Traditional Owners—Butchulla people
The Butchulla people - Traditional Owners of K'Gari (Fraser Island) - proudly and enthusiastically embrace their culture. Photo: Luke Barrowcliffe.
The Butchulla people are the Traditional Owners of K'gari (Fraser Island).
For more than 5000 years, perhaps as many as 50,000 years, Butchulla people lived in harmony with the seasons and the land and sea, maintaining a balance between spiritual, social and family connections.
Today the Butchulla people continue to walk the cultural pathway of their ancestors, whom they believe have lived on this country since the beginning of the Dreaming.
Because the Butchulla language did not come from a written culture, this nation has been referred to variously as: Butchulla, Badjala, Badjula, Badjela, Bajellah, Badtjala and Budjilla.
View a slide show of Butchulla images.
Butchulla country lies in the Great Sandy region on the south-east coast of Queensland, Australia. Ongoing investigation aims at defining the boundaries, which are in contention. Most references currently define Butchulla land as ranging across Fraser Island and the adjacent mainland, from around Double Island Point in the south to the mouth of the Burrum River in the north, and west to Bauple Mountain.
K’gari (the Butchulla place name for Fraser Island), is a special place in their culture and lakes are an integral part of their dreaming.
Butchulla people want their messages—of care and respect for the land—to reach all people visiting the island. As visitors explore K'gari (Fraser Island), they will see signs carrying a ‘welcome to country’ message from the Butchulla:
Galangoor djali! Galangoor.
Butchulla bilam, midiru K’gari galangoor nyin djaa.
Ngalmu galangoor Biral and Biralgan bula nyin djali!
Wanya nyin yangu, wanai djinang djaa.
Uncle Malcolm Burns (Butchulla Elder) wrote the message which was translated into Butchulla language by a community linguist, Narawi (Joyce Bonner). The message translates as: ‘Good day. Welcome! Butchulla people, Traditional Owners of K’gari, welcome you to country. May all our good spirits be around you throughout the day. Wherever you go leave only footprints.’
Yul'lu (dolphin) by Aaron Henderson (Butchulla descendent). Photo: Queensland Government
Aaron Henderson’s artwork is a depiction of a Butchulla totem Yul’lu (dolphin), also known as Boothu and Djamarmee.
Each person had their own totem and regard for totems are passed on through generations. No one is allowed to hunt, eat or harm their totem.
Today, much of the Great Sandy region including K’gari—also known as Fraser Island—contains heritage sites of spiritual, social and archaeological significance.
A major archaeological project in 1976, inspired by findings of the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, recorded 152 shell middens, 66 stone artefact scatters and numerous scarred trees.i
Scarred trees were also recorded during an Aboriginal community-based project commissioned by the (then called) Thoorgine Educational and Cultural Centre in 1994. Among their number were two trees near Wanggoolba Creek on the west coast of Fraser Island, and 121 trees near Lake Bowarrady and Lake Allom.ii
Middens, artefact scatters, scarred trees and campsites bear witness to the lives of Butchulla people. They hold a special place in their culture. Please take only memories.
The Butchulla community is like an extended family, composed of those who are Butchulla born, those who possess strong cultural connections, and returned descendants of those removed from their country. Today, all are finding fulfilment in their spiritual and cultural connections.
Brown, E 2000, Cooloola Coast: Noosa to Fraser Island. The Aboriginal and settler histories of a unique environment, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.
Masterson, S 1996 Wunguulba (Wanggoolba) Creek Scarred Tree: Conservation Report, QDEH Maryborough.
McNiven, I 1994 Relics of a by-gone race?: managing Aboriginal sites in the Great Sandy Region, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies Unit, University of Queensland, St. Lucia.
Australian Government, Squirrelgrip Films and Ronin Films 2009 Secret & Sacred: Badtjala. Exploring Australian Indigenous History, a film produced with cooperation and participation of Butchulla elders.
Thoorgine Centre 1994, The Badtjala People: A Cultural and Environmental Interpretation of Fraser Island. A unique land and seascape to which we belong.