Geographic Origins

The French Republic is in western Europe. It is bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean to the west, Belgium and Luxembourg to the north, Germany, Italy and Switzerland to the east and the Mediterranean Sea and Spain to the south. The island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea is a French territory.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first French people came to Australia as convicts or as free settlers who had fled France in the wake of the 1789 Revolution.

French explorers such as de Bougainville, Allouarn, du Fresne, La Perouse, d’Entrecasteaux and Duperrey conducted voyages of discovery around the Australian continent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Just after the turn of the nineteenth century two famous explorers met by chance on the coast of South Australia. On 8 April, 1802 Captain Nicolas Baudin of Le Geographe met Matthew Flinders’s ship, the Investigator, near what is now Victor Harbor. The explorers conferred amiably though France and Britain were at war. Before sailing east towards Bass Strait, Flinders named the area Encounter Bay. A plaque on the bluff adjacent to the bay commemorates the encounter.

Baudin also left evidence of his voyage on Kangaroo Island. The crew of Le Geographe carved a rock at Hoy Bay which reads: ‘Expedit/ion de de/couverte/par le commend/ant Baudin/Sur Le Geographe/1803’. The carving translates as ‘Expedition of Discovery by Commandant Baudin on Le Geographe, 1803’. Today the original stone is on display at the Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor Information Centre. It is part of the collection of the History Trust of South Australia. A cast of the rock is located under a white-washed dome at Penneshaw. From 30 June - 10 December 2016 the South Australian Maritime Museum held an exhibition ‘The Art of Science: Baudin’s Voyagers 1800 - 1804’. The Museum has more detailed information about the voyages of Baudin and other French explorers.

The number of free French settlers arriving in Australia increased after the 1820s. By 1850 there were approximately 600 French-born Australians.

A significant number of French people arrived in Australia during the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s. It has been estimated that in 1871 there were 2,500 Australians of French birth. By 1891 this figure had risen to 4,500. Economic depression later in the decade caused a decline in French immigration. Many of the French who had settled in Australia before the 1890s left the country as a result of financial hardships.

Edmond Mazure, born in 1864, is one of the earliest known Frenchmen to have settled in South Australia. Mazure worked as a wine-maker in Sydney before moving to Adelaide in 1888 to work for Sir Joshua Symon as manager of Auldana vineyards. In 1899 Mazure became a partner at Auldana. Mazure gained a reputation for creating new and distinctive wines. In 1895 he began to make sparkling wines. He was the first person to produce a high quality South Australian sparkling wine according to the methode champagnoise. He introduced the use of levures, a type of bacteria that enabled him to make a Spanish sherry-style wine. In 1914 Mazure left Auldana to establish his own winery, the Romalo Champagne Cellars, later known as Seaview. Mazure died on 29 April, 1939, at Victor Harbor.

A small number of French migrants arrived in South Australia after the First World War. These settlers were mainly women who had married Australian servicemen in Europe.

Approximately 200 French-born settlers arrived in South Australia after the Second World War. Many of these people were attracted by Australia’s post-war economic boom.

A considerable group of French-speaking immigrants arrived in South Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. These people included immigrants from Canada, Lebanon, Egypt, Mauritius and South Africa. Later arrivals were also from former colonies in Africa and Asia.

French South Australians are employed in a wide range of occupations. They have settled throughout the state and metropolitan area.

Community Activities

The Alliance Francaise, French Alliance, was founded in Paris in 1883. A group of French academics and intellectuals, including Louis Pasteur and Gustav Eiffel, came together in the aftermath of France’s defeat in the Franco–Prussian War. They aimed to foster peace and restore French prestige through the promotion of French language and culture. By 1883 there were 300 branches of the alliance throughout the world.

The Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud, the French Alliance of South Australia, was founded in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. It was probably established by Madame Berthe Mouchette, who arrived in Adelaide from Melbourne with her sister, Mademoiselle Marie Lion, in 1892. The two sisters initially worked as governesses at the Waterhouse family home in Mount Lofty. They later conducted French conversation classes at the Baptist church hall on Norwood Parade.

In 1910 the Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud met in an upstairs room at the corner of Gresham and Hindley Streets. In the 1920s it met in the homes of its president and secretary and in church halls, and later moved to numerous other premises in the city.

In the 1970s the alliance was based at 66 King William Road, Hyde Park. The Alliance Francaise de Paris sent the South Australian organisation its first director, Jean Roland, in 1976. Directors are employees of the French Department of Education who work in the French Department of Foreign Affairs. Prior to the arrival of Jean Roland the administration of the Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud’s French classes and cultural activities had relied upon volunteers.

