Bringing France to the colonies

I hadn’t realised until I have recently been spending all my time in Europe, what a dearth of French there is in Australia. We have so many Europeans, but almost no French. I found tracing the following book as I was listing it all the more interesting…

Aimir, Noel Les Dieux Interviennent(Paris: Librairie Plon: no date) Wrappers (that is, paper covers) plus pp. 305.

The author’s name is an anagram of the writer’s real name Marie Lion, who published under both. She was the sister of Berthe Julie Lucie Mouchette. Together with the latter’s husband they left France for Melbourne in 1881. The sisters were both artists; Marie a miniature painter, though she wrote as well.

After Berthe’s husband died in 1884, she acquired the Oberwyl Ladies’ College in Burnett Street, St Kilda. A few years later the famous French musician Oscar Comettant visited and was most effusive in his praise:

I do not think that anywhere in Europe there is an institution for young ladies that is better organised or more wisely directed… Every year more stress was put upon the teaching of our language [French]… our literature, our arts and our history… the young Australians of St Kilda were formed in our habits of elegance without losing their native charm…When I left Melbourne the institution had more than a hundred pupils and twenty-seven teachers.

The sisters also set up Alliance Francaise, that still famous St Kilda institution.

However ‘unFrench’ Australia is now, clearly from reading of these sisters and also the observations of Comettant, this was far from being the case in the past.

References and for more on the story:
Design and Art Australia Online
Explorations A Journal of French-Australian Connections

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