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native spear

trikegeoff

Malcolm Douglas
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hello all
for awhile now i have wanted to make and use a spear and woomera. i have found a little information on these items but nothing too detailed, this is where you guys come in.
im wanting to know if there is any formula to the length and diameter of a spear and also if there is a preference to the types of woods used. does the spears of the sydney region differ to that of the central west region? i would assume it does, but why?
any information that you can give would be great, book or articles, pics or photos or even some story from you guys that have made or have used spears and woomeras would be awsome
 

Hairyman

Ludwig Leichhardt
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I have only used modern made Aboriginal fishing spears and woomeras from north Queensland.
Wood used was mainly Macaranga (for a short life spear), dudahl, not sure about the spelling and I dont know the botanic name, was a sort after
timber from high up in the rainforest, bush lemon and bamboo, especially rangoon cane were also used when available.
Prongs were made of older non high tensile fence wire and were bound with the string from chook food bags and sometimes copper wire.
This was glued in place with pitch/tar sometimes mixed with the resin from grasstrees.
The woomeras were of 2 basic types, one was a simple small tree cut just below where a branch offshot. The offshoot was trimmed to form the
hook to fit in the end of the spear. The other type of woomera was made out of a flat piece of wood and shaped into the usual woomera shape
and a small piece of wood was fitted/bound to the end to hook into the end of the spear.
Different men had their own style and ways of doing things and I would guess that in preCook days different tribes/language groups would have made distinctive
spears and woomeras too in accord with local custom. There were different spears for different purposes too, fishing spears, wallaby/kangaroo spears, fighting spears
etc etc.
So probably a visit to a local Aboriginal interpretive/cultural center or museum would be the best shot.
 

Aussie123

Never Alone In The Bush
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Wow, that’s a big question.

In general terms all the spears are different and as others say, it depends on the type of game being hunted, the part of the continent and the local materials available.

In general light weight wood is the go for the spear it self, and the point is often an attached piece of hard wood, stone, bone or possibly the shaft material hardened in a fire.

If you want to get started quickly, I’d suggest a bamboo pole about 1.5 mm thick, I’ve found that to work well.
You can leave the point as bamboo, or carve and attach another point as you wish.

Length – depends what you can get, 2.5m to 3m. Its all a bit trial and error, so try a length and see what you think, then go shorter or longer. About 2.5m was easy for me to transport.

The bamboo/point will not last forever, in fact depending on what you hit, it may not last at all.

The lovely thing about bamboo is that it is (often) quite easy for townies to get hold of and you can try out length, diameter, points etc so that if you do get some "nice" material for a shaft, you'll better know what you want to do with it.

For a thrower I copied a piece from a cultural display I spied in SA, basically a curved acacia stick carved down and shaped. Very simple; I’ll try and snap you a pic if you like.
Its probably a bit shorter than I’d like, but worked well enough. There are other styles of thrower, but I haven’t tried to make one as yet !

A cardboard box makes an excellent target.
 

Aussie123

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Here's the pics.

The thrower is about 56 cm long. The bow in the stick allows the carved notch to engage in the (hollow end of the) spear.
P1270984 (Small).jpg

P1270986 (Small).JPG

In my post above I said "acacia", I meant to say a mulga (which is a type of acacia). My thrower was made from a piece of red gum.

The rounding on the handle end is interesting. I'd seen it on the artefact and assumed it was somewhat aesthetic (which it is), but when you follow through on the throw, the shape of that rounding makes a difference; in fact having a more pronounced knob would be good too.
 

trikegeoff

Malcolm Douglas
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thanks guys
the response to my questions on this site are always answered quickly and possativly.
aussie123 thank you for the pics of your woomera, im going to start with somthing similar to that and hopefully hone it from there.
hairyman you said you used modern takes of a traditional spear, what did you do with it? hunt? if so do you have any pics of your success or the equipment.
greatbloke good luck with your endeavours into the world of spear making
thanks again everyone but please keep the advice comming i , and i assume many others are very interested in this subject.
 

Hairyman

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I wish I had taken a lot more photos when I was up there but that was over 12 years ago.
Because I was a novice at using the fishing spear my success was limited to collecting bait in daylight which were in schools that even I couldnt miss.
Nightime with a good torch was more productive for me with squid, sand crab, mud crab, mullet, sleeping/dazzeled fish etc.
Some of the Aboriginal blokes were so good seeing the fish and spearing them as to appear almost magical.
But as they had used a spear since they were old enough to hold them, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I'm sure their brains grew
around the idea, I didnt pick up a spear until I was in my early 20s so was way behind.
 

Aussiepom

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Another thing to look out for may be the ratio of spear length to woomera length. I know nothing about woomeras specifically, but I have done a bit of research on a version of throwing stick called an atlatl. This is a flexible version and when coupled with a flexible spear, physics predicts that the most efficient ratio will be the number pi, or 3.14 : 1.

