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Alas for Eliza, nothing fades quicker than yesterday's news, and she soon lapsed into obscurity. She is said to have moved to New Zealand and was killed in a carriage accident during a visit to Melbourne in 1858.

Sidney Nolan was captivated by the operatic quality of Eliza Fraser's tale and the rich symbolism of Europeans, stripped of their civilizing veneer, grubbing for survival in an alien landscape. So the artist hopped on a timber barge and went to see Fraser Island for himself.

"The psyche of the place has bitten into me deeply," he wrote to a friend. Its spell would remain on him for the rest of his life, inspiring two series of paintings and dozens of canvases. Nolan in turn passed on his fascination to his friend Patrick White, a Nobel Prize-winning author who visited the island in the 1960s and early 1970s. White used its primal wilderness as the setting for his 1973 novel The Eye of the Storm and again in A Fringe of Leaves, a fictionalized retel­ling of Eliza's saga.

In 1770 Captain Cook had been unimpressed by the scrubby, sandy bluffs visible from his ship. Little more than 200 years later artists and writers, scientists and statesmen saw such value in Fraser Island that in 1992 it was declared a World Heritage site. Having helped transform Australians' sense of wild beauty, the island now draws boatloads of admirers—an outcome wise old Beeral might have hoped for when he sent Yindingie and K'gari to beautify the world those many eons ago. 

Roff Smith has covered every corner of Australia, his adopted country since 1981. Peter Essick specializes in nature and environmental photography.
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