The Butchulla people’s traditional name for Fraser Island was K’gari which means paradise. According to Butchulla legend, Fraser Island was named K’gari after the beautiful spirit who helped Yindingie, messenger of the great god Beeral, create the land.
As a reward to K’gari for her help Beeral changed her into an idyllic island with trees, flowers and lakes. He put birds, animals and people on the island to keep her company. Captain Cook first sighted the Fraser Island Butchulla people during 1770 and named Indian Head on the eastern beach after them.
Captain Matthew Flinders was one of the first white men to have contact with the islanders and had peaceful meetings with them in 1799 and 1802. There were six clans in the Butchulla Nation and the territory extended through Fraser Island, Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay, Bauple Mountain and north to a point at Burrum Heads in Queensland.
The island has rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths. It is made up of sand that has been accumulating for approximately 750,000 years on volcanic bedrock that provides a natural catchment for the sediment which is carried on strong offshore current northwards along the coast.
Unlike on many sand dunes, plant life is abundant due to the naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi present in the sand, which release nutrients in a form that can be absorbed by the plants.
Fraser Island is home to a small number of mammal species, as well as a diverse range of birds, reptiles and amphibians, including the occasional saltwater crocodile. Eli Creek is the largest creek on the east coast of the island with a flow of 80 million litres per day. Eli Creek has its own unique and varied wild life.
Coongul Creek on the west coast has a flow rate of four to five million litres per hour. Some of the swamps on the island are fens, particularly near Moon Point. This was only discovered in 1996 when a group of experts who had attended a Ramsar conference in Brisbane flew over the island and conducted an aerial survey.
In July 1802, explorer Matthew Flinders sailed the east coast, landing for a day to collect water and wood, and for botanists to collect plant specimens. In 1836, survivors of the wrecked ship Stirling Castle took shelter on the island before being rescued by a Brisbane search party.
Imaginative accounts by one survivor, Eliza Fraser, became embellished as she travelled Australia and Britain earning money and fame from her ordeal. Another survivor’s story described Captain Fraser’s death from natural causes, but Eliza’s stories inspired widespread hostility towards Aborigines.
The island became known as Fraser’s Island. In 1842, explorer Andrew Petrie reported good pastoral lands and excellent forests. Settlers arrived, grazing sheep and cattle. Logging of valuable kauri pines began in 1863.
After the Gympie goldrush of 1867, demand for timber boomed and logging expanded to become the region’s major industry for more than a century. Relics of timber-cutting camps, sawmills, tramways, jetties, wharves and towns remain today.