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Butchulla stories

The Butchulla people are the Traditional Owners of K'gari (formerly Fraser Island).

For more than 60,000 years, Butchulla people lived in harmony with the seasons, the land and the sea, maintaining a balance between spiritual, social and family connections.

European settlement in the early 1800s had a devastating impact on the Butchulla people. Much of their way of life was destroyed and their numbers were reduced from the thousands to around 300.

Fraser Island was named after Captain James Fraser of the British ship Stirling Castle, which was shipwrecked off Sandy Cape at the northern tip of the island in May 1836.  Now, through respect to the Butchulla people, K’gari’s name has been reclaimed.

Butchulla journey

  • 2014 - Butchulla people recognised as the Traditional Owners of K’gari
  • 2017 - Part of Great Sandy National Park renamed to K’gari (Fraser Island)
  • 2021 - The name of the Fraser Island World Heritage Area was changed to K'gari (Fraser Island) World Heritage Area
  • 2023 - Fraser Island was changed to K’gari

What does K’gari mean to the Butchulla people?

K’gari does not have a meaning. K’gari is the name of a beautiful white spirit
She is beautiful to us - she is our Mother.
She provides food, water, and shelter and in return we protect and preserve her, as per the 3 lores that Yindingie gave us.

K’gari creation story

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 seashores, 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”.

The three lores

The Butchulla cultural connection with K’gari is guided by 3 main lores. It was everyone’s responsibility to live the ‘proper way’ according to lore.

1. What is good for the land must come first.

Hunters only took what was necessary for food, aware that animals found on the island could die out if hunted excessively. Even today, scarce resources are protected, often using the totem system which forbids their use.

Monitoring soil, plants and animals provided clues to Aboriginal people on how to best manage their land.

2. Do not take or touch anything that does not belong to you.

Respect for the rights of others has always been integral to the Butchulla way of life. Women and men kept their business separate. Each group guarded their own knowledge and sacred sites.

This respect extended to the plants and animals that provided for the people. Butchulla people did not cut down trees, but gathered branches for shelters, bark for canoes, piccabeen palm fronds for useful baskets, and vines for nets. This ensured continued growth of plants for future use.

3. If you have plenty you must share

Each winter, as certain fish (particularly tailor and mullet) arrived in waters around the island, Aboriginal people from other language groups trod established pathways looking to share this bounty. They sought permission from Elders, or were invited by them, to cross the Great Sandy Strait and enter Butchulla land on the western side of the island. Numbers would swell from around 400 people to a couple of thousand throughout the season. Visitors were always made welcome, as sharing was a way of life.

Coloured sands

As a testament to the natural beauty of K'gari, the Pinnacles stand among the many glorious attractions on the island, leaving visitors in awe. Located along K’gari’s 75 Mile beach, the Pinnacles are known for their array of more than 72 colours.

The sites creation story, ‘Tale of the Butchulla women’, tells of a woman named Wuru, who was arranged to marry an older man, called Winyer, but instead fell for another named Wiberigan. Wuru visited the Wiberigan every day at the eastern beach. One day, a suspicious Winyer followed her, and once seeing his fiancée in the embrace on another, fell into a jealous rage. He threw his boomerang at Wuru, but Wiberigan stepped in to take the blow. He shattered, spraying onto the cliffs, covering the rocks in a thousand of colours. Wuru was saved and escaped unharmed due to the sacrifice. Now the area is a good luck charm for Butchulla women.

Smoking ceremony

A welcome smoking ceremony is a traditional practice that involves burning native plants, such as eucalyptus leaves or other aromatic plants, to produce smoke. The smoke is believed to:

  • have spiritual and healing properties
  • cleanse and purify the environment
  • ward off negative energies
  • create a welcoming atmosphere.

During the ceremony, guests are invited to gather around the smoke to acknowledge and pay respect to the ancestors and the land.

The welcome smoking ceremony is often conducted at the beginning of important events, gatherings, or meetings to honour and connect with the Traditional Owners of the land, seek their blessings, and create a sense of harmony and unity among participants. It is a significant cultural practice that is deeply rooted in Aboriginal traditions and represents a symbolic gesture of welcome and acceptance.

Last updated
21 July 2023
Last reviewed
21 February 2023