The earliest known name of the island is 'K'gari' in the Butchulla people's language (pronounced 'Gurri'). It means paradise.
According to Aboriginal legend, when humans were created and needed a place to live, the mighty god Beiral sent his messenger Yendingie with the goddess K’gari down from heaven to create the land and mountains, rivers and sea. K’gari fell in love with the earth’s beauty and did not want to leave it. So Yendingie changed her into a heavenly island – Fraser Island.
The name Fraser Island comes from Eliza Fraser and her story of survival from a shipwreck on the island. Captain James Fraser and his wife, Eliza Fraser, were shipwrecked on the island in 1836. Their ship, the Stirling Castle, set sail from Sydney to Singapore with 18 crew and passengers. The ship was holed on coral while traveling through the Great Barrier Reef north of the island. Transferring to two lifeboats, the crew set a course south, attempting to reach the settlement at Moreton (now Brisbane). During this trip in the lifeboats, Captain Fraser's pregnant wife gave birth in the leaking lifeboat. The infant died soon after birth. The Captain's lifeboat was becoming more and more unseaworthy and was soon left behind by the other lifeboat which continued on. The sinking boat and its crew was beached on what was then known as the Great Sandy Island. Whether the survivors died due to disease, hunger, exhaustion or battles with the native population will never be known for sure; most likely a little of all of the above. Captain Fraser died leaving Eliza living among the local peoples. She was rescued 6 weeks after being shipwrecked by a convict, John Graham, who had lived in the bush as an escapee, and who spoke the Aboriginal language. He was sent from the settlement at Moreton by the authorities there who had heard about Eliza' plight, and negotiated her return. Within 6 months, Eliza had married another sea captain. She moved to England and became a sideshow attraction in Hyde Park telling ever more lurid tales about her experiences with white slavery, cannibalism, torture and murder. As she is known to have told several versions of the story, it is unknown which version is the most accurate. She was killed in a carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858 during a visit.
Archaeological research and evidence shows that Aboriginal Australians occupied Fraser Island at least 5000 years ago. There was a permanent population of 400-600 that grew to 2000-3000 in the winter months due to abundant seafood resources. The arrival of European settlers in the area was an overwhelming disaster for the Butchulla people. European settlement in the 1840s overwhelmed the Aboriginal lifestyle with weapons, disease and lack of food. By the year 1890, Aboriginal numbers had been reduced to only 300 people. Most of the remaining Aborigines, the Butchulla tribe, left the island in 1904 as they were relocated to missions in Yarrabah and Durundur, Queensland. It is estimated that up to 500 indigenous archaeological sites are located on the island.