The move to Australia was no fluke and I know today God sent me on a mission. A mission to raise the awareness that we all have something to gain in living together in a melting pot of different cultures. In a Christian community of various cultural backgrounds, the experince of God to me, a bringing us even closer to each other. When He is what we have in common, it makes it so much easier to share our cultures.
Proverbs 16 verse 9 covers all cultures: "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps."
I actually feel quite lucky to be French and not from somewhere else; Australians have taken quite a liking to French culture which really facilitates communication.
July is a very special month in France as we celebrate our National Day on July, 14. So, I found myself wondering what real access do Australians have to French culture?
To understand the bridges between both cultures, I met with Frederic Dart, Director of the Alliance Francaise in Sydney. The Aliiance Francaise is a not-for-profit association which promotes French culture overseas offering French clasees and cultural events.
An interview with Frederic Dart
JB (Julia Baber): Frederic, could you give a history background of the Alliance Francaise?
FD (Frederic Dart): It all started in 1895, in France, a time where France was looking to spreading and reinforcing its colonial influence. The concept of Alliance Francaise was part of a colonisation plan. Today, Alliance Francaise is still alive, and it is a pity the name is still the same because the idea and the mission statement is today completely different!
Today, it is a French cultural center open to collaboration and to cooperation between two countries: France and obviously the country the Alliance Francaise is hosted. The Alliance Francaise is now worldwide, it exist in over 150 countries.
JB: When did the Alliance Francaise settled in Australia?
FD: Actually quite early. in 1899, Sydney and Melbourne were competing as usual. Some say it was created in Melbourne first, some say it was in Sydney, but anyway, at the end of the 19th century and it was created by French people living in Australia, who were very few at the time. They were not in great numbers and they were probably feeling quite lonely, so at the beginning it was a sort of French club where they could gather.
Obviously, today, it has changed very much.
JB: What would you say is the mission statement of the Allaince Francaise in 2011?
FD: It is to bring French and Australian citizens together. It is a place, it is a building in the city of Sydney, where people can meet. We have a Cafe downstairs where people can meet. We organize events indoors and outdoors with local partner. We try to bring France and Australia closer. And also to get French and Australians to understand each other beyond their cultural differences.
JB: The Alliance Francaise has been in a new building on Clarence St. Can you tell me a little about the story of this building?
FD: The building as you see it now was open in August 2009, so it is very recent. Prior to this facility, the Alliance Francaise was a 2 storey, red brick Sydney type building. The board of Directors were ambitious and courageous at the same time when they starting thinking about a change of scale. The buildiong is now 13 storey of which we own 5 levels. Everything is new and comfortable.
The architect is renouned in France for designing the Australian Ambassy in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower. His name is Harry Seidler.
JB: What are the main challenges you face bringing French culture to Australia?
FD: It is a a great challenge for sure. In Sydney, in the year 2011, we have to accomodate the French community which counts thousands of French. And we also have to accomodate Australian Francophiles. People who have a taste for France, who know the country or French people. Some are fluent, some are not.
The Austrlian people are expecting something from France which is not the same as what French people are expecting. So we have to share our time and our space to accomodate all.
JB: We are now in July, whic our Bastille Day month. What is the meaning of Bastille Day for French people overseas?
FD: Bastille day is our National day, so it only happens once a year. It is an occasion for French people to gather and forget about the matters which could keep them apart on a daily basic. It is a great occasion to celebrate our unity. It also celebrates the Revolutionary day, which was extremly bloody day, in 1789. Today, we probably left a lot of the historical meaning behind and just take it as a occasion to get together.
JB: What is your vision for the Alliance Francaise for the next few years?
FD: Defintely develop our involvement in Sydney's events calendar. The Bastille Day celebration we have coming up has been really popular and we have a waiting list of 300 people at this stage. For the years to come, we will certainly find a bigger venue as we could probably reach 2000 attendees, if the facility would allow it.
Also, our French Film Festival is amplifying every year. in 2011, we counted 45000 viewers in Sydney alone. And it is an event we carry nationwide by all Alliance Francaise in Australia.
We are thinking of working in cooperation with Brisbane, which is hosting a French Festival in July. Obviously Bastille day would be the center point but we will also work around the French cycling competion, The Tour de France.
So, hopefully by the time I finish in Sydney, July would have become the month of Francophily.
Julia Baber is French who has migrated to Australia with her English husband. They have one little son. Julia serves 'Aliiance Francaise', a non-profit body that promotes all things French around the world.