K’gari sheds colonial legacy, traditional name officially restored

Fraser Island gets a long-fought name change

When the largest sand island in the world officially reclaims the name K’gari, it will go some way to healing a great hurt for the Butchulla people.

On Wednesday, the Queensland government took the final step in the process of restoring the traditional name of the island, previously referred to as Fraser Island.

Butchulla land and sea ranger co-ordinator Chantel Van Wamelen said the official recognition honoured the elders who had fought for the change.

“Part of the process is truth-telling and for people to recognise that it’s always been named K’gari,” she said.

“It is insulting to us to have our island named after a woman who did tell lies about our people, which led to a lot of our people being removed from the island and massacres.”

In 1836, after the ship her husband captained was wrecked on the reef, Eliza Fraser and several sailors landed by leaking lifeboat on the island.

Butchulla people fed the ship-wrecked visitors and attempted to integrate them into the community, assigning them food preparation and other tasks and trying to treat their sunburn.

Captain Fraser did not survive and is variously described as dying from disease, malnutrition or wounds from being speared.

Some of the other sailors made it to the colony and sent a rescue party for Mrs Fraser.

When Mrs Fraser arrived in the colony, she told authorities that she’d been tortured and kept as a slave, writing an account – debunked by other survivors – that depicted Aboriginal people as barbaric, cannibalistic savages.

Over the next decades, the colony massacred Butchulla people, rounded up survivors and forced them onto missions.

Mrs Fraser parlayed her misadventures into a lucrative speaking career, embellishing and changing her story multiple times after she remarried and returned to the United Kingdom.

“It’s really been a long process and now to have that official place name being changed is a big achievement for our people,” Ms Van Wamelen said.

“We’ve got such a unique ecosystem over here and there’s such rich cultural and environmental values on this island.

“It’s very special for us to call this place home.”


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