Culture in Melbourne was changed in 1881 when two French women, Berthe Mouchette and her sister Marie Lion, came to Australia. The sisters were artists and teachers who had exhibited at the Paris Salon and they soon established studios in Collins Street.
Berthe and Marie spent forty-one years in Melbourne and Adelaide. They taught painting and the French language, and purchased ‘Oberwyl’ school in St Kilda where they founded the Alliance Française in Australia. During the depression of the early 1890s, the sisters sold the school and moved to Adelaide where they became involved in the South Australian art scene. They opened studios and tutored members of Adelaide society. The sisters were founding members of the Adelaide branch of the Alliance Française, members of the Theosophical Society and founding members of the Cremation Society.
Influenced by their interest in Theosophy, they were early travellers to India and Tibet. After they returned to Adelaide, Marie Lion wrote two novels based on her experiences, and another about the French Revolution. When war broke out in 1914, the sisters travelled to Paris and volunteered as nurses in a Paris hospital
In the 1920s, the sisters were instrumental in Adelaide’s adoption of the town of Dernancourt in the Somme. Berthe is memorialised today in the Gallery of Heroes in Albert. Marie died in 1922 and Berthe soon returned to a Paris strongly affected by the war. In 1894, the Alliance Française in Melbourne established an annual poetry competition for school children, the Concours Berthe Mouchette, in her honour.
This is an important biography and social history, detailing the influence of the French in Melbourne and Adelaide through the lives of these two French sisters.
About the Author
John Drury OAM is a mechanical designer, a founding member of the Institute for the Study of French Australian Relations (ISFAR), and a co-founder of the C.J. La Trobe Society. John has written a number of papers for the journal Explorations, now the French Australian Review, and has contributed entries for Berthe Mouchette and Marie Lion to the French-Australian Dictionary of Biography. He published a lavishly-illustrated book, The Making of a Statue, Charles Joseph La Trobe, describing the process of creating the sculpture he commissioned in 2006. John has a lifelong love of France and has travelled there frequently.