French Island is one of two islands that occupy the waters of Western Port Bay in Victoria, Australia, the other being Phillip Island. This region of Victoria, under two hours travel from Melbourne, is pristine in natural wildlife and vegetation. Because French Island is an island in the midst of this almost untouched area, it is even more of a travel destination for the wilderness traveller. In pre-history, the original people of Australia, the Australian aborigines inhabited this region and occupied the flat grassy land of French Island with it’s coastal fishing shores .Forays to the mainland were made in dugout canoes and they would have disembarked close to what is now the town of Hastings, (named after it’s British counterpart).The Bunnerong tribe occupied the whole area from here to Wilson’s Promontory, an area as large as from New York City to Washington D.C. The low profile is easily visible, as is Phillip Island and Churchill Island, all accessible either by private charter boat or ferry. The ferries were recently updated to carry cars, so if wanting to visit French Island this is your mode of transport, unless you want to swim!
In Victoria’s early history, French Island was used as a penal settlement with a goal in the middle, and one reason, like so many prisons built on islands, like Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, is the containment factor: Same with Devil’s Island in the French Colony of Guiana.To escape you have to swim. There are no records of escape. In it’s day the prison housed maximum offenders and was a long low building set amidst the farming lands around. The rural farmers here grazed sheep and cattle and lived side by side with the prisoners. The farms are still operational today.
In size, French Island is bigger than Phillip Island, but it is not the tourist mecca that this latter is in summer. It is not dotted by the road network of Phillip Island, nor does it have an International Motorclcle G.P. Racetrack. In fact on French Island there are about three roads. The first links Tankerton Jetty, (where the ferry stops), to the centre of the island and at one point this road branches south to Long Point. The road will also take the visitor north towards Mount Wellingon, which stands at ninety-six metres. This pristine piece of land, called French Island, is an out of the way travel destination in Victoria well worth a visit.