2021 in review: a year of French culture in Australia

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As we prepare to farewell 2021, we thought we’d take a look at the highlights of French culture in Australia this year on Matilda Marseillaise. We’ve had celebrations of French food and wine to art exhibitions, festivals and other events with French themes. We’ve interviewed people across many areas including international touring artists and local French and francophone people. Join us as we look back over 2021.


French culture in Australia: French Food days

Food is an extremely important part of French culture in Australia as much as in France. January was of course the month of the Galette des Rois which is always one of our most popular posts and has become the go-to resource for French and Francophiles in Australia to find out where they can buy this special cake around Australia.


We celebrated Croissant Day with a brief history of the croissant and again letting you know where you can buy croissants from French bakeries in Australia. Then we turned to a sweeter treat for Chocolate Truffle Day. Another day to indulge in all things cacao was World Chocolate Day.


We also wrote about Cheese Lovers’ Day for the first time with a focus on cheese subscriptions and celebrated Mouldy Cheese Day in October. As always, Christmas was celebrated with the Bûche de Noël.

French culture in Australia - food days


French culture in Australia: Drinks Days

You can’t have food without something to drink and we continued our French wine varietal series throughout the year with facts about the varietals and recommendations from French wine importers in Australia. We also celebrated World Bartenders Day with French cocktails.


We looked at French spirits and liqueurs: Chartreuse Day with a look at the history of the green drink and a day celebrating another often-green drink: Absinthe Day. In addition, we discovered strong French links in one of the most popular spirits of the moment: gin. We also celebrated another spirit that you probably don’t associate with France: vodka.


Champagne and sparkling wine gave us moments of celebration throughout 2021 with various festivals: Sparkling Fest, Bubbles Festival, Taste Champagne, Effervescence Tasmania.

French drinks days


French culture in Australia during Festival time

Australia’s borders were still shut due to COVID-19 so festival time didn’t feature any international acts in 2021. 2021 highlights instead were French themed shows or shows from artists with French links at Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Festival and Sydney Festival. These provided opportunities to enjoy French culture in Australia.


Particularly strong French links were found in performances at Adelaide Fringe including music in different styles, theatre and more. The White Mouse told the story of Australian French Resistance leader, Nancy Wake. Louise Blackwell and the Paris Set took us to Paris for the night.


By the time June came, Adelaide Cabaret Festival was able to bring in a few international acts including Brent Ray Fraser, who paints with a very unique and personal tool. Kim David Smith gave a strong nod to Marlene Dietrich with his show Mostly Marlene also at Adelaide Cabaret Festival.


Auburn in South Australia’s Clare Valley was transformed into a French village and a celebration of French culture in Australia for a weekend at the inaugural Auburn Frenchfest, which will return in 2023.


Le Festival was held over 4 separate events throughout the year, bringing 4 weekends of French joy to Brisbane.

French culture in Australia - festivals


French and francophone culture in Australia: National Days

We celebrated (even if virtually for some) the national days of a number of Francophone countries: Canada Day, Bastille Day, Belgian National Day and Swiss National Day as well as Alsace Fan Day.


French culture in Australia via exhibitions

Fortunately, COVID-19 didn’t stop international works of art coming to Australia. Exhibition highlights included a number of exciting exhibitions with French links including: French Impressionism: From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Camille Henrot: is Today Tomorrow, and She-oak and sunlight: Australian impressionism.


Most recently the NGV opened the Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto exhibition and the Art Gallery of New South Wales opened its Matisse: Life and Spirit.


An international exhibition of a different scale and type, Van Gogh Alive also toured in 2021 and continues to tour Australia. Our Hearts are Still Open, a photographic exhibition and book were recently unveiled in Sydney and we chatted to Australian-born photojournalist Tony Maniaty about them.

French culture in Australia / la culture française en Australie


French and francophone film

The Alliance Française French Film Festival returned to the big screen in March and April 2021. Highlights for us included Bye Bye MoronsMiss among those that we reviewed. Countless others were also enjoyed. Because of COVID-19 lockdowns throughout Europe for much of 2020, Australian audiences were the first to see a number of films shown at the AFFFF 2021 including Eiffel and Delicious. We interviewed incoming Artistic Director of the festival, Karine Mauris.


