Introducing K’gari aka Fraser Island

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We acknowledge and pay our respects to the first custodians of this land, the Butchulla people. We respect the teachings of Elders past, present and emerging and do our best to live by them in a modern world. We recognise that this is a sensitive article and may be hard for some to read but we hope, like us, you are on a journey to educate yourself beyond what you are purposely taught.  

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To most people, your home is just an address right, a pinpoint on a map; but to you, it’s so much more than that isn’t it. Just the same as the pinpoint you call Fraser Island, we call K’gari. Why? Well because it’s home, and when a place is your home you know it differently. 

Now let’s start off with a little education on the pronunciation. If you haven’t heard it before it can be a tricky one to get right, pronounced ‘gurri’, it is the island’s first name, given to her way back in the Dreamtime, when the island was “born”. 

When you call a place home, you know its history right – it holds memories for you, it’s the one place you see the most vividly when close your eyes and it makes you feel something nowhere else does.

Written in First Nations law of these lands on which we stand is that knowledge must be shared, passed down through the generations. We’d like to share our knowledge with you by explaining exactly why it is so important to us to share the story of K’gari and her peoples. We believe it is so important in fact that in 2020 we rebranded our tour company from Drop Bear Adventures to K’gari Fraser Island Adventures. We share this island’s story with our guests, not only in recognition of our First Nations People but also in the hope that it will help move us all forward, side by side, on the path to true reconciliation of all First Nations Peoples, all around the world. 

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Growing up, we were taught that Australia is the largest island continent in the world, but not that there was another map with different boundaries. That perhaps a million people lived here for over 50,000 years, that over 200 distinct languages were spoken by these people and that they had an abundant culture of myth and beliefs expressed through law, language and all the arts. 

So why K’gari? In Butchulla culture, K’gari is a story told about the legend of a princess from the Dreamtime. This princess spirit, called K’gari, fell so in love when helping create the land and sea that she begged to lay here to rest forever. It is said that her many lakes were created so that she could always look back up to the heavens and remember where she came from, her thick flora created to clothe her and the animals to keep her company. Then, when paradise was complete, Yindingie, the creator spirit created the Butchulla people to protect K’gari forever.  

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Today, for us, our happiest place is here, on this island, but for those who first called it home, those who were created to protect her, it ended up being a place of great sadness as their lives were torn apart and they were torn away from their home. 

The Butchulla, are the traditional custodians of this land. Some 2,000 plus lived here in harmony for thousands of years before europeans stepped foot anywhere near it. Known as the ‘sea folk’, the Butchulla were incredible hunters and gatherers, cultivating the land while protecting the island’s incredible biodiversity teachings of sustainability. In fact it is said that the island was so rich in bush tucker and marine life, that K’gari sustained one of the densest pre-contact Indigenous populations and strongest on the Australian continent. Butchulla lived particularly healthy lives here on this island and traces of Butchulla life before colonisation can be seen everywhere here. 

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As white man began to explore Australia though, the romance of the island creation legend and its peaceful protectors was quickly being poisoned by the horrors that were beginning to unfold in “civilised” society. It could be argued that Mrs Eliza Fraser’s (yep that’s where the name Fraser Island came from) shipwreck was the catalyst that sealed the fate of the Butchulla’s near future.  

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It was renamed ‘Fraser’ Island in recognition of poor Eliza Fraser surviving her ‘ordeal’ with the Butchulla people. Well, you can imagine, her story was quite the sensation so it’s hardly surprising this name quickly became internationally recognised and soon enough, maps were being reprinted. Yep reprinted because it had 2 other names given to it by explorers before that too. 

In 1849, the island began to be occupied by, well, white people. At that time, the Indigenous population of 19 clans was estimated to be around 2,000 strong. 

On Christmas Eve, 1851, Commandant Walker, his officers and 24 of his infamous Native Police (indigenous recruits) set out to “arrest some Aborigines”, for which there were warrants. They spent eight days on the island carrying out what was euphemistically described as ‘examinations of Aborigines’. But, subsequent reports indicate that this was in fact a pretence for a series of massacres which occurred between Christmas Eve and 3 January. Aboriginal oral history reports that the biggest massacre was at Indian Head where some 240 women and children were forced to their death.

Within three decades (1879), the population of Indigenous people on the island had dropped to around 300-400, a collapse attributed by an informant of the then Chief Commissioner of Brisbane to shootings by the Australian Native Police and the effects of venereal disease and introduced alcohol. A few years later, sometime around 1902, most of the remainder of the Butchulla people were transferred to a missionary in Yarrabah (near Cairns) miles away from their home.

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The reason we feel so strongly about sharing this story is, well, like we said, we believe in extra curricular education. 

We wonder what happens to a nation that denies the people and their land, when the acts of the past are buried? Is it a simple forgetting, a practised forgetfulness on a national scale, or is it a mechanical matter; a view from a window carefully placed by a few to exclude the many from seeing a whole quadrant of the landscape. 

Well, you won’t find us staring out of the window wondering about the world outside the box. We love to learn the lessons that nature and history teach us, no matter how hard those teachings may be to learn sometimes, but, more than anything, we love to share. 

So you know why we call it K’gari now, and you know that the island has been known by many names over the years; the Great Sandy Peninsula, The Great Sandy Island, and you know that none stuck quite like the name Fraser… BUT the big question now is, what will you call this island when you tell your friends about your adventures to paradise? 

Thank you for reading this very special blog. If you would like to know more and support the work we do with the Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers, Community and Not for Profits to protect this island, book your next adventure with us.