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The Erotic and the Exotic: French in Australia

Bonnie Thomas, University of Western Australia

At first sight one may wonder if there is any role for French in a country colonized by the British in 1788 and lying thousands of kilometres from the European continent, in a place where English has been the national language since that time and whose inhabitants are descendents of convicts and settlers. The largest island and the smallest continent in the world, Australia remains one of the most isolated countries on earth and until recently has been firmly monolingual. While Aboriginal languages number in the hundreds , they are increasingly dying out through lack of use. When one thinks of Australia images such as kangaroos and koalas come to mind, the outback, an ancient Aboriginal culture, the Sydney Opera House and beautiful beaches. What, then, do all of these things have in common with France? A brief survey of Australian history reveals in fact that this isolated land could have been a French colony. As one researcher into Australia’s past puts it: “A French Australia? Almost!”

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