My Boomerang Journey
Here’s how I got started with boomerangs.
My family emigrated to Australia from the United Kingdom in 1970. They decided on Brisbane as this is where my Dad could get work as a professor of music teaching the violin.
Every summer we would drive the hour and a half or more journey from our home in Coorparoo to Burleigh Heads. Sometime we’d go to Southport or Labrador or Main Beach but the best place to go was Burleigh.
In those days my Dad had a Mazda RX7 and then an RX9 and unlike the 4 lane highway we have today the road was one lane both ways and we would often have to slow down for various “towns” along the way.
Once you hit this bit of cut through section where the Gold Coast Highway veered off to the left you knew the next stop was Burleigh even though it was probably another 45 minutes away.
On that route you passed through Mudgereeba and there was always a sign that said “Boomerang Farm”.
Anyway, one day, I think my half brother Kevin had come to visit from England, we took the turn off the one lane highway at Mudgereeba heading to the Boomerang farm.
(Sir) Lorin Hawes, received his knighthood from the Hutt River Province, was actually a US expat who had worked for the American Secret Service…anyway that’s what he told me had set up a tourist attraction between Mudgereeba and Springbrook on the Gold Coast Hinterland.
The Boomerang farm was a typical 70’s tourist operation with some fun quirks that as a kid you really enjoyed.
Viewing a mock-up of Ayres Rock (now known as Uluru) through various eye-pieces that created sunsets, sun rise and snowstorm (white)
The highlight was going into a cage and watching and learning how to throw a boomerang.
Everyone was given a plastic boomerang on entry and you could trade it in to get a wooden boomerang of a few dollars more.
I convinced my Mum that the $4 was worth it and I got a now famous M17 boomerang made by Loren.
I was five or six years old as I remember.
Out of everyone in my family I was the one who got the boomerang to return.
The boomerang bug had bitten me!
That one boomerang served me well as we moved from Brisbane to Toowoomba and then Adelaide but to my horror one day I broke my boomerang when I was eleven.
I tried gluing and taping it back together and making other ones from scraps of T Chests and bits of plywood I could scrounge off Dad.
Nothing worked quite as well as the original however.
In 1979 my parents sold the home in Adelaide and decided to return to the UK so my Dad could further his career.
Fortunately, he flew on ahead and Mum, my sister and I took the Greyhound from Adelaide to Brisbane to see some old friends before we returned to the UK.
One last visit to the beach and a detour to see Lorin to get another M17 before I flew back to England on Boxing day 1979.
Still remember my sister Catherine saying in Dubai “Oh mummy…look at all the Josephs…where are the Marys? We had landed in Dubai on the return trip and there were all these Arab men in the airport but no women anywhere…well not until we were getting back on the plane and then there were women soldiers who searched Mum and Catherine who had been separated from me. I was searched by a male soldier.
back to the UK…ouch…from 40 degrees centigrade to MINUS 4.
I was so confused and upset as to why my parents had brought me to such an inhospitable place.
To top it off the Australian summer had six weeks school holiday but the UK only 2 weeks so I not only lost my holidays I lost everything i loved like the beach and the great outdoors.
Fast forward a year and to my Parent’s surprise there was a Boomerang competition advertised in the Sunday Times Newspaper. NO!… YES !!!
Anyway, I went along and entered.
I think I finished third in the Juniors Catching event.
Bitten by the boom bug again.
Turned out there was a British Boomerang Society with a bunch of Loyal followers.
I joined and started to make boomerangs to display at the next competition some 6 months away.
I made creative shapes, a folding boomerang to put in your pocket, a bird man, etc etc.
Fortunately I was friends with a few boomerang makers and throwers. Robert Leckie and others.
At one competition Robert Leckie gave me a new shape he had crafted from a design by Wilhelm Bretfeld. It had one long arm and one short arm.
The event of maximum time aloft was truly born and the pursuit of long flying boomerangs was in full swing.
Anyway, I could throw that thing. I was like 14 and I was getting throws of 30-40 seconds in practice and the World record at the time was held by Peter Ruhf with something like 24 seconds.
In the summer of 1982 I went to Bievres in France, just outside Paris, to attend an event organised by Jacques Thomas.
What great days.
Fun throwing and nights of looking at Jacques 8mm films of Africa and other adventures he’d had. WOW.
I just gave Robert’s MTA as they were now known a great heave in the Maximum time aloft event and I got my first World record 26.22 seconds. I remember it like yesterday. The officials included Herb Smith and the President of the USBA Carl Naylor.
That day the Ambassador of Australia in Paris and the Mayor of Paris presented me a medal that would surely change my life and put me on a course towards success.
