French Connection: Australia’s Cosmopolitan Ambitions

Alexis Bergantz

2022 Winner

French Connection: Australia’s Cosmopolitan Ambitions

Judges' comments 

French Connection reveals the remarkable and indelible presence of French people and French culture in Australian history. Drawing from a wide array of sources — government records, newspapers, private diaries and more — Bergantz shows how Frenchness was simultaneously a source of fascination, inspiration and derision for Australians in the process of defining their nation and national character at the turn of the twentieth century.  

We learn how Frenchness, with its supposed sensuality, femininity and sophistication, was understood as diametrically opposite to staid, pragmatic, masculine Britishness. Some Australians were, moreover, anxious about the establishment of a French penitentiary in the Pacific. The presence of liberated or escaped French convicts from New Caledonia brought back shameful reminders of Australia’s own penal origins. Bergantz deftly guides the reader through this sweeping analysis.  

This book provides fascinating insights into the development and evolution of Australianness, and breathes new life into our understanding of the multicultural nature of settler Australia. It is a significant achievement for an early career researcher, and a worthy recipient of the NSW Premier’s History Prize for Australian History.  

Updated on 23 February 2024