In 1981 the Alliance Francaise de Paris assisted the South Australian branch of the organisation to purchase permanent premises, a cottage at 319 Young Street, Wayville. Extensive renovations on the building were completed in 1989. The premises were officially opened by His Excellency Monsieur Roger Duzer, Ambassador to the French in Australia, on 27 October, 1989.

Classes at Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud start at reception level and go through to Year 12. The alliance has links with French language students from Adelaide and Flinders Universities and with the South Australian Association of French Teachers.

The alliance promotes French culture in numerous ways. Its extensive library promotes French literature, while its video collection offers a comprehensive selection of French films. The alliance also holds regular concerts, luncheons, dinners, wine tastings, quiz nights, bridge competitions and exhibitions. Special events include Cafe Theatres, Bastille Day and Europe Day.

Cafe Theatres are cabarets. Students from the Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud and Adelaide and Flinders Universities write and perform humorous song and dance routines in French, and perform them in the alliance’s upstairs hall or at the Lion Arts Centre on North Terrace.

Bastille Day is celebrated on 14 July. It commemorates the day in 1789 when a huge crowd of Parisians captured the Bastille, a prison-fortress. This was the symbolic beginning of the French Revolution, an event which was to have repercussions throughout the world. Members of the Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud’s committee lay wreaths at the War Memorial on North Terrace to honour those who died and were wounded in the revolt. Bastille Day marks the beginning of republican France, and so it is also celebrated with cocktail parties and popular dances.

Europe Day is on 9 May. It celebrates France’s place in a uniting continent, and is usually celebrated with a meal including a dish from countries that have united to form the European Community.

Alliances Francaise branches around Australia meet once a year at the organisation’s federal office in Canberra.  Representatives from each branch report on the previous year’s progress and discuss new language teaching methods.

In September 1941 more than three hundred South Australian residents formed an association in support of the Free French Forces. In 1945 this association took the name of ‘French-Australian Association’, the aim was, and still is, to foster a spirit of understanding between the French and Australian communities of South Australia. The association changed its name in 2000 to the ‘French-Australian Business Club’. It is presently named the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce, reflecting the major activity of the association, which aims at developing trade and commerce links with France. Social activities which include luncheons, family outings, and dinners on special occasions, such as the French National Day, are still carried out by the Club.

Petanque is the main French sport played in South Australia. Petanque is similar to bocce or bowls. It was developed in 1910 from jeu provencal, a traditional game in which several steps are taken before hurling the steel ball. ‘Petanque’ comes from ‘ped-tanco’, which means feet together.

The first petanque club was founded in Adelaide in 1976.  The two original clubs, Club de Petanque d’Adelaide and the Social Club of Petanque of South Australia both play in the South Parklands near Unley Road on weekends. There are now pentanque clubs at Prospect, Port Noarlunga, near Victor Harbor and at Coonawarra in the South East.

On 11 November 1993 (Armistice Day) the French RSL Association of South Australia honoured the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme by unveiling a monument to the left of the War Memorial. The plaque, a gift from the French people, was unveiled by Commandant Loustau, the most decorated French officer and at the time the chairman of all French ex-servicemen’s associations outside of France. Commandant Loustau died in France, aged 87, on 14 July 2010. French South Australian ex-servicemen who belong to the French RSL Association of South Australia are entitled to march in annual Anzac Day parades on April 25.

Organisations and Media

  • Alliance Francaise de l’Australie du Sud Inc.: publishes Echanges, a monthly newsletter
  • Union des Francais de l’Etranger
  • Club de Petanque d’ Adelaide Inc.
  • Social Club of Petanque of South Australia
  • French RSL Association
  • French Australian Association of South Australia
  • 5EBI-FM Radio Programs


The 1981 census recorded 1,002 French-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 1,106, and 4,606 people said that they were of French descent.

The 1991 census recorded 1,101 French-born South Australians. 1,541 South Australians said that their mothers were born in France, and 1,566 people that their fathers were.

The 1996 census recorded 1,067 French-born South Australians with the second generation numbering 1,066.

The 2001 census recorded 1,123 French-born South Australians, while 4,991 people said that they were of French descent.

The 2006 census recorded 1,117 French-born South Australians, while 6,187 people said that they were of French descent.

The 2011 census recorded 1,231 French-born South Australians, while 6,652 people said that they were of French descent.

The 2016 census recorded 1,367 French-born South Australians, while 7,566 people said that they were of French descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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