Speeches followed by the signing of the MOU
Dr Mat Trinca: Good morning everybody. I think we may start proceedings this morning because I know everybody is on a tight time-frame. His Excellency Christophe Lecourtier, the French ambassador to Australia; the Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon. George Brandis; Monsieur Edouard Philippe, the Mayor of Le Havre; Cedric Cremiere, the Director of the Natural History Museum of Le Havre, and the delegation - I know there’s many of you in the room this morning from Le Havre; Greg Lehman and Russell Taylor, members of the National Museum of Australia’s Indigenous Reference Group; Dr Kevin Jones, Director of the South Australian Maritime Museum, and colleagues from visiting cultural institutions across Australia; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen - what a list - welcome to the National Museum of Australia. I’m Mat Trinca, the Director of the National Museum.
Before commencing these proceedings, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and offer my respects to their elders past and present. I do welcome the secretary of the department who has just managed to make it from a meeting that you all had this morning, Chris Moraitis.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you all here today for the signing of this memorandum of understanding with the Natural History Museum of Le Havre. There are six Australian museums - among them the South Australian Maritime Museum; the Australian National Maritime Museum; the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery; the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; the Western Australian Museum, where I started my career; and of course the National Museum of Australia - who are party to this MOU. It’s the best kind of project of these sorts because it’s a project that brings together some of the great museums of this country in a productive collaboration with an important museum abroad that’s home to a wonderful collection with very strong Australian relevance and meaning.
I commend my colleagues at those institutions, in particular Kevin Jones, who’s with us here this morning from the South Australian Maritime Museum and who played a very key role in this, but of course Cedric Cremiere, the Director of the Natural History Museum of Le Havre, whose great desire it has been to see this collection better known in this country. The Natural History Museum of Le Havre displays the collections of paleontology, zoology together with this unique assembly of 8000 drawings and manuscripts of the naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, who was a principal artist with Nicolas Baudin during his expedition to Australia between 1801 and 1803.
Previous exhibitions using the Le Havre collection have focused on that famous, if however improbable, encounter between Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in 1802 at what came to be known as Encounter Bay on the South Australian coast. This exhibition, the one that’s at the heart of this collaborative endeavour, will instead frame the Baudin voyage in the context of Napoleonic France and the age of scientific discovery.
Also an important feature of the exhibition will be the portraits of Aboriginal people made during the voyage around the Australian coast.
Each of the six partner Australian organisations will work together to develop and deliver this exhibition. The artworks and objects will mainly be drawn from Le Havre but they will be supplemented by materials that come from each of the host museums and art galleries.
The first venue will be the South Australian Maritime Museum in July of next year. Following that, you’ll see the museum go to Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart and Launceston in subsequent years.
It’s now my great pleasure to introduce the Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, to say a few words.
Senator The Hon. George Brandis: Thank you very much indeed, Mat. What a pleasure it is to be here on this beautiful morning in Canberra. May I also begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present. Allow me to acknowledge my friend the French ambassador Christophe Lecourtier; Monsieur Edouard Philippe, the mayor of Le Havre; Mr Cedric Cremiere, directeur, Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre; French delegates who are present this morning; representatives of Australian cultural institutions who are here this morning; the secretary of my department Chris Moraitis; ladies and gentlemen.
I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be here this morning to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between six of our iconic cultural institutions and the muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre. This agreement will enable the Australian public to learn more about Nicolas Baudin’s expedition to Australia and discover in one rare collection of artworks depicting his voyage the story of that voyage - quite a romantic story, I must say.
The Australian government is committed to promoting international cultural cooperation of the kind which this exhibition represents. We already share with France a joint commitment to cooperate across the artistic and cultural sectors. That was a subject of discussion when your President François Hollande visited Australia late last year for the G20 and the state visit which he undertook subsequently to it. It’s appropriate that the official luncheon for that visit was hosted by another of our great cultural institutions, the National Gallery of Australia. During President Hollande’s visit he made a joint statement with our Prime Minister Mr Abbott in support of cooperation in relation to one particularly important cultural issue, and that is Indigenous repatriation.
Australia and France already share strong cultural ties. We, a young nation; France, a very old nation with one of the greatest cultural traditions of all the European nations. Together with the signing of this memorandum we today herald a new period of consultation and cooperation in relation to cultural exchange between our two countries.
Bringing this exhibition to an Australia is an important undertaking. It is quite a massive undertaking to assemble and curate an exhibition like this. I want to acknowledge those who worked so hard to make it possible: Kevin Sumption of the Australian National Maritime Museum; Kevin Jones of the South Australian Maritime Museum; and Monsieur Cremiere of the Musée d’histoire naturale du Havre. I also want to acknowledge the fact that so many Australian cultural institutions have lent their support to this collaboration. I want to thank in particular the National Museum of Australia, this fine campus where we meet this morning; the National Maritime Museum; the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery; the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery; and the South Australian Maritime Museum.
