TV eye on Tassie's French history

ROUNDING Cape Boullanger, it's a straight shot for Ilot des Phoques - a deserted granite outcrop dwarfed by the magnificent Presqu'Ile Freycinet. 

We're cruising the waters of Tasmania's south-east coast, observing landmarks dedicated by the French scientists of the early 1800s. 

Cape Baudin. Cape Peron. Cape Bougainville.

Had things turned out differently 200 years ago, today's crew might be singing  La Marseillaise  instead of  Advance Australia Fair . 

The naming of landmarks such as the Freycinet Peninsula, Bruny Island, the Huon Valley and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel predates most of Tasmania's British settlements - with the French interest in the state continuing well after colonisation. 

In the past week  it was another team of French documentarians sailing across the scenic Baie Fleurieu: Melbourne-based freelancers Hakim Abdelkhalek and Cyril Paquier, who were shooting a news piece for TV station France 2.

``Ours is a story on the French connection to this coast, the French names, and how it has been preserved,'' Mr Abdelkhalek said.

``Ninety-nine  per cent of French people don't know about Tasmania and its French history. 

``We want to show people the story of this island, see what the French explorers saw.''

Mr Abdelkhalek said the state-owned news channel, which receives up to 6 million viewers each night, would  air the news piece next month  - spruiking the East Coast to Europe in the same way  Reseau France Outremer  did in 2008, and TF1's  Reportages  did in 2012. 

At the centre of each foreign-filmed production has been Glamorgan-Spring Bay Mayor Bertrand Cadart, the flamboyant Frenchman who fell in love with Bicheno in 2000.

``I had heard of Bertrand -  every French person in Australia has,'' Mr Abdelkhalek said.

 ``It was not enough for us to come here and do a story solely on him, but when I learned of the French history here, it added another layer.

``I asked him to be our tour guide for the two days, and after seeing his knowledge and passion, it was obvious for him to become our narrator.'' 

Cr Cadart says he received more than 3000 emails after the Tasmanian-themed  Reportages  episode aired in November 2012, which was seen by more than 4 million people.

A steady stream of visitors has since dropped by to visit Cr Cadart, Bicheno and the East Coast, including the French ambassador to Australia, Stephane Romatet, and  Le Figaro Madame  journalist Patricia Boyer de la Tour. 

For his latest face-to-camera piece, Cr Cadart took the France 2 crew for a walk on the Freycinet Peninsula, named after young naval officers Louis and Henri Freycinet, visiting Cape Tourville lighthouse and Wineglass Bay.

The next day the crew jumped on a boat at Triabunna and cruised to Maria and Schouten islands, visiting Ilot du Nord, Cape Faure and Rochers du Taillefer along the way. 

``You can imagine the French explorers - seeing these things for the first time,'' Cr Cadart said. 

``The French were one of the first to explore these places, but they came here for scientific reasons, to discover the plants and the people. 

``Who knows, if things had have been slightly different, maybe Tasmania could have been French.'' 

 The Examiner was a guest of East Coast Cruises for this report. 

Email adruce@examiner.com.au or Twitter @AlexDruce1987

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