I have long wondered whether explorers should be allowed to name what they discover. The talents of adventurers so rarely include wordsmithing. For example, in Australia if it isn’t named after Lachlan MacQuarie then it is probably named after something obvious.

Captain Cook may have been handy with an astrolabe and a compass, but he wasn’t nearly as skilled in naming what he saw. When he encountered the stark majesty of Australia’s vast coral reefs, he named them “The Great Barrier Reef.” He saw no beauty, only a barrier. At the very southern tip of these reefs lies an island that Cook named the “Great Sandy Island” but is now known as Fraser Island, which is the largest sand island in the world and was recently named a world heritage site. Its current name derives from the fame of Eliza Fraser, a survivor of a shipwreck off its coast, who may or may not have elaborated significantly on her ordeal.

  When I visited Fraser Island, I underwent a much smaller ordeal, so I won’t have to exaggerate like Ms. Fraser did. All I have to do is tell you the truth about ‘Crazy Steve’ who loved driving insanely fast across Fraser Island’s Seventy-Five Mile Beach. (Side note: the “Seventy-Five Mile Beach” is not seventy-five miles long.) Pavement is a luxury on Fraser Island, and ‘Crazy Steve’s’ four-wheel drive bus vibrated like a stagecoach on the brink of flying apart as it hurtled down the sand.

This is the sort of thing that is never mentioned in the brochures. They also didn’t mention that the beach doubles as a runway. With drivers like Steve, it must be stated explicitly by the island’s authorities that ground vehicles must yield to landing planes.

‘Crazy Steve’ chose that time to tell us that he raced cars as his other job. I don’t recall where Steve’s nickname came from, but I do recall that he enjoyed his sobriquet immensely. He wanted to be known as ‘Crazy Steve’.

As we flew across the vast sand, I saw nothing but the horizon. To the right, an endless parade of white tipped waves marched into the shore. To the left stood rainbow-colored dunes. Both extended as long as the sky. However, to call them rainbow-colored does limit the rainbow to three shades: light pink, dark brown and light brown. However, colored sand of any variety speckled with lush vegetation is a wondrous sight to see.

That’s why the original Bidjara name for the island, K’gari, is much more suited to this sandy wonderland than any of its other names. Roughly translated, it means “paradise.” In the Aboriginal story, the spirit K’gari came to earth to create the oceans and rivers, but when she experienced how beautiful the land of Australia was, she fell in love with it. The great God who had sent her allowed her to be transformed into Fraser Island. Her body would be the land, and her eyes would be the lakes…

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