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Robert Doyle : “I hope Melburnians take inspiration from the French way of life.”

In honor of the Bastille Day French Festival taking place next 15th and 16th of July with the city’s support, Robert Doyle, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, has agreed on giving us this special interview. A great opportunity to discuss National Day and the friendship between France and Australia.

How do you feel Bastille Day can inspire Melburnians ?

There is no better day to celebrate French cuisine and culture so I hope Melburnians join the celebrations happening in our city and take inspiration from the French way of life.

How do you understand the meaning or values of “liberte, égalite, fraternite”?

As the catchcry of the French Revolution, “liberte, egalite, fraternite” has become an integral part of France’s identity. Liberte” upholds the natural rights of every man and woman, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others within society.Egalite” ensures all citizens are viewed as equal within the eyes of the law and “fraternite” brings society together through shared values.

There are important values which have become fundamental to our understanding of human rights, and are key pillars of Western democracy.

What kind of relations do you wish to promote with the French community here ?

Melbourne is a city which embraces people from all backgrounds and walks of life. In fact, we’re home to people from more than 200 countries, speaking 260 different languages and dialects and practising more than 135 different faiths. But we are all one Melbourne.

The French community has historically been a significant part of the fabric of our city. In fact the first French consulate was open in our city in 1852, and our friendship has grown stronger since.

This is because Melbourne and France are incredibly similar in so many ways. We have a shared love of food, culture, fashion, art and, of course, sport.

Our laneways and café culture was partly inspired and influenced by the French people who’ve made Melbourne their home. For example, one of Melbourne’s best loved artists, Mirka Mora, migrated to Melbourne in the 1950’s and was one of the many people who worked to transform Melbourne from quiet, provincial town to sophisticated, multicultural city.

The French influence in our city continues today and the Bastille Day celebrations show that Melburnians continue to embrace their inner Francophile.

Have you had the opportunity to attend a “14 juillet” in France? If yes, what do you like about it? Is our way of celebrating very different from Australia’s ?

I know the French celebrate Bastille Day or “14 juillet” by watching the Tour De France, eating good food and watching fireworks celebrations. We celebrate Australia Day in a similar fashion, with a public holiday, sporting and cultural events, the fireworks display in Docklands and barbecues.

One of my most memorable Bastille Days was on the Champs Elysees in 2010.

Is French history / revolution part of the Australian curriculum ?

We are lucky in Australia that our curriculum has a strong focus on the important events which have shaped the world around us. The French Revolution in particular is taught extensively across our high schools and universities.

In your point of view, how French and Australian histories have been, are and will be linked ?

Our relationship with France has been heavily influenced through the shared experiences and suffering our two nations experienced during the first and second World Wars. Thousands of Australians fought and died alongside the French in the battlefields of France during World War One at places like Villers-Brettoneux. In this small village alone, around 1,200 Australians lost their lives.

Now thousands of Australians make the pilgrimage to France and Viller-Brettoneux to remember our soldiers every year. They are greeted by streets called the ‘Rue Melbourne” and “Rue des ANZAC’s” in a magnificent homage to our soldiers. Here in Melbourne, we receive a delegation from Villers-Brettoneux led by the Mayor of the town every three to four years.

During the devastating 2009 bushfires in Victoria, a small primary school in the town of Strathewen was completely destroyed, and the people of Villers-Brettoneux raised more than €11,000 to help with reconstruction.This is exactly what the children of Victoria did after the liberation of Villers-Brettoneux at the end of World War I.

I don’t think a relationship can get much closer than that.

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