Les Petits Piments dance group performing at the launch of an Immigration Museum exhibition entitled Beyond the Postcard Image: Mauritians and Rodriguans in Victoria.
Image: David Loram
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Where do Victoria's French-speakers come from?
Answer: As well as being one of the most widely-studied languages at Victorian schools, French is the mother-tongue of many immigrant communities living in Victoria. The state’s francophone community is drawn from across the globe, including Mauritius, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Lebanon and France, and African countries such as Rwanda, Cameroon and Chad. At the time of the 2001 census, French-born Victorians were outnumbered by French-speaking Victorians from nations other than France.
The diversity of Victoria’s French-speakers is reflected in the local institutions that foster the French language. Founded in 1890, Melbourne’s branch of the Alliance Française is one of the oldest in the world, and employs native French-speakers from a range of backgrounds. Australian branches of this organisation have included Mauritius-born presidents from as early as 1939.
Another multicultural French establishment is the Australian newspaper Le Courrier Australien, the oldest surviving French-language journal outside of France as well as Australia’s oldest foreign-language newspaper. It was founded in 1892 by a Polish man, Karol de Wroblewski, and was later purchased by Léon Henry Magrin, a Mauritian.
This multinational tendency has been an ongoing feature of the French-speaking community in Victoria. In the 1850s, French-speaking foreigners from around the world gathered in the Café Estaminet in Little Collins Street, Melbourne, and the 500 members of the French Society of Victoria in the 1880s included people from several nations. Long before this, French explorers had explored the coast of Victoria, leaving traces of their language in the form of names given to the bays, inlets and peninsulas of South-Eastern Australia.
Today, Victoria’s French-speaking community continues to grow, helped in part by a working holiday visa arrangement between Australia and France. Between 2001 and 2006 the population of Victorians speaking French at home grew by almost 6%. This ethnically-diverse but linguistically-unified community enjoys the support of a range of bodies including community groups, radio programmes and artistic organisations.