the Aurukun area of Cape York, just as they have been for centuries. These womerahs are made from wattle, scrub wattle or ironwood trees. The heart of the tree is removed and the sap scraped away with a mud shell. The wood is then warmed in the fire and straightened. If this proves difficult, sugar-bag wax is spread onto the warm wood which melts and makes it easier to bend. The notch in which the spear must be fitted is bound to one end. This is termed thul kaa. The thul kaa is bound to the spear thrower by pandanus twine o sinew. Heated bum from ironwood roots is spread over the binding to form a smooth finish. The handle of the womerah is formed from two pieces of bailer shell. The size of the hand piece is marked out onto the shell to fit the palm of the hand accurately, and the shell is carefully tapped off to the marked area, which is then smoothed with a stone. The pieces of shell are called thul pinch, and these are stuck together and attached to the womerah with sugar bag wax. The wood is finished off by rubbing down with fish or goanna fat.

One of the most interesting craft items still made in Aurukun is the fire stick, or thum-pup. Fire sticks are made from the yukpoop tree and after being collected they are warmed over the fire and skinned. when two sticks have been cut to the same length they are straightened against the knee and left to bleach in the sun. Sugarbag wax is rolled and squeezed in the hand and then left to dry until all the honey has been removed in the sun and the wax is smooth. Two small bamboo sticks are then tied together with string and covered with wax, which is moulded into a large ball on top. Red abrus or giddie seeds are pushed into the wax to form colourful decorations. Then the stem of the Cooktown orchid is placed in ashes from the fire. The top layer or skin of the orchid lifts and is easily peeled. The underskin may then be removed, scraped and dried. It is then wound around the bamboo, making a watertight top to protect the head of the fire stick. Fire sticks are kept in the bamboo container and fire is made in the traditional way by twirling one on top of and at right angles to the other to give friction. Fire sticks are now sold as traditional craft items and are generally tested before use. 

With several other senior men at Aurukun, Jackson Woolah makes traditional spears from ockan or timpin wood (red wattle or lance wood). Lighter spears to catch birds are made from bamboo. The wood is warmed in the fire, scraped, straightened and dried. Kerosene tree leaves are used to smooth the wood and a shell may be scraped along the surface. Stingray barbs are particularly important and are used in several different spears as single barbs, multiple barbs or a series of barbs inserted down one or both sides of the spearhead. The barbs are inserted into the spearhead, bound with string and covered with gum and the whole head is then inserted into the handle. Wooden pronged spars are made from wattle or ironwood. A silver of bone from a wallaby or brolga leg is bound to the top of each wooden prong with bush strings, then covered with gum from the ironwood tree. Red gum from the date palm tree is rubbed into the prongs to give them a shiny finish. The handle is split in order to insert the head, and this is bound on with bush string which has been spun on the thigh. Warm gum is then rolled on to a kayaman, a wooden pallet used for smoothing a mixture of gum and wax when making spears and womerahs, and the string is coated. Perspiration from the forehead is mixed with gum on the kayaman and then smoothed onto the spear to give it power and efficacy. A alack finish can be obtained by mixing animal blood, charcoal and water and this is frequently rubbed along the entire spear shaft. such spears are used for hunting, whereas for fighting, spears are painted with white ochre, yellow clay and charcoal. 


Most people of the arid central desert regions of south Australia, central Australia and Western Australia continue to fashion the basic tool kit of weapons that have been made and used in these areas for many thousands of years. Spears, spear throwers, boomerangs, shields, clubs, chisels and digging sticks form the basic requirements of any family group, individual objects that were multi-functional. The most extraordinary weapon still made in Central Australia is the spear thrower, called miru by the Pitjantjatjara. The miru is one of the world's most ancient hunting weapons; it is thought to have existed in the upper Palaeolithic cultures of Europe and more recently was used by the Aztec Indians of south America. The desert Australians are therefore one of the last peoples in the world to have continuously used this implement since its invention thousands of years ago. The Pitjantjatjara spear thrower can also be used as an adzing tool, a receptacle and a fire-making saw. Its concave blade was probably developed because of the need for velocity and distance in spearing the large, scarce kangaroos and emus in the desert regions. In nearly a century of observation the Pitjantjatjara leaf-shaped spear thrower has altered very little, though the use of steel axes and tomahawks in place of stone hand tools has widened the range of usable mulga trees and quickened the manufacturing process.

The ritual of spearing a kangaroo has always been fundamentally important in training young men in the desert areas. Once speared, the kangaroo had to be prepared in a special way and the spear thrower was most important in training young men in the desert areas. Once speared, the kangaroo had to be prepared in a special way and the spear thrower was most important in the gutting of the animal at the point of killing. Older men today take great pride in attempting to spear the kangaroo but, if this fails on the first attempt, they quickly resort to a rifle. In the old days spear throwers were smeared with kangaroo blood; today blood has been replaced by red ochre. Wlter Pukutuware, an experienced Pitjantjatjaa craftsman and assistant craft adviser in the Amata Arts and Crafts Centre, recently demonstrated in detail the making of a modern spear thrower. From a Toyota car in which he was travelling, he sighted a suitable mulga tree about fifty metres away, leaped down and made shaped cuts at the top and bottom of a selected section. After cutting the flitch of timber, Walter Pukutuwara used a tomahawk for the initial shaping. When the flitch was removed, it already had an arched back similar to the appearance of the spear thrower in its final form. Using a metal adzing tool, the interior of the blade was chipped out and the form refined and smoothed. Sinew which had been gathered from the leg of a kangaroo and chewed to make it pliable was used to bend a wooden spear peg to the blade. These two pieces were carefully bound together and as the sinew dried, it tightened. A ball of gum made from spinifex was softened over the fire and moulded around the spear thrower handle. The spear thrower was then finished with the insertion of a small piece of quartz to act as a cutting edge.

