Art & Artefacts

Australia has some of the most beautiful native wood varieties in the world. Mulga wood was one of the woods that were highly prized by First Nation People who made a large variety of tools, utensils, and weapons. e.g. coolamon, clap sticks, woomera, boomerangs, digeridoo.

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What is Mulga Wood?

Mulga has developed extensive adaptations to the Australian desert to be optimised for low water loss, with a high oil content, sunken stomata, and a profusion of tiny hairs which reduce transpiration. During dry periods, Mulgas drop much of their foliage to the ground, which provides an extra layer of mulch and from where the nutrients can be recycled.

Mulga Tree
Mulga Wood
Mulga Tree Leaves

The needle-like phyllodes or leaf stems stand erect to avoid as much of the midday sun as possible and capture the cooler morning and evening light. Any rain that falls is channelled down the phyllodes and branches to be collected in the soil immediately next to the trunk, providing the tree with a more than threefold increase in effective rainfall. 

Mulga roots also penetrate far into the soil to find deep moisture. The roots also harbour bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen and thus help deal with the very old, nutrient-poor soils in which the species grows.

First Nations Australians people have used the hard wood of their local variety of Mulga to make spears, digging sticks and long narrow shields.

Mulga seeds can be eaten after cleaning and grinding them into a paste or roasting them over fire. The sugary gum from the tree can also be eaten or dissolved in water to make a sweet drink.

What is a Coolamon?

A Coolamon is a First Nations Australians dish or container. There are several different distinctive styles of Coolamons from the many differing. In general, the value of a Coolamon will depend on its rarity age and the beauty of the design.


Coolamon were used by First Nation women to use to carry things which included tools, babies, food and, depending on its shape, water. Another function saw Coolamons used for digging and winnowing. 

Coolamon carved from a piece of the outer bark of a tree trunk in the intended shape are the most common. The piece of bark then shaped into a vessel using an adze [similar to an axe]. Some were heat moulded using fire to bend the sides. In some parts of Australia Coolamons are made from folded spathes, a leaflike bract.

Coolamon could be carried under the arm or on the head. To carry the vessel on her head an First Nations Australians woman balanced it on a ring pad made from human hair, possum fur, twisted grass or bark.

Coolamon were often rubbed with animal fat such as the fat from emus. This prevented cracking. As well as nourishing the wood this made it waterproof and gave it a shiny appearance.

Today Coolamons are also sought after as collectables and often displayed as artwork.  

What are Clap Sticks?

Clap sticks are a traditional First Nations Australians instrument, used for percussion during ceremonies and songs to help maintain rhythm in voice chants. First Nations Australians have numerous songs and dances, so clapping sticks were used a lot. Clap sticks are also known as bilma, bimli, clappers, music stick or pair sticks.

Man Playing Clapping Sticks

Boomerang clapsticks are similar to regular clapsticks, but they can be shaken for a rattling sound or be clapped together.

They are traditionally made from the hardwood local to the First Nations Australians group or traded with other First Nations. People often decorated their clapping sticks, and the symbols used had special meanings. 

Clapping sticks were also used as digging sticks, making them particularly useful. In fact, lots of First Nations Australians tools were used for more than one purpose, as they are very efficient in their use of resources.

What is a Woomera?

A Woomera is a wooden First Nations Australians spear-throwing device 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.


Like spears and boomerangs, Woomeras are traditionally used only by men. Some Woomeras, especially those used in the central and western Australian deserts, were multi-purpose tools. 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 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. 

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 effectively lengthens 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.

Different First Nations Australians groups had different shapes and styles of Woomera. For example, the Woomera of the central desert tend to be very wide and slightly bowl shaped whereas those of the Kimberley are flat long and narrow. 

What is a Boomerang?

The Boomerang features in First Nations Australians creation mythology, and for First Nations Australians people the Boomerang is considered as old as the continent. First Nations Australians creation myths recount how the Ancestors formed the landscape of Australia.


The Dreaming extends from the past into the present. In the Dreaming many significant features — rivers, rock formations and mountains — were created when Ancestors threw boomerangs and spears into the earth. For First Nations Australians people, the Boomerang is as old as creation and a symbol of the enduring strength of First Nations Australians culture.

With more than 250 different language groups it is understandable that Boomerang-making varies across the continent. Larger, heavier boomerangs are used by inland and desert people; lighter boomerangs are thrown by coastal and high-country people. The vast majority of boomerangs are of the non-returning variety.

Carving and colouring of boomerangs differs across the continent; the styles of decoration are as varied as the individual makers. 


Boomerangs have many uses. They are weapons for hunting birds and game, such as emu, kangaroo and other marsupials. The hunter can throw the boomerang directly at the animal or make it ricochet off the ground. In skilled hands, the boomerang is effective for hunting prey up to 100 metres away.

When hunting for birds, either returning or non-returning boomerangs can be used. A returning Boomerang can be thrown above a flock of ducks to simulate a hovering hawk. The frightened birds then fly into nets set up in their flight path or, if they come within range, the hunters can use non-returning boomerangs to bring the birds down.

Boomerangs can be used to kill fish in areas of high tidal variation where fish are trapped in beach or rock pools. Designed to slice through water, these boomerangs are heavier and have none of the aerodynamic qualities of flying boomerangs.

Boomerangs are fighting weapons. Thrown at each other by combatants, medium-weight boomerangs are a deadly weapon, but for close quarter skirmishing, large boomerangs up to two metres tall can be used as fighting sticks.

Boomerangs can be used as a digging stick when foraging for root vegetables or for scraping ashes away from a fire. They can also be used to make fire; the sharp edge of a boomerang when rubbed along a softwood surface creates enough heat to generate a spark that can ignite grass.

Finally, boomerangs feature prominently in First Nations Australians dance and music, as a percussion instrument when a pair are rattled together, and as an accessory to ceremonial dance.

Boomerang-makers can ‘tune’ their boomerangs to serve many of these different uses and different environmental conditions by reshaping the boomerang’s wings.

Source: National Museum Australia

What is a Digeridoo?

The digeridoo is a wind instrument, played with continuously vibrating lips to produce a continuous drone while using a special breathing technique called circular breathing. This technique requires breathing in through the nose whilst simultaneously expelling stored air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks. By use of this technique, a skilled player can replenish the air in their lungs, and with practice can sustain a note for as long as desired.


The didgeridoo was developed by First Nations Australians peoples of northern Australia at least 1,500 years ago [based on the dating of rock art paintings], and is now in use around the world, though still most strongly associated with First Nations Australians Australian music. Traditionally, the didgeridoo was played as an accompaniment to ceremonial dancing and singing and for solo or recreational purposes. 

A digeridoo is usually cylindrical or conical and measures anywhere between 1-3 metres long and may be painted using traditional or modern paints or they may retain the natural wood grain design with limited or no decoration.

There are several well-known First Nations Australians digeridoo musicians including Djalu Gurruwiwi, David Hudson, Mark Atkins and William Barton to name a few.