Scientists digging into Fraser’s grisly history

IT WAS a dark chapter in Fraser Island's history.

More than a century ago the picturesque tourism destination was home to a mission where more than 100 Aboriginal people, including many children, died from illness and malnutrition as a result of appalling living conditions.

The bodies of those who perished were buried, but their graves were unmarked.

Now high-tech equipment is being used to try to uncover those grave sites, with scientists from the University of the Sunshine Coast using ground-penetrating radar to produce 3D images of what lies beneath the surface of the ground.

Peter Davies, a soil scientist with USC, said the research team would work with elders from the Fraser Island World Heritage Area Indigenous Advisory Committee to find the century-old burial ground.

"It was obviously quite a nasty period of Fraser's history," Mr Davies said.

He said the ground-penetrating radar works well in sand, which was good considering Fraser Island's status as the world's largest sand island.

The radar has previously been used to locate indigenous burial sites up to 20,000 years old.

Work began yesterday, with Mr Davies attaching the radar to a four-wheel drive and dragging it across the areas surrounding Bogimbah Creek.

Hervey Bay Butchulla elder Marie Wilkinson told the Brisbane Times her grandmother and grandfather often spoke about the horrors of the mission at Bogimbah Creek.

In 1887, members of the Butchulla clan on the island and on the mainland were forced to live at the mission.

Malnutrition was common and disease spread, including measles, dysentery and tuberculosis, with deadly consequences.

"It's shocking what happened there," Mrs Wilkinson said.

Topics:  aboriginal culture fraser island racism

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