A Time Line of Significant Events – Part 1

Pre Eliza Fraser

180 million Before Present (BP)

There was significant volcanic activity in the Great Sandy Region.  Conspicuous volcanic outcrops remain at Indian Head, Waddy Point and Double Island Point.

25 million BP

Volcanic activity around Waddy Point and Indian Head

2 million BP

The sand transportation begins and the deposition starts in the Great Sandy Region.

1.2 Million BP

Widespread global glaciation occurs.  Sea levels fall.

800,000 BP

The sand of the east coast of Australia which had accumulated in great volumes in the Great Sandy Region began to accumulate in dunes behind what is now Double Island Point and Indian Head-Waddy Point.

Over the millennia there were several episodes of dune building due to fluctuating sea levels and eons of accretion of new sand on the eastern side of the sandmass

140,000 BP

There is a transition from cold to warm climate.  The ice caps melt and the sea levels rise to their highest known levels about one to two metres higher than present.

50,000 to 30,000 years BP

Radio carbon dating of the peat beds of Cooloola show them to be about 30,00 to 50,000 years old.  The beds remain unchanged since Aboriginal occupation of Australia.  Scientists have established that Aborigines occupied Australia at least 50,000 years ago.  Occupation of Fraser Island and Cooloola would have occurred from the very earliest times because it was adjacent to the coast.

There were four Aboriginal groups in the Great Sandy Region.  At the time of first contact with Europeans their territory was described as follows:  The Ngulung-bara occupied the northern end of Fraser Island, the Badjala (or Butchalla, Batjala, Badtala) occupied the central part of Fraser Island and the adjacent mainland on the opposite side of Great Sandy Strait, and the Dulingbara spread across southern Fraser Island and on to Northern Cooloola.

There were great seasonal migrations by the Aborigines.  Fraser Island was populated during the winter months when fish, particularly the sea mullet were most plentiful.  With the change of seasons, the summer territories on the mainland were re-occupied.  An estimated Aboriginal population of 2,000 – 3,000 used Fraser Island during the mullet season.  Bark canoes were used to cross Great Sandy Strait.  Most canoes were made of a single sheet of bark which was sealed at each end with wax and resin.

10,000 BP

The ice age begins to wane causing the sea levels, estimated to have been about 120 metres lower than present, to start to slowly rise.  The coastline was then at the very edge of the continental shelf some 25 kilometres east of the present eastern beach.  All of Hervey Bay would have been dry land.  The Mary River  would have been deflected by the Woody Island syncline and forced to flow south east down what is now the Great Sandy Strait.  Fraser Island and Cooloola could never have been joined.  The Mary River carved deep valleys into the landscape.

10,000 to 6,000 BP

Sea levels rose at a rate less than that anticipated will be induced by the greenhouse effect.  As the coastline retreated the Aborigines moved back.  Groups such as the Ngulgbara would have seen about ninety percent of their territory submerged as they moved back into the Sandy Cape area.  As the sea levels rose the velocity of the Mary and Noosa Rivers slowed down causing rapid sedimentation build ups in their valleys.

6,000 to 5,000 BP

Having risen to record heights, the sea level retreated about a metre over the next thousand year.  This retreat caused new dune systems to emerge of low parallel dunes in the Moon Point and Hook Point areas.

Blowouts which began as the sea levels were rising continued to march inland.  These blowouts are still evident on Fraser Island and Cooloola.

5,500 to 3,000 years BP

Aborigines were followed the shore line back as the sea-levels rose submerging many former occupation sites.  Dating of all known coastal middens show that none are older than 5000 years.  More than 200 shell middens have been recorded on the east coast of Fraser Island.  They are composed almost exclusively of eugaries (Plebidonax deltoides).  A number of archaeological sites along the west coast of Fraser Island have also been recorded.  Middens along the sheltered shores include mainly oyster shells (Ostreidae sp.) whelks (Pyrazus ebeninus) and a variety of crustacean.  It would be unlikely that such marine food sources would have been deposited before the present coastline was established.

1536 AD

A Portuguese chart was published showing what is believed to correspond with Fraser Island as an island.  This has been interpreted to identify a sandy island believed to be Fraser Island.  This could have come from a secret expedition led by Christado de Mendonca in 1531.  Lead, identified as having come from the Iberian Peninsula has been found in an old buried shore line near Hook Point on Fraser Island, amongst pumice believed to have been deposited about this period.  Records of any Portuguese exploration may have been destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.


Two clay pipes discovered in middens near Indian Head on Fraser Island were of the type used by 17th century Dutch navigators for trading.  These suggest some contact between Dutch sailors and Aborigines in this period although there is no direct evidence that the contact occurred on Fraser Island as the pipes could have been traded.


May 18:  H.M.S. “Endeavour”, a barque under the command of Lt. James Cook, intruded into the waters off Laguna Bay during one of the most historic voyages of discovery since Columbus first discovered America.

Cook’s made scathing comment on Cooloola noting that the area  “…was more barren than any we have seen on this coast, and the soil more sandy, there being several places where nothing else is to be seen.”

