In the Butchulla people’s language, Fraser Island was known as “K’gari” (pronounced “gurri”) meaning “paradise”. Butchulla translates as “the sea people”.
Archaeological evidence suggests Aboriginal settlements existed on Fraser Island at least 5000 years ago. The Butchulla (Badtjala) people were the primary claimants of the island, and also controlled the mainland territory to Bauple Mountain, including the current locations of Maryborough and Hervey Bay. Whilst there was a permanent population on the island of around 500, this swelled to in excess of 3000 during the winter months when seafood was abundant.
The arrival of European explorers and settlers around 1840 (see my previous Blog post) had a devastating impact upon Aboriginal life on the island. Weapons, disease, hostility and government intervention forced the Butchulla people from their traditional homelands over the ensuing years, with only 250 survivors remaining by 1890. The timber industry and Anglican missionaries then arrived in force, and over the following 10 years poor treatment and hostile policies implemented by the State Government saw 94 Aborigines buried in 2 cemeteries on the west coast of Fraser.
In 1904 the balance of the Butchulla tribe (now numbering around 100) were forcibly relocated to missions in Yarrabah near Cairns by the State Government, over 1500km from their traditional homelands. The last known Butchulla tribesman was “captured” in 1930 and deported to Cherbourg mission under police escort for no criminal offence.
On 13th February, 2008 an official apology was made to Indigenous Australians delivered by the Australian Prime Minister on behalf of Parliament and the Australian people, specifically for treatment of Indigenous Australians during the above period (1900 – 1950).
There are now only a handful of surviving descendents of the Butchulla people, some of whom once again live within the Fraser Coast region. Their history and legends are important, and efforts are being made to find and preserve important cultural sites so that this history can be shared with future generations. Proposals have recently been made to officially change the name of the island back to its traditional name of “K’gari”.
(From stories told by direct descendent and Elder of the Butchulla people – Olga Miller)
Beiral, the great God in the sky, made all the people. But after he made the people, Beiral realised that the people had no lands! So Beiral sent a messenger, Yendingie, to solve the problem and create lands for the people. Yendingie came down from the sky, and set to work to make the sea, and then the land. When Yendingie arrived at what is now known as Hervey Bay, he had a helper – the beautiful white spirit called Princess K’Gari.
K’Gari was a great helper, and helped Yendingie make the sea shores, the mountain ranges, the lakes and the rivers. Princess K’Gari enjoyed her work very much, and worked tirelessly to create all this natural beauty. One day Yendingie was concerned, and said to her, “K’Gari, you better rest, otherwise you will be too tired to continue our work. There are some rocks over there in the sea. Why don’t you go and lie down and have a sleep?”
So Princess K’gari lay down on the rocks and had a long and deep sleep. When she awoke she said to Yendingie, “I think this is the most beautiful place we have ever created. Please, Yendingie, may I stay here forever?” “Oh no, K’Gari, I cannot allow that. You are a spirit, and you belong here with me!” But K’Gari pleaded with him, “Please, please Yendingie ... I could still look up into the sky and see what you are doing. I would love to stay here.”
Finally Yendingie agreed. “You may stay here, but you cannot stay in spirit form. I will need to change you.” So he changed her into a beautiful island. So she wouldn’t be lonely, he then made some beautiful trees and flowers, and some lakes that were specially mirrored so that she could see into the sky. He made creeks and laughing waters that would become her voice, and birds and animals and people to keep her company. He gave these people knowledge and laws, and told them what to do, and how to procreate, so that their children and ancestors would always be there to keep K’Gari company.
And she is still there today, looking up at the sky in one of the truly most beautiful places on earth! She is very happy in, and as, “paradise”.