French island is located in Westernport Bay, 61kms southeast of Melbourne. Approximately 70% of the island is National Park with the other 30% largely taken up as privately-owned rural properties.
Its land size is 170 square kilometres and has a population of 100 residents. The unique wetlands, seagrasses and mangroves support fragile ecologies, where rare wading birds and marine life breed.
French Island is an unincorporated territory, which means that it is not part of any municipal council. Community issues are dealt with by the French Island Community Association. The island has no mains water or mains electricity with most residents supplying their own power through solar systems and generators.
French Island’s only school is Perseverance Primary School. In 2019, six primary school age children were enrolled. Children living on the island who attend secondary school must travel off the island each day to attend.
White Mangroves, Marsh Saltbush, Creeping Rush and Salt Lawrencia thrive in the island’s coastal and swamp regions and a wide variety of gum trees, native bush and tea-tree grows on the land.
Koalas were introduced to the island in 1880 and flourish in large numbers. They do not suffer from the chlamydia disease which is prevalent in mainland populations. Each year, koalas are relocated from the island to other parts of the mainland where numbers are dwindling.
There are no foxes, kangaroos, possums or wombats on the island, however, rabbits, wild cats and goats exist in varying numbers.
French Island has chicory kilns located on various properties around the island. Chicory, an early form of coffee, was grown on the island from the late 1800s to the middle of last century and was the main source of income for over 70 years.
The chicory kiln at Mandalaye Park was built in the early 1900s and still has some artefacts in place. It is now home to a variety of birds including a family of barn owls nesting in the roof
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.
It operated as a self-sustaining farm.
The prison closed in 1975 and is now privately owned.