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A History Of K'gari's Changing Names

Updated Wed 13 Dec 2023

Wondering about the history of K'gari (Fraser Island) and its changing names? Let's go over a brief timeline of this magical island in Australia and how its names have changed over the years. If you're planning a visit to beautiful K'gari, it is a good idea to know about some of the history and fun facts about this fascinating island!

Kgari fraser island

A History Of K'gari (Fraser Island) And Its Changing Names

The topic of K'gari's changing names often comes up when travelers research or visit K'gari. Many people today know of this stunning island as Fraser Island. It was referred to as Fraser Island for much of its modern history. 

However, the island was originally called K'gari by its Traditional Owners, the Butchella People. In 2021, the World Heritage Committee changed the name from Fraser Island back to K'gari, the original title. However, the official place name remained Fraser Island until the Queensland Government opened the case for an official name change in August of 2022. Now as of June 2023, the name has officially been changed back to K'gari, and Aboriginal Australians are rejoicing everywhere! Let's break down the history of K'gari's changing names into a timeline. 

Indian Head Lookout

K'gari - Up To 50,000 Years Ago

The Butchella People are the indigenous Australians who have inhabited K'gari for thousands of years. Studies prove their existence on the island for at least 5,000 years, but evidence suggests they could have thrived even up to 50,000 years ago! Butchella language does not have a written culture, so other names that could be used to describe this civilization include Badjala, Badjula, Badjela, Bajellah, Badtjala, and Budjilla.

K'gari means paradise in the native Butchella tongue. In the late 1700s-1800s, Europeans started to arrive in Australia and settle the land. Colonists gave the island various names over the years, which we will list next. But the Traditional Owners, no matter how badly they were mistreated and disregarded by the colonists, always referred to the island as K'gari (pronounced Gurri). 

girl reading sign

Great Sandy Peninsula - 1770 until 1822 

By the late 1700s, Europeans started to arrive in Australia. Captain James Cook observed in his journal as he sailed past the island, “The land hereabouts, which is of moderate height, appears more barren than any we have seen on this coast, and the soil more sandy, there being several large places where nothing else is to be seen. In other places the woods look to be low and shrubby, nor did we see many signs of inhabitants.”

It seems Captain Cook missed seeing that the island was separated from the mainland by the Great Sandy Strait. He and other Europeans began to refer to the island as the Great Sandy Peninsula. Cook did notice some native people standing on a rocky headland, which was named "Indian Head Lookout" for that very reason.     

Indian Head Lookout 

Great Sandy Island - 1822 until 1836

The region was also briefly visited in 1822 by William Edwardson who sailed through Great Sandy Strait to establish that Cook’s “Great Sandy Peninsula” was in fact an island. So settlers began to refer to the island as the Great Sandy Island.

Fraser Island - 1836 until 2021/2023

In 1836, a ship known as "The Stirling Castle" was sailing along Eastern Australia. The Scottish Fraser family was onboard, but the ship hit a reef around 200km north of K'gari (Fraser Island). Captain James Fraser and his wife, Eliza Fraser were beached on the island's shores while trying to escape the sinking ship. 

Their survival was quite fascinating, and so the island was officially renamed Fraser Island, after Captain Fraser. The name “Great Sandy Island” still remained on maps for some time. So in the modern day and age, Fraser Island is the name that most people associate with this natural wonder. 


K’gari (Fraser Island) - 2014 

The indigenous Butchulla People were granted Native Title rights to Fraser Island in 2014. The island was known by both its native name of K'gari and Fraser Island. But the media, tourists, and many locals still referred to the area as Fraser Island for years. 

K'gari - According to the World Heritage Committee - 2021 Until Forever

In 2021, the World Heritage Committee officially renamed the island K'gari for the Queensland National Parks records and the World Heritage Sites records. Officials began to recognize that the name "Fraser Island" was controversial for many reasons. 

Mainly, Eliza Fraser's narratives about how the native people of K'gari treated her were very negative. This ultimately led to much of the slaughter, displacement, and mistreatment of the Butchella People. Also, K'gari is the rightful name of the island. The Butchella People are the Traditional Owners of the land, so it is only right that their title for the island remains today. 

Fraser Island renamed

K'gari - According to the Queensland Government - 2023 until Forever

In August 2022, the Queensland Department of Resources opened up the consultation of a name change to the public. As about 70% of the public wanted an official name change to K'gari, the movement has been in the works for the last few months. As of June 2023, the name change is cemented. 

Tourism in K'gari is thriving, and it's important for visitors to acknowledge and respect the role of the island's indigenous culture and traditions. The Butchella People have helped shape the island into what it is today, through management and cultural practices. It is a huge step forward for Australia to finally recognize the Butchella name for Fraser Island. The name K'gari shall hopefully remain forever!

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