Spear thrower

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Registration number
1109
Item name
Spear thrower 
Category
Throwing
 
Indigenous name
 
Maker
Unrecorded  
Associated cultural group
Kaiadilt 
Place
Australia > Australia > Queensland > Gulf region > Bentinck Island
Map
Collector
Reverend J. B. McCarthy  
Acquisition date
January 01, 1950 
Acquisition method
Foundation Donation from Reverend J. B. McCarthy  
Raw material
hardwood, ochre
Dimensions
H: 183 mm W: 45 mm L: 747 mm D: 24 mm Circum:

Description

Carved from a single piece of hardwood the spear thrower has a long, straight, cylindrical shaft tapering to a wider, flattish head. The butt end has been roughly carved into a round knob and the head a rounded arch. A round hook is cut into it to form the ‘peg’, which is inserted into the end of the spears which it propels. There are significant chips or gouges in the shaft towards the butt but they have been smoothed and were either part of the original manufacture or the spear thrower has been sanded and re-polished following the damage. 14 parallel lines have been purposefully etched into the shaft towards the head on one side. There is evidence of red ochre all over and white ochre on the knob. The object is lightly stained with a brown resin polish. [Joe Hextall, 2016]

Research notes

This spear thrower is a significant record of the Kaiadilt’s material culture, predating the evacuation from their home of Bentinck and Sweers Islands. It is an uncommon type of a common item in pre-colonial Australia. It is an important artefact in understanding the history of Queensland and the history of anthropology in Queensland, and particularly the role of the missions and their interaction with the traditional owners. And, as such, it is a significant item in recording the history of the University of Queensland’s Anthropology Museum.

The spear thrower was part of the Foundation Donation; one of more than 1000 objects donated to the University by Lindsey Page Winterbotham in 1948. It is typical of much of the early catalogue in that it is a wooden weapon/hunting object. It was given to Winterbotham by a missionary; one of Winterbotham’s most frequent correspondents, Reverend J.B. ‘Bert’ McCarthy, who worked at the Mornington Island mission from 1944-1948. McCarthy donated 190 objects to the museum, including this item, which is one of three spear throwers and three spearheads out of 26 objects collected by McCarthy from the Kaiadilt, the people of Bentinck Island. At least some of these objects, including the spears and spear throwers were collected prior to the cyclone that finally forced the inhabitants to evacuate to the mission on neighbouring Mornington Island in 1948. Up to this point the Kaiadilt had little interaction with the outside world; European, Macassan and Aboriginal alike.

The subtle aesthetic of the spear throwers from Bentinck Island was unappreciated by the first European viewers. They were reported as ‘the crudest and simplest spear thrower of Australia... no more than a plain stick with the projection peg carved in the solid.’ Yet the wood was carefully selected for its appropriate size and shape on the small island; a different material than that used for spearheads and shafts. And the spear thrower served its primary function well - projecting spears at dugong, turtles and humans – for thousands of years.

This Collection Close Up was written by Joe Hextall, 2016.

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