I ended up on TV making and throwing boomerangs on the popular children’s show Blue Peter. I still remember throwing around the statue in the centre of BBC TV studios whilst they filmed me off the roof with a fish-eye type lens. The boomerangs hugged the windows of this circular building. It was really exciting and fun.
They published my boomerang making instructions on a full page in the Radio Times.
I ended up doing several other TV appearances and various newspaper articles
The following year I set another record in Dulwich, London on the 24th April 1983 with a time of 31.31 seconds. Later that year filmed a television special with Barry Sheen called Just Amazing. It was the pre-cursor show to the Guinness World Record TV shows. I was filmed breaking the MTA World record again throwing 36.33 seconds.
I was featured in the New Scientist in a boomerang article written by Jacques Thomas and proofread by me in the English translation.
My boomerang designs, notably my folding pocket boomerang was being sold through the Kite Store in Covent Garden and through Jacques Beslot, Boomerang Fan France. Later when I stayed with Ben Ruhe in Washington I was shown a folding boomerang he got from Jacques Beslot and I was really disappointed because it was one of my signed boomerangs but Jacques had sanded off my name and put his Boomerang Fan Stamp in its place.
Needless to say the relationship of me supplying him boomerangs to sell soured after I found this out and I stopped making my designs available through him.
In the following years I ended up getting invited to the USA for the summer competitions and to watch the Australian vs US international challenge.
I stayed with Holly English Payne on Long Island and then went with her to Washington where I hooked up with Ben Ruhe.
I bummed around in Ben Ruhe’s VW Combi van with him and Rusty. (Rusty Harding) and the dozen cartons of Fourex Beer Ben had imported from Australia.
Still remember playing catch with Ben’s cat in his apartment and having a great time with Ali Fujimo, Eric Darnell and many others who were so full of life and excitement.
Ben, Rusty and I drove from Washington to Lehigh University in Pensylvannia to compete in a tournament and to watch the US take on the Aussies.
I am still in people bad books to this day in Australia for helping the US team with MTA. I’d taught Barnaby Ruhe how to tune and throw the Bretfeld type design and he crushed them in competition with my help.
A highlight of the Lehigh event was when I got to throw an Al Gerhards laminated hook in the long distance event.
Two throws I grounded out and I had to beg Al to let me throw a third time.
That third throw was one of those that just left your hand and really was in the groove utilising the ground effect and soaring out and up at 120 metres. It swept back with the most graceful arch and skimmed the field for the last 50 metres of the return just like every perfect maximum distance throw squeezing every last ounce of flight out of the throw.
I broke the LD world record that day…
…according to some people…
…but they couldn’t have a young kid from the UK beating the Schwatzeneger physique of Al Gerhards.
I know the words that several spotters said to me after the event. I had a recorded throw of 105 metres as my supporters argued the range but many witnessed me breaking the distance record that day and that inspired me to say one day “I will throw the furthest”.
I travelled onwards to Delaware, Ohio where they were holding the USBA Nationals.
Ended up staying with Chet Snouffer…well about 16 of us were staying at Chet’s
Such good days of competition and evening of food and socialising.
Met Mickey Kinley at that event and got a Boom-alum. Boy that boomerang flew far. You couldn’t use a metal boomerang in competition but I tuned one of those babes up and it was doing 120 plus with such a laid back throw.
My travels took a detour at this point as I was due to travel to Boca raton and the Gulf Coast with Craig Schleppergrell but a few people had invited me to go to Pittsburg and then Buffalo and I had to make a choice. Summer on the beach or boomerang throwing and more adventure with all my new friends.
I hopped the greyhound to Pennsylvania and ended up staying with Barnaby Ruhe but when I arrived Baney was butt naked doing an abstract painting. He said “Dave…lets go to Dinner” He chucked on a pair of pants and a t shirt and we headed to Barney’s favourite “all you can eat”
Oh OH next day only pancake batter in the cupboard.
God I think I lived on pancakes for three days whilst Barnaby tripped out painting.
That’s when I called a lifeline. I called Shelley Mack in Pittsburgh and said “Can I come stay with you?”
Shelley picked me up from the bus depot and I rode in the back of her Suburu “UTE” back to her home where I met her fiancee and her tow kids Kellie and RJ (Regis John).
Another turning point in my like was about to happen.
Shelley was separated from her EX – RJ senior but still on good terms and she was living with a guy John who was a weight-lifter training for the Olympics.
Shelley worked at Carnegie Mellon University and was an artist.
There was something special that happened in Pittsburg.
I ended up going to a Phillip Glass Concert where lasers were bounced off the Pittsburgh skyline and we also saw a band “Inner Circle” the guys who sing “Bad Boys” – Cops Theme.
Turns out we were skanking along right up the front and when Inner Circle finished we got invited to a club where they were having an after party.
