French Island Community Association
Contact FICA secretary
French Island, located in the middle of Western Port, is considered the jewel in the
crown of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve. It is the largest
island in the bay, approximately 170 square kilometres in area and reaching a maximum
height of 96 metres above seal level at Mt Wellington, near its centre. Due to its
isolation, history and the work of conservationists over the last 40 years, French
Island remains a relatively undisturbed environment, less than 70km from the heart of
the thriving city of Melbourne. See map.
ABOUT FRENCH ISLAND
Prior to European settlement, French Island was used as a hunting ground by the
Aborigines of the Bunurong tribe. They lived on the mainland and travelled to
French Island to collect shellfish and swan eggs. There are several registered
sites on the island of the shell middens and stone scatters they left behind.
The island was named in 1802 by a French scientific expedition on board the ship,
L'Naturaliste, led by Pierre Bernard Milius. This team circumnavigated the island
and named it Isle des Francais. English settlers called it French Island.
The first European settlers arrived about 1850 and the population grew sporadically
over the following years, encouraged at times by governments offering incentives to
unemployed folk in times of depression. Early exports from the island included (with
varying degrees of success) salt, chicory, meat, milk, vegetables and seaweed. Due to
the harsh, isolated conditions many settlers returned to the mainland. However,
French Island is still home to descendants of those early pioneers.
The island also became home to a prison in 1916. It operated a self-sustaining farm
until it closed in 1975.
French Island's unique environment might have changed drastically in the 1960s when
BHP bought 800 hectares of land on the west coast, and the State Electricity Commission
bought land in the south-east with the idea of building a power station - either
conventional or nuclear. However, the islanders with the support of mainland conservation
groups, queried the development and after a two-year environmental study, the State
Government reversed its decisions and the plans were abandoned. In 1979, part of the
prison farm and the Crown land on the island were reserved as a State Park. The Park
was expanded in 1990 and again in 1997. At this time, it was also proclaimed a national park.
Today, the French Island National Park occupies two-thirds of the island while the other
third is privately owned.
In 2000, French Island became a part of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve, one of only four in Victoria and 440 in the world. It is hoped that the Biosphere
will be a place where people can show the way to a more socially, environmentally and
economically sustainable future.
About two-thirds of French Island is occupied by the French Island National Park. As
well, the French Island Marine National Park extends approximately 15 km along the
northern shore of French Island encompassing approximately 2,800 hectares.
The Park protects wetlands and a rich variety of native flora and fauna, much of
which is of national and international significance. This includes a vast number
of migratory birds listed under the Japan Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (JAMBA)
and the China Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (CAMBA). As well, the area is
listed under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance (The Ramsar
Convention). The National Trust classifies the island's environment as being of
The French Island National Park extends 150 metres offshore from the mean high water
mark right round the island, which provides for around 960 hectares of inter-tidal
French Island is home to approximately 260 fauna species, 230 indigenous birds and
580 species of flora including over 100 species of orchid, many of which are unique.
Unlike mainland Australia, it is has no foxes and is free of phytothera (cinnamon fungus or dieback).
The island is also host to a healthy koala population. Koalas were introduced in the
early part of the 20th century and the island now boasts one of the leading
chlamydia-free populations in Australia. French Island's koala's are used regularly
to re-stock depleted colonies on the mainland, ensuring the survival of the species.
French Island has a permanent population of about 110 people and a part-time
population of around 100. With no road link to the mainland residents must be
largely self-sufficient and have a keen understanding of water and electricity
use, since they are responsible for both. More and more residents are embracing
the latest solar and wind technologies, while old diesel generators are still
used for back up.
Household water is collected in rainwater tanks. To date, rainfall on the island
has been sufficient to sustain most households with about 15 mean rain days per
month and a total of 127 rain days per annum, mostly in the winter and spring.
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
art and craft, building, earth moving, fencing and more. Farm produce includes
organic and grass fed cattle, sheep and chickens, organic olives and oil, apricots,
various nuts, honey, biodynamic produce and wine.
The island boasts a general store and post office, a primary school (one of the
smallest in Victoria), a community hall, a cricket ground and a Parks Victoria
office. All the island's roads are unsealed and are graded twice a year, though
they can become impassable in heavy rains. The only other service is a radio-link
to the mainland for telephone services. Some islanders now rely on satellite and
other wireless technologies for communication.
Access to the island is limited to a passenger ferry from Stony Point to Tankerton,
a car barge service from Corinella, or by private boat or aircraft. There is no
airport on French Island but a few properties have private landing strips.
French Island is one of only a few unincorporated locality in Victoria, meaning it has no
municipal council. Instead, residents and landowners deal with community issues
through the French Island Community Association. Planning for the island is the
responsibility of the State Government's Department of Infrastructure.