The universal value of the largest sand island on the planet was formally recognised in 1992 when UNESCO inscribed it on the World Heritage List. This massive sand mass has been evolving for thousands of years, well before Europeans arrived in the mid-1800s. Anthropologists believe it was the traditional homeland of the Butchulla people for at least 5,000 years, and likely much longer. The first written record of the region is from explorer James Cook’s discovery voyage of Australia’s east coast in 1770.
Originally called K’gari (pronounced “gurri”) by the Butchulla, it was Great Sandy Island for a short time and then renamed Fraser Island after Captain James Fraser, who beached his lifeboat on the island with his wife Eliza and the remnants of his crew in 1836, after his ship, Stirling Castle, foundered on Swains Reef more than 200km north. Captain Fraser died in mysterious circumstances a short time later and Eliza was eventually rescued after spending time with several tribes. There is no record of when the island officially became K’gari-Fraser Island, but the first mention of its association with Fraser was likely to have been in the British press, telling the ordeal of the captain and his wife.