Cook’s patron, the scientist, politician and entrepreneur who sponsored his epic voyage, Sir Joseph Banks, made more astute observations.  Banks noted   Land this morning very sandy.  We could see through our glasses that the sands which lay in great patches of many acres each were movable.  Some of them had been lately moved, for trees which stood up in the middle of them were quite green; others of longer standing had many stumps sticking out of them which had been trees killed by sand heaping about their roots.”

19 May: Cook named Double Island Point for its appearance from the sea where the low isthmuses connecting the higher hills are not visible from any distance, “on account of its figure”.  Aborigines had called the headland, “Gullirae”.  Cook recorded:  “The land within this Point itself is of moderate and pretty equal height, but the Point itself is of such an unequal height that it looks like two small islands lying under the land; it likewise may be known by the white cliffs of the north side of it.  Here the land trends to the north-west and forms a large open bay.”  Cook also named Wide Bay, the big sweep around north of Double Island Point

On Fraser Island Cook noted:  “The land hereabouts, which is of moderate height, appears more barren than any we have seen on this coast, and the soil more sandy, there being several large places where nothing else is to be seen.  In other places the woods look to be low and shrubby, nor did we see many signs of inhabitants.”  Cook named three features on Fraser Island, Indian Head, Sandy Cape and Breaksea Spit.

20 May:  Banks reported, “A grampus of the middle size leaped with his whole body out of the water several times, making a splash and foam in the sea as if a mountain had fallen in it.” 


Matthew Flinders, another navigator, explorer, protégé under the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks, sailed these waters in the 16-ton ship “Norfolk”.  He landed at Sandy Cape on 1 August 1799 and later sailed down Hervey Bay and named features such as Triangle and Arch Cliffs, Sandy Point, Woody Island and White Cliffs.  He ‘entertained a conjecture that the Head of Hervey’s Bay might communicate with Wide Bay’, but was unable to prove his theory.


Matthew Flinders in the “Investigator”, fresh from discovering the “Pumicestone River” and climbing two Glasshouse Mountains, sailed closer to the shores of Fraser Island and Cooloola.  He sailed between Double Island Point and Wolf Rock on 27 July.  On Teewah Beach, his charts in “Voyages in Terra Australis”, he noted “Front ridges of barren sandy land”.   The same chart labelled Rainbow Beach, those magnificent, variegated, coloured curtains of sand as “White Sandy Cliffs”.   On Inskip/Hook Point Flinders noted “many natives” and Noosa Heads “low bluff”.

His journal was more explicit: “After passing the dangerous reef (Noosa) we hove to until day-light for the purpose of examining the land about Double Island Point and Wide Bay which did not appear to have been well distinguished by Captain Cook … At seven o’clock a beach with sandy hills behind it was distant six miles.  Between the beach and a low bluff (Laguna Hill) was a bight in the coast where the sand hills seemed to terminate (the Noosa Mouth) for the backland further south was high and rocky (Timbeerwah) with small peaks on the top (Cooroora, Cooroy, etc.) similar to the ridge behind the Glass Houses of which it is probably a continuation.  At half past nine we hauled in close round Double Island Point within a rock lying one or two miles to the NNE (Wolf Rock).  The point answered Captain Cook’s description.  It is a steep head, at the extremity of a neck of land which runs out two miles from the main and lies 25  56′ south and 153  13′ east.  On the north side of the point the coast falls back to the westward, and presents a steep shore of white sand; but in curving around Wide Bay the sandy land becomes very low (Inskip Point) and a small opening was seen in it (Great Sandy Strait) leading to a piece of water like a lagoon (Tin Can Bay); but the shoals which lie off the entrance (Wide Bay Bar) render it difficult to access…”

Flinders proceeded past Fraser Island noting: “This part of the coast is very barren; there being great patches of moveable sand many acres in extent through which appeared in some places the green tops of grass, half buried, and in others the naked trunks of such as the sand has destroyed . . . Nothing can be imagined more barren than this peninsula, but the smoke which arose in many parts corroborated [estimates of a ‘more numerous population of Indians than is usual to the Southward’] and bespoke that fresh water was not scarce in this Sandy Country.  Our course at night was directed by the fires on shore”.

Flinders went on to Bool Creek.  While waiting to rendezvous with the “Lady Nelson” he landed three parties.  One group collected firewood, another of six naturalists under botanist Robert Brown studied the flora, while Flinders befriended the Aborigines, whom he considered numerous and of good physique.  Brown collected a species of dogwood which he named Jacksonia.  His descriptions provide the earliest scientific records from Fraser Island.


Flinders survived the wreck of the HMS Porpoise and the Cato on the Great Barrier Reef’s Wreck Reef, when three of the 97 officers, crew, and passengers of the two vessels perished. Flinders and a small team rowed a distance he calculated at the time to be “792 miles” back to Sydney to mount a rescue mission for the other survivors.  He wrote to the Governor of New South Wales, Phillip Gidley King, on 9 September 1803: “Accompanied by the commander of the Cato, Mr John Park, and twelve men, I left Wreck Reef in the cutter with three weeks provisions, on Friday, August the 26th, in the morning; and on the 28th in the evening made land near Indian Head, from whence I kept the coast on board to this place.” 

Fraser Island was honoured by three visits of Australia’s greatest navigator when on the third time Flinders camped overnight at Indian Head.