One of our most read film reviews this year was for a film which is now on SBS on Demand: Roxane. With most of the Eastern states in lockdown over several months of the year, our articles about previous festival films available on streaming services were also well-read.


French and francophone films also featured at the Jewish International Film Festival and at the Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals.


French culture in Australia via music

We interviewed Sydney music duo Goldfynch on the occasion of their release of the beautiful escapist song “Ballooning over Paris” something we all longed to do with Australia’s closed borders. Baby et Lulu’s much anticipated Album Trois was finally released and we chatted to Lara Goodridge.  Pauline Maudy of MZAZA toured her show “Take me to Paris” around Queensland.


Sticking with the musical theme, we also interviewed Elena Gabouri ahead of her performances in Opera Australia’s Aida in Sydney and in Melbourne. Nicolas Fleury, French horn player from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra chatted with us. On the theme of opera and classical music, Pinchgut Opera presented Platée for the very first time on Australian stages.


Our favourite French festival So Frenchy So Chic announced a return to Melbourne and Sydney in February 2022.

French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie


French culture in Australia via theatre

2021 saw the return of French theatre to Australian stages. Brisbane French Theatre presented its original play Us and Them. Perth French Theatre invited you to the circle of illusionists and after many false starts, Melbourne French Theatre was able to present its new show, The Candidate.


French culture in Australia in sport

The French Rugby team Les Bleus played 3 test matches against Australia’s Wallabies in Sydney and in Brisbane. We told you where you could watch them around Australia.


Other French happenings

Adelaide’s Les Deux Coqs in conjunction with Holdfast Bay City council started Rendezvous Market, a European Market with foods and crafts from many European countries being represented.


Glasshouse Fragrances’ launched a French inspired collection just in time for Bastille Day with delicious scents of Montmartre Macaron and Sacred Heart.


We made sure you knew your French (and Belgian) dogs from the imposters for International Dog Day in August.


In November, Sacreblue, the Embassy of France in Australia’s brand new website dedicated to French culture in English was launched and we were finally able to announce our partnership with them.

French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie



We interviewed cabaret singer Caroline Nin and director Craig Ilott about L’Hôtel, an immersive theatrical world of French intrigue which made its worldwide debut at Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June.


We interviewed a man who is perhaps Australia’s most famous French television chef, Gabriel Gaté for International Chefs Day.


One of the first international productions to visit Australia since COVID-19 struck and closed our borders in March 2020 was The Little Prince, direct from Marseille to the Sydney Opera House. We interviewed Chris Mouron who adapted the book for stage, Ebony Bott of the SOH about the logistics of bringing an international team to Australia, and staging a large show during COVID-19 times. The Little Prince is making a return to Sydney for a limited season of shows in early January – read our interview with Lionel Zalachas and Laurisse Sulty


We chatted to Michael Boyd, illusionist and also show director of Cabaret de Paris which started its Australian tour with new lead, Rhonda Burchmore.


We spoke to Australian author Pip Drysdale about her thrilling novel The Paris Affair.


Most recently, we chatted with Priscilla Doueihy ahead of her performances at Sydney Festival 2022 show 44 Sex Acts in One Week; Erin Helyard about piano and French composers ahead of Adelaide Festival 2022 shows Four Hands at the Érard and Evolution of the Piano.


French businesses in Australia

We published interviews with founders of French businesses promoting French culture in Australia including:


French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie

We supported local French businesses by getting them to contribute their recommendations for Christmas gifts for francophiles. When many of the Australian states went back into lockdown, we let you know where you could purchase French take-away food.


Sofitel Adelaide, its French restaurant Garçon Bleu, and street level champagne bar Déjà Vu, were long awaited additions to Adelaide’s 5-star hotel and dining scene.


The French Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry held events both virtual and in person, where permitted, throughout the year including the French ANZ Business Days 2021 business forum which covered a number of interesting and pertinent topics.


It’s been a busy year! What have your highlights been? Is there anything you’d like to see on Matilda Marseillaise in 2022?

