Ball E010107 Click to enlarge image
A ball made from dried grass. The grass has been tightly compressed and then bound with a stronger plant fibre. It was acquired by the museum in 1901, and was made near Cairns, QLD. Image: Finton Mahony
© Australian Museum

Our earliest, made by the Calcadoon and Western tribes of the Georgina River, Channel Country QLD, was acquired in 1893. It is made from animal (bullock) bone, gypsum, camel dung and pigment, and was spun on a paperbark mat sprinkled with sand to assist with spinning. Another early object, a ball from the Cairns district of Queensland, is made from plant fibre.

We also have sixteen small, cube shaped balls, known as “kai” by the Meriam people of Mer Island in the Torres Strait, and acquired in 1907. Made from plaited pandanus strips, these were apparently used in a team throwing game, during which the balls mustn’t touch the ground.

A more modern example, from Ngalijibama in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, is made from an old chux type disposable, soiled washing cloth. It has been compressed into a cube and tied with nylon rope and cassette tape. This demonstrates how just how resourceful and creative kids can be.