Are woomeras flexible or rigid? If they are flexible then I'm guessing that the same physics will apply. Take a look at www.atlatl.com, (I think), there's a whole load of info on atlatls there.
 

Aussie123

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Woomeras are rigid and often multi-purpose.

I can use mine as a light club, some had stone chips embedded to use as a chisel / scraper, some are a coolamon shape for holding food (etc), some were used for fire lighting or as a hook to pull down a high branch etc really a SAK !

You are probably correct about an optimal ratio of size (and weight), but I suspect that it had been worked out by trial and error and hunters would simply make spears and throwers to “traditional” sizes. I’ll have a read on the site mentioned (thanks)
 

Aussiepom

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Oops! Sorry folks. The site I recommended isn't the one I was thinking of. There's some info on it, but not as much as on the other one, (the address of which I can't remember), and a lot of it is just a sales pitch. It may be enough info for you, or you may be better off with a general google of atlatl.
 

speedy

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It's probably 20-25 yrs since I've made any, but I used to make composite spears.
A friend taught me to make them many years ago.
He worked as a jackaroo in NT during the sixties and some of his workmates (local guys) showed him and used to go out hunting together in spare time.

The head, I'd forge from a small (100- 120mm long) 1/2 inch round mild steel.

That was inserted into a split or notch cut out of a piece of thin (12-16mm dia),
straight hardwood about 50cm long and bound with jute or cotton twine.
The binding was drenched with PVA glued and covered with beeswax after it had dried completely.

the other end of the hardwood was then inserted into the basal end of a length of Cane (Arundo donax)
and bound in the same manner as the spear point.

The length of the Arundo culm was usually around the 2 metre mark and the basal end was split
in several places around the first internode in order to open it up and grasp the hardwood insert.
A piece of cloth was wrapped around the hardwood to give a bit more bulk to grip in the culm and a bit of shock absorption for it too.

In selecting a suitable culm, I'd usually look over 100 or more in a stand to get a good straight one to start with
in order to reduce the degree of fire straightening before using.
these would then need some time to dry enough to start to make the spear.

The tail end of the spear was either bound at the node to prevent splitting during throwing and a thick, blunt woomera peg would be used.
Alternatively, another small hardwood insert was bound the the tail (same as other bindings) and a
small indentation made in the end to receive a sharper more traditional woomera peg.

as far as balance goes , try to get the centre of gravity at about one thierd the way back from the tip of the spear.

and Woomera length
...I go by the length of my arm , shoulder to wrist is a good rough guide,
shorter is ok,
but not longer than shoulder to fingertips.

Just recently I've made a few spearheads at the forge and intend to make a few to teach my son.

I've used these successfully for fishing usually straight through the fish and into the mud holding the fish in place.


another , more speciffically for fish involves a piece of cane, split at the basal end , same as above, but instead of
a hardwood insert, 7 straight pieces of wire or thin rod (The guys in NT used to pinch the welding electrodes
and hammer the flux off them) bound with thin wire at one end.

The wire bundle is then bound tightly with a strip of cotton cloth , inserted into the split end of the cane and bound with thin wire.
the pointy ends of the wire are each hammered flat and filed to a point.
the wires are then pulled out only very slightly, but not too much as they will splay out once they hit the fish and hold it tight.

this spear can be used with a woomera (with appropriate prep of the tail end) or thrown whilst holding the spear about 1/8 or so forward of the hind tip.


btw when binding any of these , it's best to secure one end of the binding to something large and/or heavy
and the other end of it to the part of the spear to be bound.
rotate the spear while pulling back with even pressure while you walk towards where the other end is tied.
I've found this to be the best way to get a good, tight , even binding.

Thers another one that uses a piece of 44gal drum , but this post is long enough i think :)
 

Aussie123

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A great description speedy.

I'd like to hear about the 44gal too, when you have time; sounds interesting.

I know folk often use steel reinforcing rod (as used in concrete construction) for spear points; the thinner stuff for fishing barbs.
It comes in a variety of sizes and if free if you can find a demolition site.
 

speedy

Malcolm Douglas
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ok, 44gal (205 litre) drum.
there are two ridges running around the drum at about a third the way from each end.

using one of the ridges as the mid-rib of a broad 'shovelnosed' spearhead, cut out a shape that's sort of like a teardrop
with a narrower stem comming from the fatter end.

the 'stem' ( length being about 1/2 to 1/3 the length of the main teardrop shape.

the guys in NT would use a coldchisel to cut it out of the drum.