Desert people have a 'mental template' of the form they seek and they see this as they pass various trees. The idea of the object's form is always in the mind of the maker and, as people walk or drive through the countryside, the bear in mind the objects they wish to make. Gould described an incident when he was out in the desert with some people. One woman, katapi, said 'Ngayulu langkuru nyangu' ('I saw a spear thrower'). Gould thought she said she had found a ready-made spear thrower in the bush, but in fact, while hunting, she had seen a tree with a form perfect for making a very fine spear thrower. Gould and Katapi's husband later collected the flitch of timber. Other weapons still made with care, skill and treat pride by Pitjantatjara craftsmen include spears, or kulata. These are made from the tecoma tree, though the heads are of mulga wood. Boomerangs primarily used for hunting are also made from mulga wood. The convex surfaces may be smooth or incised with fluted linear designs.  

The women's essential carrying dishes are called piti. These are made entirely by women and they vary in shape and size depending on function. Roots of the river red gum are dug and hollowed out. larger bowls are used as receptacles and are carried on the women's heads, occasionally with a circular head ring made of rolled bark and bound with hand-spun hair string. Smaller bowls may be used for winnowing seed, to make flour for damper or for winnowing spinifex resin to make gum. Yet another type of piti may be used for digging out the burrows of lizards or goannas. The inner surface of these dishes is smooth, while the outer surface ma be crenulated and left as the natural timber, or smoothed and decorated with burnt designs using hot wire. The practice of decorating these piti has risen in the last thirty years. Designs invariably relate to the women's own version of their landscape and how it was created and people by their ancestors. A series of connecting curved lines imitates the pattern by their ancestors. A series of connecting curved lines imitates the pattern made in the ground by the women when they dance during their inma. Two of the legends which are frequently illustrated are the story of the Seven sisters and the story of Piltadi, or the two sisters.

Ceremonies and accounts of the ground journeys of the seven sisters and one man (orion and the Pleiades) extend from the Warburton Ranges in Western Australia through the Rawlinson, Petermann, Mann and Musgrave Ranges and through to Glen Helen Gorge. Important related art sites include Cave Hill (Walinga) and Ayers rock paintings.

The man who pursued and repeatedly had intercourse with the women is known as Jula and Nirunja, the women being referred to as Kunka Punkara or Kunka Kangkalpa. At various places the women dug holes and extracted the wet sand, putting it over their hot bodies to cool themselves. These places are now water soaks known to all the people. The story of Piltadi tells of two sisters who left their camp in search of edible lizards and goannas which burrow underground. Unbeknown to them, they were being followed by two snake men. In following their false tracks, the sisters dug up a large tract of earth, opening up burrows that never yielded any substantial game. Finally the women came to a large hole in the earth. They became excited, thinking they had found the entrance to the burrow of some enormous animal. They began digging again, following and opening up two underground burrows that led to the foot of mountain ranges just west of Amata. Here, however, instead of finding the game they had hoped for, they found the two snake men waiting for them. The sisters managed to wound one of the snake men and run away, but their escape was temporary as the two snake men finally caught up with them and swallowed them. The country at which these events took place and the ceremony in which the story is told is known as Piltadi. 

The Pitjantjatjara people's skill with carving has, in recent years, been extended to the making of animals found in the desert. These are generally representations of all types of local birds, lizards, echidna and even cats. Decorated with extracts of ceremonial designs or the natural markings of the animals, they vary in size but demonstrate a great deal of skill as well as humour. Women make these animals as a social activity and sit in groups laughing and joking as they shape the animals from their regular roots of the river red gum. Occasionally an oddly proportioned animal will arouse hoots of laughter as women imitate the prancing lizard, goanna or echidna.

The Pitjantjatjara shields of the Mann, Musgrave and Tomlinson Ranges are similar to those found across to the west. Used primarily for defence from spears, they are broad, with large handles. Decorative fluted patterns made with finely pointed chisels relate to the ancestral dreaming paths. The Pitjantjatjara-speaking people of the more westerly regions around Wingellina in Western Australia create the most elaborately decorated adzes, spear throwers and shields, employing fine zigzag patterns, diagonal lines and the interlocking key design can still be found on some exceptional pieces. This design is thought to have been passed from the Kimberley region of western Australia, where it originated on shell pendants known as longka-longka. These shells were traded through Pitjantjatjara country with other wooden items such as 'hairpins' - carved oblong wooden decorations worn in a man's chignon. The finely engraved geometric patterns found on present-day desert weapons are the closest in style of all Aboriginal art forms to the detailed zigzag and other symbols on Aboriginal weapons of the south-eastern coast.


The use of traditional weapons has largely given way to metal tools and rifles for shooting game. However, fishing spears are still used and many craftsmen, when encourage, will fashion a traditional spear, net or implement. In Arnhem land, boomerangs are unknown as weapons for fighting or hunting, but large decorated pairs were traded from the centre and used as clapsticks in ceremonies. Coastal Arnhem land has witnessed enormous changes in geography, climate and vegetation over the ages in which man has been present in the region. The tools used, spears, womerahs and boomerangs, have also changed according to requirements, food supply and changes in human population. These have been recorded in the older rock paintings of human and spirit hunting figures of the Kakadu National Park region. In coastal Arnhem Land, patterns painted on spear throwers are the same as those painted on the chest, on bark paintings and other cultural items. The designs are clan patterns signifying aspect of the artist's Dreaming and connecting him to his tribal lands.

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