A brief history of French Island
In April 1802, a French expedition ship Le Naturaliste under Jacques Hamelin explored the area, as part of the Baudin expedition to Australia. Boats from the French expedition ship, Le Naturaliste, sailed into Western Port and spent a week checking the maps of George Bass. M Brevedant circumnavigated the island and called it ‘Ile De Francoise’.
The first European settlers on the island were William and John Gardiner in 1847.
In 1893 the Victorian Government established 7 village settlements on French Island. These settlements were named Star of Hope, Energy, Callahan’s, Perseverance, Industrial, Kiernan’s and Grant Homestead Association, about 200 people made up these settlements.
Tankerton Post Office opened on 3 September 1890 and remained open until 1994. It reopened in 2001 under the name French Island. A Fairhaven post office was also open from 1911 until 1957. Perseverance Primary School was established in 1896, and it is the only one remaining school on the island. The McLeod prison farm opened on 17 July 1916 as a tent village. Timber cabins housed the prisoners until 1946 when concrete cells were built. The prison closed in 1975.
Early exports from the island included (with varying degrees of success) salt, chicory, meat, milk, vegetables and seaweed. The chicory industry became French Islands main source of income for over 70 years. The Bayview chicory kiln was built in 1896 – 97 and was the second kiln built on the Island and now the oldest one remaining. Due to the harsh, isolated conditions many settlers returned to the mainland. However, French Island is still home to descendants of those early pioneers.
French Island has a permanent population of about 100 people with no road link to the mainland residents must be largely self-sufficient and also have a keen understanding of water and electricity use. More and more residents are embracing the latest solar power and wind technologies, while old diesel generators are still used for backup. Household water is collected in rain water tanks.
While farming and tourism are the main industries on the island, islanders also offer a diverse range of skills and can deliver a variety of services, including farm produce like organic and grass fed cattle, sheep and chickens, locally grown and produced wine, organic olives and olive oil, apricots, various nuts, honey and biodynamic produce also art and craft, building, earth moving, fencing. The island has a general store and post office , a primary school (one of the smallest in Victoria),
a community hall, a cricket ground and a tennis court and a parks Victoria office. Access to the island is limited to a passenger ferry from Stony Point and a car barge service from Corinella, or by private boat or aircraft.
French Island is the only unincorporated locality in Victoria, meaning it has no municipal council, Instead, residents and landowners deal with community issues through the French Island community association.