Our Hearts Are Still Open exhibition and book to be unveiled this weekend

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Australian-born photojournalist Tony Maniaty, based in Paris and Sydney, will open his photography exhibition and unveil his photobook, ‘Our Hearts Are Still Open / Nos Cœurs Sont Toujours Ouverts’ this Sunday, as part of Sydney’s annual Head On Photo Festival. The exhibition and photobook contain images documenting the life of the French people as they tackled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, their greatest crisis in a generation.

Our Hearts are Still Open Tony Maniaty


Tony Maniaty also spent two years based in Paris as SBS Television’s European Correspondent, and 2020 living in Provence and the French capital. As well as photojournalism, his career has included broadcast journalism with the ABC and SBS, writing fiction, and Associate Professor of Creative Practice at The University of Technology, Sydney. His writing and photography has been published in magazines and newspapers worldwide.

Tony Maniaty
Image: (c) Alex Maniaty

Tony chats to us about his photography exhibition and upcoming photobook, ‘Our Hearts Are Still Open / Nos Cœurs Sont Toujours Ouverts’. Read the interview below.


Tony, you’re an Australian-born photojournalist who is based between Paris and Sydney. How long have you been living in Paris on and off?

Although I was born in Australia with a Greek background, Paris has become my second home. I first visited Paris as a young backpacker, and in 1989 I won a scholarship to the Cité Internationale des Arts , to complete another novel, ‘Smyrna’. It went on to be shortlisted for Australia’s premier literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, which of course added to the influence Paris had over me! I fell in love with the city. I decided to stay, and spent the next two years based in Paris as SBS Television’s European Correspondent. I’ve been back many times over the years, and spent all of 2020 in the city.


When did you get your first camera? What made you choose to become a photographer?

As a teenager I was inspired by a British magazine Creative Camera, where I first saw the photography of French greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis – those timeless images of Paris. Just out of high school I was offered a journalism cadetship with the ABC, so I mixed my love of photography with reporting news and making TV documentaries. My first serious camera was a Pentax SLR, but in my early twenties I bought a second-hand Leica M2, the classic camera used by my Magnum agency heroes. I’ve had several Leicas over the years – one of them stolen at gunpoint in Brazil! (They’re the sort of camera that can get you into trouble.) These days I use a Leica M10 and Leica Q, both excellent for street work. I’m a happy convert to digital photography, the era of breathing chemical fumes in the darkroom is thankfully over and my lungs are happy.

Our Hearts are Still Open Tony Maniaty
Image: (c) Tony Maniaty

You were also SBS Television’s European correspondent based in Paris for two years. Did you have any French language or French life experience before taking on that role? What were your highlights during these two years?

About the French language, a major confession: I’ve had a long and torturous history of trying to become fluent. I studied French in high school, then off and on for years with extremely patient teachers. My time working for SBS in Paris helped, but mostly I was ‘out of town’, travelling around Europe on assignment. (As a journalist reporting for Australian TV audiences, you naturally try to interview people who speak good English.) My French did improve a lot in France last year, but once the discussion turns deeply to politics or literature, I get lost! Nevertheless, I adore the language.


That period of upheaval, from 1989-1992, was exceptional for any Paris-based correspondent – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe, the rise of the EU as a power bloc, and of course François Mitterrand at the helm of France. They were heady days indeed, all the elements for serious news stories were there. I got to meet some of the major players and deepened my understanding of the European mentality – quite different from the Australian in many ways. It’s interesting that some of the stories I reported for ‘Dateline’ then are again in the headlines – immigration, the rise of nationalism, the shift to the right in politics, and so on. After three decades, these issues still dominate Europe, and the future is unclear.


One of the stories I most enjoyed working on was a one-hour documentary on the Franco-German relationship, in all its historical complexity. One day I found myself in Reims interviewing two icons of the French champagne industry in the same courtyard: Henri Krug and Christian Pol Roger, with their respective German and French backgrounds. It was a wonderful metaphor for how two warring nations could, in a single generation, become friends and allies.

Tony Maniaty - Our Hearts are still open
Image: (C) Tony Maniaty

Having lived in France for several years, you’ve got a good feel for la vie française. How would you describe French life and how would you say it differs to Australian life?

