The story of Eliza Fraser, her ordeal precipitated by the ship wreck of the Stirling Castle and subsequent return to civilization, like the legend of Ned Kelly, was a theme that Sidney Nolan revisited over a twenty year period, so deeply rooted was the impact of its narrative on Nolan's psyche. "The Stirling Castle was wrecked in 1836. Fraser, its captain, his wife and a few crew members were the only ones to survive the wreck and make it to the shore of what was subsequently named Fraser Island. Mrs Fraser saw her husband and his fellow sailors speared to death by the local Aborigines, and she herself was made a kind of a tribal workhorse. She was rescued and restored to civilization by an escaped convict called Bracefell. Mrs Fraser promised to intercede for him so that he would be rewarded for saving her, rather than receiving the usual savage punishment for returned escapees - a 'stripe for every day since I bolted'. Mrs Fraser broke her word, but happily Bracefell, anticipating her betrayal, escaped again." (T.G Rosenthal, Sidney Nolan, London, 2002.p.101)
"Nolan continued to be haunted by Fraser and Bracefell long after his initial engagement with them. In an astonishing period of two months while preparing for his Whitechapel retrospective he painted some thirty additional, large PVA-on -board explorations of this theme(in this series of paintings) Nolan has, as with Kelly, brilliantly communicated a nineteenth century alienation, even despair, in the best of his Fraser paintings. No one has better expressed their importance in Nolan's oeuvre than his fellow voyager to the island, Barrie Reid: 'If seeing accurately is more than surveying, it is because it is inextricable from the image making, imagining process. Mrs Fraser naked in the mangroves, merged in the rainforest, was an historical actuality which contained for Nolan a dynamic poetry and focus for vision.'" (T.G Rosenthal, opcit, pp.107-111).
The first series of Mrs Fraser paintings were realised in 1947. Lagoon was painted some ten years later, while Nolan was living in New York, over a two year period, on a Harkness Scholarship. Cynthia Nolan, his first wife, recalled the new technique the artist had mastered during his time in the city in the studio from which the Empire State Building could be seen, so far away from the Queensland coast: "During the day he painted on the floor, first placing areas of colour on the prepared board, next sweeping on polyvinyl acetate until the whole area was thick with paint, then seizing a short handled squeegee and slashing and wiping, cornering like a skater, until another painting was completed." (quoted from C Nolan Open Negative: An American Memoir, Art and Australia Vol. 5 No.2.p.435)
Here is evident the deep effect that the natural beauty of the landscape of Fraser Island had on Nolan. Indeed on his initial trip to the island he did not draw or paint for some time after his arrival. Instead he preferred to take in the beauty of its landscape. The island is well known for its diverse and unparalleled natural attributes. It is some ninety miles long; surround to the east by the Pacific Ocean and to the west by Hervey Bay, its interior is a mixture of low scrub, 'perched' freshwater lakes and vast tracks of dense rainforest. It is the rainforest that seems to have affected the artist most, its darkness and almost impenetrable qualities, its sensuousness and ability to envelop all those who enter it.