Let me say a word about the expedition which is celebrated by this exhibition. It had a significant place in Australia’s early history. We can only imagine how strange the landscape must have appeared to the French explorers, just as only a handful of years before it had first appeared so strange not only to English explorers but also of course to La Perouse. Hundreds of sketches and watercolours by the artists [Charles-Alexandre] Lesueur and [Nicolas-Martin] Petit tell the story of the expedition’s journey to an unfamiliar country, the scientific discoveries they made, and the curious flora and fauna that they found here.
One of the oddities of Australia’s early history was the fact that Australia was an object of interest both to the English and to the French. If in 1788 events had turned out a little differently, Australia may have been the great Francophone nation of the west Pacific rather than an Anglophone nation as it became. An exhibition like this reminds us of that oddity of Australian history and the intersection of English exploration and French exploration in the Southern Hemisphere in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
It’s a great joy to launch this expedition today, to welcome our French friends in particular, to thank them once again and to re-dedicate ourselves - not that this is a difficult thing to do - to the friendship that has existed for so long between the people of Australia and the people of the glorious nation of France. Thank you. [applause]
Dr Mat Trinca: Thank you, Attorney, for those words. I now call on our guest, the mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, to come forward and say a few words.
M. Edouard Philippe: Minister, Mr Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen, bonjour à tous et merci beaucoup. I am going to do something that no French politician should do, Mr Ambassador, I am going to speak in English. It’s not going to be easy for me and probably not going to be easy for you either.
I’m the mayor of Le Havre. Le Havre is a city which was created in 1517 at the beginning of the sixteenth century. At that time in France no-one knew about Australia. It was not even an idea. But Le Havre was created to discover new worlds. It was created in 1517 by the King of France in order to participate in the discovery of the new world that had been discovered 25 years before; that is, to participate in the discovery of America.
But people in Le Havre throughout their history did try to discover new worlds. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, two ships left Le Havre with soldiers, few of them, and with scientists, a lot of them. They arrived, after a journey which must have been something that no-one here can imagine, in South Australia and during two years Charles-Alexandre Lesueur painted drawings and sketches of what he saw of the birds, the fish, the coast, the population.
Nowadays there is a treasury in Le Havre - 1500 sketches and drawings of Lesueur that tells a lot about Australia at that time. We are very proud to have this treasury in our city. Possessing a treasury is good; sharing it is even better. So we decided that it would be something good to do to share this treasury. Next year, during two years, approximately 600 of those drawings and sketches will come to Australia and will be available for everyone here to discover, to appreciate and to share them with us.
I would like to say that it’s a great honour to be here and it’s also a great pleasure. I would like to thank all those in Le Havre and in Australia who made that encounter possible and that sharing possible. I, of course, would like to thank the people in the French embassy. I would like to thank the people in those six cultural institutions in Australia, because they did a marvellous job to organise this. I would like to thank Cedric Cremiere, the curator of the museum in Le Havre, because he is the one who made that possible - much more than me. I am his boss so you have to thank me, not him, but I would like to thank him in front of you.
I would like to tell you that next year and the year after you’ll see all those drawings, all those sketches and I am sure you will love them. Once you see them, maybe you would like to know where they are kept, so maybe you will want to come to Le Havre, which is a good thing because you will be welcome in Le Havre. Minister, Mr Ambassador: vive Le Havre, vive Lesueur, vive la France, vive d’Australie. [applause]
Dr Mat Trinca: Thank you, Your Worship Mayor Philippe. If only my French was half as good as that English, I would be very pleased. I hope without almost any French that I’m still welcome in Le Havre and would hope to get there in the course of this project. I would now invite Mayor Philippe to sit with me and to sign the memorandum of understanding. [applause]
Thank you everybody. That concludes these proceedings. I would like to mention briefly that we have in the Museum’s collection the Baudin medal that was struck to commemorate the voyage in 1800 before it set out from Le Havre. If you have an opportunity I would encourage you to have a look at the medal that’s held in the National Historical Collection here in Canberra. I can also recommend perusing the great present that Cedric Cremiere gave me last year, a very fine book of the reproductions of the illustrations largely of the jellyfish that comprise part of the very great collection of drawings that has already been mentioned this morning. Thank you all and please enjoy our tea and coffee and refreshments this morning.
Exchange of gifts between the minister and the mayor
Senator The Hon. George Brandis: Mr Le Mayor, I have a gift for you as a memento of your visit to the National Museum of Australia which I hope you will take back to Le Havre and supply appropriately.
M. Edouard Philippe: Thank you very much. I also have a gift. It’s very unusual to offer a jellyfish as a gift. Let’s say we are going to make it very beautiful. This is a book about jellyfish. I don’t know if it’s science or if it’s art. If it’s science, it’s a very beautiful science. If it’s art, it’s a very precise art.
Senator The Hon. George Brandis: Thank you so much, Mr Le Mayor. [applause]
Dr Mat Trinca: I think it can be science and art together, can’t it? That’s part of the delight of this. That really is the conclusion of proceedings this morning. My apologies for that slight confusion and please enjoy the tea and coffee, have a look at the book and also at the Baudin medal.