Fraser Island History

Fraser Island History is as dramatic as Fraser island itself, named 'K'gari' (meaning paradise) Fraser Island was home to the Butchulla people who lived on the island for over 5,500 years. Their heritage is evident in archaeological sites, midden heaps, ceremonial bora rings, and stone implements. European history credits Fraser's discovery to Captain James Cook. The island was named after Eliza Fraser in remembrance of her dramatic shipwreck.

Fraser Island reveals Aboriginal occupation of at least 5000 years, although it is possible that further archaeological work may indicate earlier occupation. Early European reports suggested that Fraser Island was heavily populated by Aboriginal people, but subsequent research indicates that there was a small permanent population of 400-600 that swelled seasonally to perhaps 2000-3000 in the winter months when seafood recourses were particularly abundant. Fraser Island contains many sites of archaeological, social and spiritual significance. Middens, artifact scatters, fish traps, scarred trees and campsites bear witness to the lives of the original inhabitants.

Aboriginal spiritual beliefs intimately connect people with the seasons, the land and life on it. Butchulla people have gained their sophisticated knowledge of the island environment over thousands of years, and maintain a strong connection today.

Abundant marine life was once a major food source. Shellfish were collected, while fish were speared or ingeniously caught in stone traps that isolated them at low tide. Turtle and dugong were hunted seasonally, and eels, tortoises, waterfowl and eggs were found in waterways. In the forest, foods included birds, berries, sweet banskia nectar and honey from the hives of stingless native bees. Women pounded flour from the roots of bungwall ferns and dug clumps of yams and other bulbs, always returning bulbs to the ground to ensure a future supply.

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.

The Aboriginal lifestyle was disrupted soon after European settlement in the 1840s. Butchulla people put up a strong resistance but were overwhelmed by European weapons, followed by disease, drugs and lost food sources. By the late 1800s, most remaining Aborigines from the region were relocated to an island mission settlement and then, in 1904, to various missions throughout Queensland. A few Aboriginal families stayed behind, their men employed in local logging or fishing industries.

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.

In the late 1800s, when shipping became important in the region, major lighthouses were built at Sandy Cape (1870) and Double Island Point (1884).

Small-scale mining for heavy minerals began in 1949. Sandmining exploration increased in the 1960s, attracting opposition from conservation-minded groups. Their efforts eventually stopped sandmining in 1976, while logging stopped in 1991. The northern part of the island became a national park in 1971, with more areas added later.

It was not until the 1930's that the tourist potential of Fraser Island was recognized. The industry grew throughout the century, and it was in the 1970's that Fraser Island became known as a tourist destination on the Queensland coast. This was when mining began; a very controversial situation, the decision was reversed in 1976. Up until 1992, much of the Island was state forest, however today Fraser Island is known as a national park.

Residents of surrounding districts have visited the island for recreation since the 1870s, but the first commercial tours and accommodation did not start until the 1930s. Sandmining and logging controversies increased Australian interest in Fraser Island, while the island's World Heritage listing in 1992 raised its international profile. Today's management challenge is to balance conservation of the region's natural and cultural values with the demands of people who want to enjoy them.

Fraser Island boasts a wealth of natural attractions: pristine fresh water lakes such as McKenzie, Boomanjin, Allom and the spectacular Lake Wabby; crystal clear creeks - Eli Creek being the most well-known; Champagne Pools - wonderful swimming rock-pools; the amazing coloured sand formations known as The Cathedrals and the Central Station camping area and ranger station. On the eastern beach, near Happy Valley you will discover Fraser Island's own shipwreck - The Maheno.

Fraser Island is home to thousands of species of birds and its warm waters attract dugong, dolphins and turtles. The magnificent humpback whales, with their young, pass on the western side of the island between August and November.

You can visit Fraser Island either by taking a guided tour, as a foot-passenger to the western side, or by self-driving (for four-wheel-drive vehicles only). Access requires crossing the Great Sandy Strait either by barge or charter aircraft.