After cleaning up a bit with a file or a rock, the spearhead would then be cold hammered flat on a rock or other suitable surface
with the midrib being retained for strength.
... it's very light guage steel for what it has to do so the midrib is very much needed,
but there's hardly any resistance when penetrating a target.

the edges are filed sharp, ground sharp on a rock or peened thin with a hammer against a rock or piece of steel.

My friend told me that this type of spearhead stem was inserted into
a split made in the fatter end of a piece of bamboo and bound up with thin wire.

He also told me in some detail, of an incident that he once saw where a tribal elder was
facing off against a younger guy, both with one of these spears each at about 6o metres apart.
it was a dispute over a woman.
lucky for the younger guy the police turned up and settled things down,
coz the older guy wasnt known to miss anything he launched a spear at.
These shovel nosed spears being about 4-5inches wide,
would've sliced a hole through him big enough to reach your arm through.

I've only made one of them, but they're like a knapped stone or glass spearhead in that they're not good for learning with.
If you miss your target and hit the hard dirt or a stone , they're pretty much buggered.

a forged mild steel head is much better at taking a bit of abuse during practice.
... if you bend it a bit , hammer it straight.
 

Quinkan

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I was taught as a kid that a basic hunting woomera is the same length as from your armpit to your wrist and the spear from your height to your height plus an arm IF in open country. No point carrying great long things in dense scrub.

Atlatls are different, they're springy (woomeras, generally speaking, are rigid) they incorporate stones and fletching which aussies never bothered with.

For a thrower find a lump of wattle or something else heavy and shape it for balance. You want it to fall fast past the vertical. For spears, you want durable, medium weight and semi-rigid. Reeds and grasstrees were used a lot for fishing spears (a fish doesn't weigh much, and you want a floaty spear) but for land hunting / war spears you want something pretty heavy, most examples I've handled the spear is about as heavy as the thrower and 8-10mm thick.

Up north they sometimes traded in blackpalm and Betula species, for shorter spears. Out west scrawny young gums and wattles were preferred for much longer spears.

Generally speaking the thicker the scrub the shorter the spear and the heavier the thrower.

Hybrids are entirely decent but, north american atlatl tech is quite different to standard aussie gear. Neither seems better but it seems the N.A. version was designed with precise strikes and persistance hunting versus the aussie version which is about putting a big sharp heavy thing into your dinner before you clubbed it to death a minute later.

For close range thick range country I've experimented with short, heavy throwers and very short fore weighted spears...2 or 3 feet tops and I am confident that with ok stalking skills it would easily take down the afternoon wallabies, turkeys, ducks and larger reptiles.

Just make a set from anything and practice... Build what works for you and your needs. Native is a very broad term..what a cape york fisherman uses would make a south australian desert hunter laugh, and vice versa.

The longest, lightest sets are found in northern desert regions. Anthropologists can also tell who used what by the amount of damage to their shoulder and elbow joints... Long range hunters have the most damage.

I'd prefer a compact set with a heavy thrower and very,very sharp heads anyday. A giant long set with fired points and a light, broad thrower would wear me out and be too gangly for the country where I am.

I've had decent accuracy with a thrower the lengths of from my elbow to my fingertips, a fat grip, and three foot x 10mm spears.
 

Hairyman

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Interesting stuff fellas!
I find it instructive that even though spearing is generally regarded as 'primitive' hunting it is still in use especially for fishing.
... and that newer better techniques are quicky adopted to improve it such as the use of fencing wire etc.
The 'ultimate' fishing spear was made by (and sold @ $50) a certain bloke on Palm Island at one stage, made form imported rangoon cane,
stainless prongs and held together with epoxybond. I brought one and it significantly outlasted the more usual ones.
I guess this is what neo-traditional means.
 

auscraft

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Great info from all
Spears came in different lengths and made for different purposes and not all used with woomeras and not all spears were made with the same technical specifications depending on the use. Not all spears had spear heads and not all spears were one solid piece, again this came down to the use , culural beliefs and the materials they were made from.
The woomera had the same issues as the spears materials , cultural , use. Some tribes did not ever use a woomera , and most woomeras were made with multiple usage in mind, some had flint attached for carving, some shaped as bowls for eating and gathering, some were used for fire making and some as individual weapons. they were ridgid and as basic rule a length as quinkan mentioned above but not set in stone again depended on the material and weights of both and throwing skills the person.
The lengths of both were as individuals need or the use there of, The Tasmanina aborigine used very long spears compared to main land tribes. The Brisbane people did not use woomeras and generally used fire hardened tips. Fishing woomeras were generally smaller and lighter than other types. And a individuals personal spear was better made than the general fighting , hunting spears. Some aborigine only used a specific tree for making both tools and used other trees for fighting spears. Fighting spears were carried by the dozen and produced many times on location of fight so the engineering of many were not of high quality
 
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