Elder claims Fraser story is false

THE ENGLISH woman after whom Fraser Island was named could not have seen her ship captain husband speared to death by local Aborigines – because it just didn’t happen.

“Eliza Fraser’s story that she took back to England after supposedly escaping our murdering Butchulla ancestors just isn’t true,” angry elder Aunty Frances Gala said yesterday.

“It isn’t true for two very sound reasons.

“It never came down our oral story line, whereas everything else of significance that happened in the past few hundred years did come down.

“And there is no dance about it. If James Fraser had been murdered, we would still know that dance today.”

Butchulla elders this week have described Eliza Fraser as a liar and are questioning why their ancestral island homeland of k’gari is not returned to its original Butchulla name.

“What would Australians prefer?” elder Mackie Burns asked.

“To have the world’s largest sand island named after a liar, or paradise, which is what k’gari means?”

Mrs Gala said at the very most Eliza Fraser, who was shipwrecked with her husband and 17 men from the brig, the Stirling Castle on May 21, 1936, might have been “hit”.

“She was a white woman and therefore ignorant of the strict rules the Butchulla lived by. If she for instance stepped over a sitting man or cast her shadow over him, she would have been hit.

“But remember, the Butchulla hadn’t seen white people close up and they regarded them as ghosts, as spirits. They would have been frightened of Captain Fraser, his wife and crew.”

Yet for 173 years the story of how badly Mrs Fraser was treated by Aborigines, and how her husband was murdered, has prevailed.

And mystery followed this woman, who may have been born in Derbyshire as Eliza Slack.

She could read and write and some time before 1821 she married James Fraser, a mariner.

In 1835, leaving their 14-year-old daughter and two sons in the care of the Presbyterian minister at Stromness in the Orkney Islands, she accompanied her ailing, 56-year-old husband to Australia – and she was pregnant.

The ship struck a reef off the central Queensland coast. The crew, Captain James and Eliza, launched lifeboats and headed south towards the nearest colony at Moreton Bay.

The two lifeboats became separated. One came ashore in Northern NSW and its survivors were rescued near Macleay River and taken to Sydney.

The longboat, carrying Captain Fraser, his wife and 10 others, was at sea for 32 days before it was decided to row ashore at Orchid Beach, Fraser Island.

The wreck survivors split, Eliza later told authorities and the newspapers in England. She and James were stripped of their clothes and possessions.

Eliza was put to work with the women and her husband, who was too weak to work, was speared and buried in a shallow grave by the Aborigines.

John Graham, a convict who could speak Butchulla, led a rescue party and found Eliza in a poor state and wrapped in vines.

They reached Moreton Bay on August 22, three months after the Stirling Castle was wrecked.

The survivors recovered from their ordeal and then went to Sydney, where newspapers published exaggerated accounts of their experiences.

Eliza stayed at the home of the colonial secretary, was feted in Sydney society and received a large sum of money raised by public subscription.

On February 3, 1837 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, with Rev. John McGarvie officiating, she married Captain Alexander John Greene. They sailed in his ship, the Mediterranean Packet, for Liverpool.

Seaman Harry Youlden described her as ‘a most profane, artful wicked woman’.

But the journalist John Curtis portrayed her sympathetically, believing she suffered from ‘aberration of the mind’ as a result of her experiences.

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