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31 May, 2009

Les Petits Piments dance group performing at the launch of an Immigration Museum exhibition - "Beyond the Postcard Image: Mauritians and Rodriguans in Victoria."
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.

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Jan Molloy 3 June, 2009 10:09
On Monday 25th June, Jeremy Angelier an independent film maker, from France, interviewed me at the Immigration museum. He is currently filming a documentary which follows the paths of several groups of French nationals who have journeyed to Australia in 2009. As we discussed the reactions of individuals who had travelled to colonial Victoria in the 19th century - in some cases not particularly favourable - Jeremy was keen to comment that today, Australia is the flavour of the month for the French. Apparently 'everyone' wants to visit 'downunder'. Our climate is a big attraction, he says. By the way, he hopes to have the documentary ready for screening at the end of the year.
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Philip Thiel 6 June, 2009 09:54
I experienced some of this pro-Australia sentiment myself, Jan, when I was doing some English teaching in Paris, recently. On several occasions, after introducing myself as an Australian, the students would smile hugely and say something like: "Australia, it's my dream, the people are cool, there!"
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Image Gallery

Eildon Mansion on Grey Street, St Kilda - home of the Alliance Francaise de Melbourne. The Watkins family at the Holden Company Picnic, Mount Evelyn, 1955. The mother of the man depicted was Belgian, and wrote the inscription on the back of the photograph in French.