To the Kabi Aborigines, Fraser Island is K’gari, a beautiful woman so taken with the Earth that she stayed behind after creation, her eyes becoming lakes that mirrored the sky and teemed with wildlife so that she wouldn’t be lonely. The story behind the European name is far less enchanting. In 1836, survivors of the wreck of the Stirling Castle, including the captain’s wife Eliza Fraser, landed at Waddy Point. Though runaway convicts had already been welcomed into Kabi life, the castaways suffered “dreadful slavery, cruel toil and excruciating tortures”, and two months after the captain’s death Eliza was presented as a prize during a corroboree at Lake Cootharaba. She was rescued at this dramatic point by former convict John Graham, who had lived with the Kabi and was part of a search party alerted by three other survivors from the Stirling Castle. The exact details of Eliza’s captivity remain obscure as she produced several conflicting accounts, but her role as an “anti-Crusoe” inspired the work of novelist Patrick White and artist Sidney Nolan.

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