I was only 17 so couldn’t legally drink but somehow I guess because I had my arm around Shelley we just breezed into the club and partied on tip the small hours.
I ended up staying three months with Shelley on and off. I visited Eric Darnell and stayed with home for a week or so and made boomerangs to help pay my way.…we travelled to Buffalo and competed in the boom comp up there.
Shelley came up and joined me.
I remember having just the most painful back-ache. I was using Dwayne Hatchett’s Inversion machine to try to get relief.
It wasn’t from boomerangs and everyone though I was injured due to wild nights but I’d really got food poisoning the night before. We’d all gone out for dinner and everyone was having Buffalo Chicken Lips (spicy wings) but I stupidly has scollops (fish) Yeah Buffalo aint near the sea and I had a dodgy one.
I went into Canada and saw the Niagara Falls. Those were the days…we just crossed the border and said “Yeah we’re all Americans…no passports”
Back to Pittsburgh for another few months and eventually back to the UK after a wicked road trip of a lifetime.
The next year or so the letters from Shelley stopped. I didn’t know she was diagnosed with Lupus and some other Boom throwers told me she died. They had sold her car and other belongings whilst she was in hospital. ( I only found this out like 20 years later)
I then attended the first so called World Cup an invitational event sponsored by Levis. Hollywood Chewing Gum and a Champagne company.
It was held in Paris and competitors from USA, France, Germany, Australia, UK (myself) were invited.
Stlll remember throwing a 24 second fast catch. Doesn’t seem fast nowadays but we had to use two bladers back then. It was good to win that event when I had Eric Darnell and John Flynn as competitors.
In practice I couldn’t string five catches together and even then during the event I won with a time people thought I’d only thrown four throws because it was that quick.
I had caught each throw with a scissor like catch trapping the V boom vertically on my chest.
I’m sure there is a photo of me holding up my shirt to show the five bruises were I’d stopped each throw with my body on the line.
That even moved me from out of the running to finishing third overall in the tournament.
It was the last event I competed in in Europe before I emigrated back to Australia in October 1988.
I didn’t throw booms again competitively until 1996 when the Australian Nationals came to Brisbane.
Rocked up and everyone was throwing tri-bladers and I only had two bladed booms.
Anyway I used a boomerang I made in 1987 in MTA and threw 57 seconds nearly breaking the Aussie record.
That inspired me to go to NZ for the 1996 Boomerang World Cup
So lucky that I had Bob Burwell living in Brisbane not too far from me.
Bob is a bit of a loner when it come to booms even though he is always sharing his knowledge and so helpful if you just ask. I think it goes back to the battle of coming from Queensland when all the purist boomerang throwers of the day were in New South Wales or Victoria.
With the Aussie Nationals always being held in Albury on the NSW and Victorian border it made if difficult for Bob to attend and when he did they always bent rules and made it difficult for him to set a long distance record.
The following years I spent meeting up with Bob for throws and discussion.
It is out of those discussions with Bob about how his father said boomerangs have a rudder that I developed a long distance boomerang that was un-weighted.
This is how the Buzzwhip came about.
In fact I’d worked out the design and developed the shape long before I had the name.
The design was a variant of the Mickey Kinley Boom-alum but made from a new 2.8mm thick 10G-45 Tufnol Epoxy Glass sheet I’d acquired from Cadillac Plastics.
I’d started to work out ways of moving the centre of gravity by adjusting natural weighting with the design. I was also experimenting with various angles of attack along the leading edge and subtle flat angular sections in specific locations to reduce drag and increase range. The other innovation was a textured web-like surface that I developed to again reduce drag, enhance the boomerang and conceal some of the technology I was applying to the shaping.
The distances Bob and I were getting were in the 150 – 200 metre range.
Bob knew I was onto it.
Instead of some 28g of lead being added the whole boomerang was in some cases a low as 35g whenI used carbon fibre but often they weighed between 70 – 80gm when made from the Tufnol.
This allowed Bob to get back into distance throwing because we could just have a flick and we were getting 140 metres.
That’s when I knew I would get my third world record.
Driving back from the park we were joking in the car with my then eight year old son Devin and we kept saying we were going to “whip some butts” with the design and that is when the name came about, not Butt whip” but “Buzzwhip”
Threw the measured 144 metres in Albury setting Aussie record.
Onto St Louis where I was throwing 150-165. I think Eric threw 149 with one of mine in the SBLD comp.
Onto St Louis and on the last day in the Long Distance event I cracked 174m to set a new world record. Devin, my son, who was 9 years old at the time got the Junior world record of 84 metres at the same event.
Off we went to New York to close out the NBC Today Show with Katy Couric and Matt Lauer.
Katy threw a Tri-fly foamy and caught it one handed to steal the show.
More in my next post…