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Locals shocked and baffled by tourist deaths on Fraser Island

April 1, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The tragic death at the weekend of two 16-year-old Japanese schoolboys on Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, about 250km north of Brisbane, has shocked and mystified investigators.

The boys were reported missing from a school tour group on the island just after 5pm on Friday. A major police search was mounted and their bodies were found on Saturday morning in the water at Lake McKenzie, a postcard-perfect, calm lake in the middle of the island.

Fraser Coast mayor George Seymour told he ABC the deaths had shocked the community.

“It’s really unimaginable how somebody, let alone two people, could drown there. It’s a calm lake in the middle of an island … whatever has happened is highly unusual.”

The ABC reported the boys’ families had been notified and police were working closely with the Japanese consulate. Police are preparing a report for the coroner.

Police Inspector Tony Clowes from the Maryborough Patrol Group told ABC News police had launched a full investigation.

“Obviously we’ll be speaking to all the witnesses available and putting together a full picture of exactly what occurred, the events, and the timing of the events.”

Jeff Ellison from SeaLink Travel Group, which owns Kingfisher Bay resort, said staff were cooperating with police as part of the investigation. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that “no one has ever drowned at Lake McKenzie, that we are aware of,” adding that the tragedy had been “extremely tough for our staff”.

The boys were on a week’s high school exchange. They left Japan on 24 March and were planning to return yesterday (Sunday).

Eerie history

Fraser Island is a placid and delightful place with an unusual history. It has seen some odd events, more recently sometimes involving dingoes.

Measures to keep humans and dingos apart have included a lengthy dingo fence on Cathedral Beach, completed in 2014 at a cost of AUD 350,000.

Portrait sketch of Eliza Fraser, whose strange experiences on Fraser Island and afterwards rank among the more bizarre in Australian history

The dingo fence was ordered in 2013, when a dingo badly bit a woman’s arm when she slipped and fell in the surf. That attack was so severe that when the woman tottered to her feet, the dingo was still hanging from her arm. Rangers shot the animal dead.

In 2001, two dingoes killed nine-year-old Clinton Gage near Waddy Point on the island.

In September 2015, at Inskip Point, just across the Great Sandy Strait from Fraser Island’s southernmost point, a woman ran screaming among campsites at a holiday park in the middle of the night, banging on caravans and yelling for people to get out.

It was nothing to do with dingoes. The ground had opened up and started swallowing vehicles.

A sinkhole, bigger than a football field and several metres deep, engulfed vehicles around midnight at a popular camping spot, sparking panic in the darkness. Police and emergency crews arrived quickly, helping holidaymakers and campers to leave. All survived.

Fraser Island is named after Captain James Fraser, master of the brig Stirling Castle, holed on coral and shipwrecked in 1836 during a voyage from Sydney to Singapore with 18 crew and passengers. His story, and that of his wife, rank among Australian history’s more bizarre episodes.

After the shipwreck, the captain’s wife Eliza, who was heavily pregnant, gave birth in a leaking lifeboat. The infant died soon after birth. Survivors from the crew met various fates, with some ending up on the island now known as Fraser Island.

Lake McKenzie, “a calm lake in the middle of an island”.

Captain Fraser was speared to death, others drowned or died of disease, hunger, exhaustion or battles with the indigenous inhabitants. Eliza travelled with a group of Aboriginal people until rescued six weeks later by an escaped convict, John Graham.

She reached Brisbane, married another sea captain, moved to England and became a sideshow attraction in London’s Hyde Park, telling lurid tales about her experiences with white slavery, cannibalism, torture and murder. Later she sailed back to Australia – and was killed in a horse-drawn carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858.

Written by Peter Needham

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