Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer

4

Boomerang, attributed as being made by Fred Mulga aka 'Pelaco Jack'

2008.0048.0087

Boomerang, attributed as being made by Fred Mulga aka 'Pelaco Jack'

Object information

Description

Fred Mulga (c.1874-1948), aka Pelaco Jack, Aboriginal buckjumper, was probably born near Port Hedland, in Western Australia. His parentage is unknown. Called Fred Wilson and also Fred Clark, he became an expert drover and horse-breaker. He worked in rodeos throughout south-east Australia, regularly appearing at the Royal Melbourne Show. In 1917 the clothing manufacturers J. K. Pearson and J. L. G. Law renamed their firm Pelaco Ltd. The company's advertising depicted a bare-legged and bare-foot Aboriginal man striding along in a pristine white Pelaco dinner-shirt and exclaiming, 'Mine Tinkit They Fit'. By the 1930s 'Pelaco Bill' sported a monocle and cigar, or stood resplendent in shirt, tie and trousers beneath the Australian flag. Pelaco Bill proved popular for almost forty years and contributed to the company's rising fortunes. Mulga Fred always maintained that he was the model for Pelaco Bill .

The vendor bought this boomerang from an elderly man in Wantona Road (eastern suburbs of Melbourne) after placing an ad in a Melbourne newspaper in the early to mid-1990s. This man claimed to have bought the boomerang from a fair near Swan Hill in the 1950s from a man called Pelaco Jack, who was doing whip cracking, knife throwing and boomerang throwing. If Mulga Fred did use the name performing name of Pelaco Jack, and is reported to have had his last performance at Swan Hill in 1948 (before being hit by a train at Horsham station in November 1948), there is a reasonable chance this boomerang was used by Mulga Fred at his last show.

Physical description

A symmetrical, dark coloured timber boomerang, with wrinkled wood in the centre. Inscribed in the front and centre of the boomerang is an 'S', and a white paper sticker adhered to the reverse with no text. An inscription on the actual timber on the reverse side reads 'RC023'.

Statement of significance

This collection of 150 objects shows the agency of Indigenous people in designing and making 'tourist' artefacts and demonstrates their engagement with the non-Indigenous economy. It expands the NMA's collection of these often overlooked 'tourist, souvenir', Aboriginal objects.

The attribution of many of the artefacts in this collection to particular artists and places is a significant element of this collection, as artefacts by known artists are difficult to obtain, and are a useful means of giving agency to Aboriginal histories. The NMA has very few Indigenous artefacts with artists attributed to them.

Object information

Back to top