Could Australia ever have been French? The English certainly thought so. Through revolution, empire and restoration, late 18th and early 19th century France maintained an unwavering commitment to research and discovery in the Pacific region and in Australia.
More interested in science than in new colonies, these early French voyages, led by commanders like Bougainville, Lapérouse, D’Entrecasteaux, Baudin, Freycinet, Duperrey and Dumont d’Urville, were the first to name, describe and beautifully illustrate many Australian species. They took specimens back to French museums where they provided an important foundation for Australian biology and conservation, particularly in botany and marine biology. England may have colonised Australia, but for many years it was France that understood it best.
This richly illustrated short documentary film brings to life our fascinating and colourful French history and reminds us of a time when scientific research involved intrepid voyages in tall ships on the high seas, battling scurvy and storms, insects and rats, and hostilities both on board and on shore.
Written and narrated in English by author and biologist, Dr Danielle Clode, and in French by Dr Christèle Maizonniaux, the full 45min film will premiere on SBS TV on Bastille Day 2021 and on SBS On Demand.
Producer/Writer: Danielle Clode
Co-producer: Christèle Maizonniaux
Director: James Baker
When I was growing up in Port Lincoln in South Australia, we learnt a lot about Matthew Flinders, but nothing at all about Nicolas Baudin, who explored our coastline at the same time. I only knew about the French map of Australia, with French names for familiar coastal landmarks, because my mother’s family was French. Otherwise this seemed to be a barely remembered part of our history.
Years later, as a biologist, I rediscovered these French voyages and the important legacies they had left in the collections of museums around the world. Much of the early scientific work on Australian plants and animals was conducted by French, rather than English scientists. Very often that early French work is still the main source of information about rare and endangered species.
The stories of the scientists and sailors who travelled so far, at such great risk to their own safety, to explore new lands, discover new species and learn from and about Indigenous peoples, are filled with excitement and achievements as well as hardship and despair. They are stories worth remembering and retelling – reminding us of a time when Australia’s modern history was yet to be determined and could well have been very different indeed.
‘An informative and visually beautiful production’
‘Wonderful presentation, thank you’
‘A beautifully presented video’
‘Fantastic and fascinating’
‘I would love to view it again’
Danielle Clode is an award-winning Australian writer of nature, science, history and the sea and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Flinders University. Her first book Killers in Eden was made into a critically acclaimed documentary. French Voyages of Discovery to Australia is her first documentary and based on Voyages to the South Seas.
Christele Maizonniaux is a senior French lecturer at Flinders University. Born in Normandy, she has lived and worked in France, Germany, Austria and West Africa before settling in Australia. Narratives of migration, expatriation and exploration, as realised in travel writing, stories of exile, and diasporic literature, are central in her research interests.
James Baker is a filmmaker, photographer and graduate of architecture based in Adelaide, South Australia. Undertaking freelance and personal film projects in a range of creative and technical roles, his work has been screened within some of Australia’s leading museums and at film festivals internationally.