BIRDS EYE VIEW- Picturesque Round Island as seen from the comfort of a Shawn Kelly's Seaplane. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle
BIRDS EYE VIEW- Picturesque Round Island as seen from the comfort of a Shawn Kelly's Seaplane. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle Robyne Cuerel

Round Island - where Flinders stepped ashore


I REALLY enjoy visiting historic places to write these columns for the Chronicle, but I don't think I have been to a more picturesque spot than where I went on Sunday: Round Island, which is named Wee'nandin in the Butchulla language.

I have often looked out from the Flinders Memorial at Dayman Park to this tiny island and thought of visiting it.

Having now spent a few hours swimming in the clear water and reading on the pristine beach, I really wish I hadn't waited so long.

On the ten minute boat trip from the Urangan Boat Harbour I thought of another boat that traversed these waters 218 years ago.

On August 6, 1799, this island was the scene of a significant development in the early history of contact between the Butchulla people and Europeans.

Using the maps produced from Cook's journey, Matthew Flinders was exploring the east coast when he described in his diary Woody Island as "an island of moderate height, three or four miles long” and Round Island (which he actually named Curlew Islet) as a "rocky, sandy spot”.

On this 1799 visit, Flinders did not land on the mainland, Woody Island or K'Gari (Fraser Island) but instead made a landing on this small island, describing it in his diary:

"'This rocky, sandy spot lies in latitude 25° 17'. It is much frequented by aquatic birds, particularly by that species whence it obtained the name of Curlew Islet; and since a small shield and three wooden spears were found there, it must also be visited occasionally by men.”

There probably had been earlier contact, most likely from the Portuguese, but we have no historical record of it.

Cook had passed by at some distance in 1770 without stopping.

This journal entry relating to the handling of a shield and spears upon the landing on Round Island is the first record of physical interaction between the two cultures.

The August 1799 visit aboard the HMS Norfolk was significant but not the journey for which Flinders is famous.

Flinders was again exploring the coastline here in July 1802, this time aboard HMS Investigator on what would be the first circumnavigation of Australia, and it was on this journey that he and his party were the first recorded Europeans to come into direct contact with the Butchulla people, having peaceful meetings with them.

During this second visit he landed near Sandy Cape on K'gari (Fraser Island) with the famous Port Jackson man Bungaree.

Back aboard the Investigator, Flinders described the first recorded interaction between Butchulla people and Europeans in his diary:

"Several Indians with branches of trees in their hands, were there collected; and whilst they retreated themselves, were waving to us to go back. Bungaree stripped off his clothes and laid aside his spear, as inducements for them to wait for him; but finding they did not understand his language, the poor fellow, in the simplicity of his heart, addressed them in broken English, hoping to succeed better. At length they suffered him to come up, and by degrees our whole party joined; and after receiving some presents, twenty of them returned with us to the boats, and feasted upon the blubber of two porpoises, which had been brought on shore purposely for them. At two o'clock the naturalists returned, bringing some of the scoop nets used by the natives in catching fish; and we then quitted our new friends, after presenting them with hatchets and other testimonials of our satisfaction.

These people go entirely naked, and otherwise much resemble the inhabitants of Port Jackson in personal appearance; but they were more fleshy, perhaps from being able to obtain a better supply of food with the scoop nets, which are not known on the southern parts of the coast. I noticed in most of them a hard tumour on the outer knuckle of the wrist, which, if we understood them aright, was caused by the stretcher of the scoop coming in contact with this part in the act of throwing the net. Our native did not understand a word of their language, nor did they seem to know the use of his womerah or throwing stick; for one of them being invited to imitate Bungaree, who lanced a spear with it very dexterously and to a great distance, he, in the most awkward manner, threw both womerah and spear together. Nothing like a canoe was seen amongst these people; but they must have some means of passing over the water to short distances, since I found, in 1799, that Curlew Islet, near the head of this bay, had been visited.”

Standing on the beach of this small island where Flinders stepped ashore 213 years ago gives an insight into his historic journeys.

Looking ashore many things have changed, including the construction of the Urangan Pier and the Boat Harbour, but the curlews still call the island home.

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