Friday, 21st April 2017 His Excellency Christophe Lecourtier the French Ambassador to Australia was received by Nicole Forrest Green, President of the Friends of the Lapérouse Museum for an official visit and special ceremony.
In the presence of the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite Federal Member for Kingsford Smith, Mayor of Randwick City, Councillor Noel D’Souza and Mme. Annick Antoine, French Consul General to Sydney, M. Nicolas Croizer, French Cultural Attaché, M. Philippe Platel and Mr. Gary Ella former Australian Rugby Union Player and Member of the Wallabies, representing the Indigenous Community of La Pérouse, Ambassador Lecourtier bestowed on our President on behalf of the French Republic, the insignia of the Ordre National du Mérite in the rank of Chevalier.
In his speech, the French Ambassador commended Nicole for her passion and commitment to the France-Australia relationship. Highlights included her Board Representation on the Alliance Française Sydney where she had hosted the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Federal Member for Wentworth, whilst in Opposition, for a discussion around French culture, language, industry and technology; in journalism for her writing of the treasures of the South of France particularly the Luberon, a region she knows well, and in her capacity to bring the achievements of Lapérouse, a man of the French Enlightenment and his 18th century scientific expedition, to an English speaking audience with the publication of ‘Lapérouse Sailing through the Enlightenment’ and iconic promotional events held at the Lapérouse Museum that brought together the French and Australian Navies, academia and education.
The Ambassador acknowledged Nicole’s maternal grandfather a decorated AIF WWI veteran who had fought at Gallipoli and on the Somme in 1916 where he was gravely wounded. He had been the recipient of the French Medaille de Reconnaissance de la Nation awarded posthumously for his military service to France, that Nicole had received on his behalf in Nice in 1999. Ambassador Lecourtier also remarked on Nicole’s capacity to build momentum for the France-Australia relationship at all levels as the partnership enters a new phase of development and cooperation across many key sectors.
In her acceptance speech, Nicole expressed her condolences to the French Ambassador and to the French people for the previous night’s attacks on the Champs-Elysée which saw a Police Officer killed and several people injured – her thoughts were with all those affected by terrorism.
She also paid homage to General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) the creator in 1963 of France’s Ordre National du Mérite and arguably one of the most important French figures of the 20th century with a legacy that casts a long shadow across modern French politics.
In an impassioned speech, Nicole highlighted de Gaulle’s most notable achievements. A refusal to accept a French Armistice with Nazi Germany in 1940 and the establishment of the Free French Movement from London; a call to arms via BBC radio on 18th June 1940; resistance of oppression, safeguard and protection of France’s national interests and her strategic independence; the liberation of Paris in 1944, and leadership of the French Provisional Government, followed in 1946 by an early retirement but a return to glory in 1958 and ascendency to the nation’s Presidency of the newly created 5th Republic, a position he would hold for 10 years .
For de Gaulle a forward thinker, this was a time of modernization and development for France, particularly across industry, education, health, culture – and armed with new powers attributed to the French President under the constitution of the 5th Republic, de Gaulle sought to reposition France in a changing post-war world, where decolonisation and the Cold War presented new threats and challenges.
Often described as a political marvel, a master strategist, but above all a great Statesman, de Gaulle maintained throughout his life an immense pride and love for his country, combined with an innate understanding of the French people.
In this context and with a wealth of experience that crossed two major world wars, de Gaulle strove for policies that still hold much weight across the corridors of power in Paris – his renowned “Politics of Grandeur”, asserting that France maintain her sovereignty as a major power and not rely on other countries, for her national security and prosperity. To this end, de Gaulle pursued policies of “national independence” which led him to withdraw from NATO‘s military integrated command and launch an independent nuclear development program that made France the world’s fourth nuclear power.
In January 1963, Adenauer and de Gaulle signed a treaty of friendship, the Élysée Treaty with a view to restoring Franco-German relations.
Internationally, in January 1964, France was among the first Western powers to open diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established in 1949, but had been isolated on the international scene. De Gaulle justified this by “the sheer weight of evidence and reason.”
He also oversaw tough economic measures to revitalise the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs) and reduced France’s dollar reserves, trading them for gold from the US government, to reinforce her economic independence.
France’s innate national pride, coupled with this and an insistence on remaining strategically independent in all matters of governance and notably defence, I am convinced did not go unnoticed by the Australian Government this time last year in choosing France as a strategic ally and defence partner in our region.
General de Gaulle also undertook a major reform and modernisation of France’s system of National Ordres targeting a younger, civilian population, including women and as a consequence the Ordre National du Mérite came into existence in 1963 in the midst of France’s post-war ‘trente glorieuse’ period (post-WWII boom). The average age of recipients of this great award is 54 and 50% are women.
I am honoured to be admitted to the ranks of the Ordre National du Mérite, and thank the French Ambassador and the French Republic for acknowledging my contribution to the France-Australia relationship.
Nicole thanked the entire Committee for their combined unrelenting efforts last night as they worked tirelessly to ensure the Ambassador’s visit to the Lapérouse Museum was a great success.
Photo I: Lapérouse Museum Sydney: H.E. Ambassador Christophe Lecourtier, French Ambassador to Australia with Nicole Forrest Green President FOLM before a copy of Nicolas-André Monsiau’s famous painting which hangs in the Château de Versailles, France of King Louis XVI handing his instructions to Capitaine de Vaisseau Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse for his ‘voyage d’exploration autour du monde.’
Photo II: General Charles de Gaulle