When UWA Honorary Research Fellow Noelene Bloomfield joined the University in 1968 to take up a senior tutor position in the French department her classes were mostly focused on the French language. As her research progressed, French culture and history started to play a larger role, however little did she know how all three aspects would merge into a lifelong passion.
“As a French teacher the language obviously interests me, but I was amazed when I first came to Western Australia to see how many French place-names there were. I soon discovered that there were French names throughout western and southern Australia as well. While my colleague at that time, Professor Leslie Marchant, researched the French history of WA in the 1980s, no one had looked at this from a national perspective,” she says.
“In the 18th and 19th century there were many French expeditions to Australia, and a treasure-trove of information was captured in the logs and journals of various French captains and officers. However, despite a great deal of effort, the French never quite managed to establish any colonies in Australia. They were beaten by the British on the eastern seaboard, and while the British did not settle the west until 1826, the timing of the French Revolution thwarted any hope of that too.”
“If the Revolution hadn’t occurred in 1789, Australia could easily have looked more like Canada, with a French and an English side. It would have been a very different region to the one we live in today.”
It was clearly not meant to be for France, but Noelene spent a good part of her career uncovering details of French expeditions to Australia that even the French knew little about.
Her research both here and in France led to a well-travelled English and French exhibition on France’s exploration in southern waters, and then to her 2012 book, Almost a French Australia.
Mrs Bloomfield has just co-published a bilingual book, L’Australie des Explorateurs Français/The Australia of the French Explorers.
“French photographer, Frederic Mouchet, contacted me after reading Almost a French Australia, as he had also noticed the hundreds of French place-names in Australia and wanted to talk about the prospect of collaborating,” she says.
“The book matches expedition drawings from different areas of Australia, with beautiful contemporary photographs taken by Frederic, while I provided the historical commentary. It builds on my first book and explores that fascinating time in Australia’s history, while explaining the origin of the French names on our coastline. It’s also bilingual, which makes it an excellent teaching resource.”
While Noelene is now retired from teaching, her passion for French history and the language has not diminished and although there are no new research projects on the horizon she still has plenty to keep her busy. Her recent article in the May-June 2016 Australian Geographic featuring many of the photos and drawings from the most recent publication is evidence of this.
“I would also like to translate Almost a French Australia into French for the French public, but apart from that I just want to enjoy my retirement with my husband, and see what else comes along.”
Noelene’s new book is available at the Alliance Française de Perth in Nedlands, the Lane Bookshop in Claremont, Collins Booksellers in Cottesloe, or you can contact her directly.