The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island in Queensland, has changed its name, the Queensland Government announced Wednesday, 7 June. The culturally significant destination will now be known by its traditional place name of K’gari.
The island was formed by sand accumulation over 750,000 years ago. The First Nations Butchulla People have lived on it for an estimated 20,000 years, forging connections with the land, sea, flora, and fauna that lived together harmoniously. In 1992, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
“K’gari is one of those places that is incredibly well-known, not just nationally, but internationally,” says Dr Rose Barrowcliffe, a Post Doctoral Research Fellow and Butchulla Woman.
“We have a huge amount of international visitors that come to see K’gari every year. So, what we are doing when we are respecting Indigenous place names is, we are respecting Indigenous culture.”
The name of the island has a silent K, similar to in the words, ‘know’, ‘knew’ and ‘knife’. It’s located just 300km north of Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, and is one of the state’s most popular travel destinations. In 2022, it welcomed more than 800,000 visitors, including a record number of interstate visitors.
The island’s formal name change comes after decades-long efforts by traditional owners and a partial victory in 2017 when the island’s Great Sandy National Park was renamed K’gari.
“The return to the island’s traditional name is a significant step in its history, and reflects Queensland’s unique position as the only place on Earth where our two ancient cultures continue to live side-by-side,” says Tourism and Events Queensland CEO Patricia O’Callaghan.
There are no roads on the island and visitors are guided only by the sand tracks and waterways leading to all corners of this World Heritage-listed Wonder. A main attraction here is the freshwater lake Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie), one of approximately 100 freshwater lakes on the island.
K’gari is also home to the world’s largest perched lake, known to the Butculla People as Lake Boomanjin. At the northern end of the island, visitors can swim in the bubbling Champagne Rock Pools before trekking along 75 Mile Beach beside towering, coloured sand cliffs and then floating down the cool waters of Eli Creek. The island is also the only place in the world where rainforest grows on a sand island.
The Butchulla People of K’gari abide by three lores that visitors should observe when visiting. The first is that ‘what is good for country must come first,’ says Aunty Joyce Bonner. Next is ‘do not touch or take anything that is here on country’. Bonner explains that this means that something is there for a reason, as well as the sacredness of our ancestors, so it’s today’s generation’s duty to look after it.
“And our third lore, ‘wangou nyin gamindu, biralunbar nyin wumga-n’ [means] ‘if you have plenty, you must share’,” Bonner says. “So, what we mean by sharing it’s sharing of values, the cultural assets that we have here and it’s about sharing the education of culture to ensure the island is protected for the next generation.”