Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Multi-purpose Gadget to Cut, Carry or Throw

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

The spear thrower is shaped a bit like a western style dress tie.  The wide area of the  thrower is carved with patterns and the handle is covered by a kind of tree gum.
Aboriginal Spear Thrower

This spear thrower was made in Australia by a native Australian, an Aborigine. It has a wide surface to allow foodstuffs to be carried on it. It would have had a multi-purpose stone blade embedded in gum at the handle, the narrowest end. Its most important use was to enable whoever carried it to throw a spear further than could be done by human hand alone. A spike at the end of the thrower held the spear in place behind the thrower’s head thus extending their reach, just like the gadget that dog walkers use when they throw a ball for their dog.

Detail of an Aboriginal spear thrower

The object shows the multi-purpose nature of many aboriginal objects. In an environment where it paid to travel as light as possible, having an object that could be used to kill game, serve as a tray, and be used to cut things was very useful. It is simple in design but 'fit for purpose'. It also looks quite modern.

Young person's response to this object

The object seems simply made, but the list of things it was used for
is surprising.
Tom Burke

Tom's response reinforces a modern view of design that form should follow function

Discussion Ideas

  • We learn that the Aborigine people need to travel as 'light as possible'. Traditionally they were nomadic and so would travel, looking for food. What else might they carry with them?
  • Think of the gadgets that we use to make life easier today. Are any of them 'multi-purpose'?
  • What advantages could there be in not having a house full of gadgets and objects?
  • The Aborigine people are very knowledgeable about nature, animal life and the weather. How could we learn from their life style?

Activity Ideas

  • Make a list of objects you would take if you were going to live off the land and make your own shelter. You must be able to carry them yourself!
  • Research the types of animals that would live in Australia and that Aborigine people would hunt for.
  • Compare these animals to those native to Europe and make notes about how they differ.
  • Think about design and technology and investigate why the shape of the thrower makes it ideal for the purpose it was designed for.
  • Australia is a vast country with relatively few people living there. Look at the Google map below to work out which parts of Australia have the most people?