The Australian love affair with all things French

| November 28, 2013

Australia has embraced French culture in many ways. Sharon Stratford from French Desire explores the growing affinity with France and its influence on Australia.

Seven years ago when we purchased a place in France and started a website to share our French desire and experiences with other Australians, I knew there was a special link between France and our country. What I didn’t know at the time was just how many of us have an affinity with this special country 20,000 km away.

We have had over 10,000 other Francophiles join our website and share our passion. There are many reasons Australians have a love affair with France and things French. They vary but often include France’s history, food, architecture and romance.

This attraction has seen the number of us travelling to France increase. Now over one million Aussies (part of the 80+ million worldwide) visit France each year. However, you don’t need to travel (or have property) there to appreciate and share French culture. The online directory ‘French Australia’ lists over 1,500 French businesses, organisations and services operating in Australia, and listings continue to grow.

Notable among these is the influence of French cuisine with almost a third of the directory being French cafes, restaurants, boulangeries and food distributors found in most major centres across the country.

This number of French enterprises is a little surprising as the French make up less than 1% of our population. Perhaps the ever increasing number of French visiting our country has had an influence – French tourist numbers trebled in the past decade showing the mutual interest our countries have in one another. After all, we have a lot in common: a relaxed style of living, an appreciation of the good things in life and time to enjoy them as well as not taking ourselves too seriously.

Alliance Francaise, the organisation responsible for promoting the French language and culture around the world, runs an annual French film festival. Each season the festival expands in the number of films shown and the running season. French films generally are becoming more popular in Australia with audience numbers doubling every year. Last year, the highest number of French films was recorded as being released here, the same number as Australian films.

An example of this growing affinity with France and its influence on us is the celebration of French festivals in Australia. Brisbane was the first capital to hold a dedicated festival in 2009, and it expanded in subsequent years to have around 100,000 people attend. Melbourne now has a French festival which extends over a full three days, and Sydney held its first major festival on Bastille Day this year around Circular Quay.

Sydney’s French festival venue was ironic as it was the landing place of the First Fleet. If France had acted a little quicker in the late 1700’s, Australia could have easily been French instead of British. Explorers from France were some of the first Europeans to reach our continent and spent many years charting areas of Tasmania. Prominent places in that island state still bear the original French names they were given.

So almost 250 years on, despite not being claimed by France originally, we are getting close to the culture we could have started with and would probably now be turning away from, instead of embracing, as are other former French colonies that constantly fight to hold onto their heritage.

To help me write this blog, I sought input from our French Desire membership, asking their feelings about things French in Australia. The comments I received included ‘everything French is so cool’ and ‘all things French warm my heart’ but the one that summed it up for me was: ‘I love all things French – I drive a French car, we cook French meals, eat in French restaurants, have French friends, watch French films, and take French language lessons… Australia has certainly embraced French culture in many ways’. Thanks to our members for these comments, I do so enjoy bringing France into all our lives.