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Why Is Fraser Island Called K'gari?

Updated Wed 14 Jun 2023

Fraser Island and K'gari are two names given to the same place. The world's largest sand island, which lies off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is a spectacular destination. With magnificent rainforests, stunning perched lakes with soft white sand, and ancient sand dunes, this island is a World Heritage Site and a haven for adventurers. 

This article will discuss the names of K'gari! The traditional name of the island is K'gari, but it was changed to Fraser Island by European colonists in the 1800s. In 2021, it was changed back to K'gari, and now many people refer to the island as K'gari (Fraser Island). Let's dive into the history of K'gari's names!

K'gari Coastline

K'gari: The Island's Traditional Name

Though most people in the modern age know the world's largest sand island as Fraser Island, K'gari is the traditional name. The Traditional Owners of the land are the Butchella People, and they named the island K'gari thousands of years ago. K’gari means ‘paradise’ in the native tongue.

The name K'gari is derived from an Aboriginal Dreamtime story about a goddess named K'gari who fell in love with the earth and never wanted to leave. According to the story, the gods set out to find a place for the newly-created human race to live. K’gari, alongside Yendingie, the messenger of the great god Beeral, were sent down to earth to find such a place. But K’gari herself fell so in love with Earth that she never wanted to leave. She then transformed into the great sand island so that she could stay on her beloved Earth forever. Beeral placed lakes, forests, flowers, animals, birds, and people there to keep her company. 


K'gari's Butchella People

Such Dreamtime stories are an important part of the history of the Butchulla People and the land of K'gari. Stories are passed down for generations and record the history and beliefs of the people to preserve their memory. The Dreamtime is a way for the Butchulla People to understand the creation of the world and its meaning. It is also a way for us to understand the meaning and significance of places and animals in Australia, including the great sand island of K'gari.

The Butchulla people have lived on K’gari for at least 5,000 years but studies show it could be as much as 50,000 years. They have been an integral part of the island's history and past, and are still the traditional owners of the island. K’gari is their homeland and has special spiritual significance to their traditions and customs. Different parts of the island have different functions and provide them with places to carry out their traditional way of living. 

reading sign

Colonization of K'gari 

The lives of the Butchulla people on K’gari changed hundreds of years ago when Europeans began to colonize Australia. The first official sighting of K'gari (Fraser Island) and its people was in 1770 when explorer James Cook (later known as the famous Captain Cook) sailed by. He noticed people standing on what he named "Indian Head", which is now called Indian Head Lookout

This began a series of events that changed the face of the island and its people forever. Contact with the island people didn’t happen until later when Matthew Flinders landed on the northern edge of the island around 1799, talking with them in a series of peaceful meetings. For a time, the island was known as Great Sandy Island but was later named Fraser Island.

Indian Head Lookout

Where Does The Name "Fraser Island" Come From?

K'gari got its modern name, Fraser Island, during the European colonization period of the 1800s. The name comes from the English Fraser family, particularly a woman named Eliza Fraser. Eliza Fraser was shipwrecked on the island in 1836. She was accompanying her husband on a voyage from Sydney to Singapore when they hit coral and had to abandon their ship.

Resorting to their lifeboats, their journey became more and more perilous until only Eliza Fraser was left, wrecked on the shores of what we now know as Fraser Island. The story goes that she spent several weeks on the island amongst the aboriginal people until she was rescued and returned to her native land in England. Her story of survival inspired the island to be renamed Fraser Island.

K'gari scenery

Returning to the Traditional Name

Between the years of 2021 and 2023, Fraser Island was officially renamed back to K'gari. The name "Fraser Island" was controversial for a few reasons. First of all, it disregarded the connection of the Traditional Owners to their land. The Butchella People thrived on K'gari for thousands of years, and they are the rightful owners of the land. It is only fair that the island remains with its traditional name. 

Secondly, Eliza Fraser is partly responsible for the displacement and near extinction of the indigenous Australians on K'gari. Her stories about her time on the island show the locals in a negative light. She makes it seem like they captured her and mistreated her, and this led to the dispossession of the Butchella People from their beloved island. Rather than honor a woman whose narrative had tragic outcomes, the island was renamed K'gari to celebrate and acknowledge the Aboriginal paradise

Visit the beautiful K'gari yourself on one of these tours!

Sand Dunes on K'gari

Planning a visit to K'gari? Check out our list of the 15 best things to do there, or chat with one of our travel experts online if you have any questions!

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