Monday, September 14, 2009

Fraser Island

Although not exactly in Brisbane, Fraser Island is close enough to it for me to be able to relate this story. In 1836, only a dozen years after the settlement of Moreton Bay, a Captain James Fraser sailed past it on board his ship the Stirling Castle, on his way from Sydney to Singapore. As well as his normal passengers, cargo and crew, Fraser had with him his pregnant wife, Eliza (pictured below). The Stirling Castle never made it to Singapore - it ran aground in waters off North Queensland. Eliza gave birth soon after the shipwreck, but unfortunately, the infant did not live. The Frasers and some of the ship's complement then set off in a long boat towards Moreton Bay and the settlement there.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #31364)

The Frasers actually landed at Waddy Point, near Orchid Bay, on Fraser Island, where they were met by the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. From here, the story blurs, and becomes the subject of conjecture and controversy. Some future newspaper articles were to publish lurid stories of the party's capture, enslavement and torture and even the death of some of them at the hands of the aborigines. The aborigines, however, did feed the party and even tended to Eliza's sunburn. Whether she was treated as a slave or not, Eliza Fraser survived the ordeal, although her husband passed away on the island - either he was killed by the aborigines or died as the result of the trauma of the shipwreck on top of his existing ailments. Eliza Fraser was eventually rescued by former convict John Graham, who himself had lived with aborigines for a time. Eliza was taken to Brisbane for recovery from the ordeals she had suffered. After having been given substantial sums of money from public donations in Australia, Eliza returned to England, where she portrayed herself as a penniless widow in order to receive more money. She went on tour in England, speaking to paying audiences about her experiences.
(Lake MacKenzie, Fraser Island. Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic))

Fraser Island was originally seen by Captain Cook as he sailed up Australia's east coast. He called it Great Sandy Peninsula, not realising that it was not attached to the mainland. When this was discovered, it became known as Great Sandy Island (indeed, it is the largest sand island in the world), until renamed Fraser Island as a result of the story of the Frasers. It is now a national park, and tourists travel from across the world to experience its natural beauty. In fact, tourism is creating its own issues, and has to be managed wisely to ensure that the island's heritage can be maintained into the future. For instance, problems between tourists and the island's dingoes have led to calls for the dingoes to be culled, but it is probably the number of tourists that should be culled.
(Central Station, Fraser Island. Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: Heart of gold

1 comment:

  1. Our landscapes sure do get under the skin and into the psyche of writers and artists - and photographers - alike !

    Am reminded that Nolan made a series of paintings of the Frasers' experiences and Patrick White wrote "A Fringe of Leaves" heavily influenced by the Fraser events as well.

    I'm pretty sure at least one of those Nolans is at the Qld Art Gallery.

    Gorgeous photo there at the lake!
    Margi Macdonald


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