Despite the obvious differences – the French love of formality, the casual manners of most Australians – I’ve found many similarities between the two societies. They’re both functioning democracies with considerable respect for institutions, for fairness and equality, for freedom of speech. Once you get outside ‘le coin’ of Paris, it’s surprising how much the French and Australian lifestyles are similar – the love of the outdoors, of weekend family gatherings, BBQs and the beach. And it’s hard to find an Australian who doesn’t love all things French! (With the obvious exception of a certain Prime Minister…)


You’re not just behind the lens, you’ve also worked in broadcast journalism, writing fiction, and as Associate Professor of Creative Practices at The University of Technology, Sydney. Do each of these roles fulfil a different need?

All these roles – which are perhaps less diverse than they seem – stem from an intense curiosity about the world around me. I began photography and fiction writing in high school, was incredibly lucky to get into ABC News while a teenager, and spent several decades in the world of TV news and current affairs. I tried to ‘escape’ several times to more creative pursuits, only to be pulled back: the last time, in 1996, as Executive Producer of ABC’s ‘7.30 Report’.


After that I moved into university lecturing, where I was able to bring together all my professional and creative skills and interests. And gradually, photography re-entered my world in a powerful way. I find it hard when people ask about ‘my profession’ these days, I seem to have too many. I’d like to describe myself simply as an ‘enthusiast’. Are you allowed to put that on government forms?

Tony Maniaty Our hearts are still open/ nos cœurs restent ouverts
Image: (c) Tony Maniaty

The Our Hearts Are Still Open exhibition

You’re about to show a solo exhibition of Paris photographs taken during 2020 at the peak of the COVID pandemic called Our Hearts Are Still Open. These photographs document French life through the crisis, how did you find that?

I flew to Paris from Sydney in January 2020, with the intention of resuming my life there, but COVID followed me. Very quickly I came under the same pressures as everyone else. I was trying to write a novel, but my creative focus shifted from the isolation of writing to a more confronting engagement with COVID-19 – heading out day and night with my camera to document the changed life of the streets, sans crowds, sans traffic, everyone masked and worried. All around, a pervading sense of anxiety had replaced the joie de vivre of the city.


This was Paris as none of us had ever seen it before. The grand magasins, evacuated. Boulevards empty, bistros closed. Museums and galleries, all without visitors. But something else emerged: the usual anonymity of Paris, and the problems of moving around one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations, was replaced by a sense of shared humanity and much gentler rhythms. The vigorous pursuit of daily life gave way to simple thanks, for being alive. It was a very powerful and strange time.


As a journalist I had covered disasters and war, but none of that prepared me for COVID’s impact. My camera became a weapon, not against the virus but against loneliness and isolation and fear. By documenting Paris on the streets, I was connecting not only with those around me but also with the world beyond, because the pandemic itself was without borders.


One morning as I was leaving the boulangerie, I commented to the owner that Paris had become a ghost town. ‘Oui’, she called out, cheerily. ‘The bars and cafés are closed, monsieur, but our hearts are still open!’ That summed up the true spirit of the Parisians, and gave me the title for the photo exhibition.

Tony Maniaty - Our Hearts are Still Open/ Nos cœurs restent ouverts
Image: (c) Tony Maniaty

How many photographs comprise the exhibition? You’ve shot the photos that comprise the exhibition Our Hearts Are Still Open in black and white, which seemingly takes us to a bygone era. What made you decide to shoot/print in black and white?

The show has 25 large images, all in black-and-white. I prefer to shoot in monochrome. The great Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank once said that black-white were the true ‘colours’ of photography, because they symbolized the alternatives of hope and despair that define the human condition. In my case, I think it allows me to get to the essence of the scene, to balance forms with light and shade. With our eyes, we see the world in colour all the time. To me that’s the appeal of black-and-white: seeing things differently, without the usual rainbow distractions. It’s very strong.


You’re said to have been inspired by masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau in this project. How do these two masters inspire you in this project and in your everyday work?

Strangely, I didn’t set out to replicate the work or style of these iconic masters of French photography, but at its core, Paris is still the city it was in their era. So perhaps subconsciously I was channelling those giants, because without mass tourism and traffic jams during the confinement, the city looked surprisingly as it might have in the 1950s. I was certainly attempting to recapture the very deep spirit of humanism that shines through their work – values that have slipped over the subsequent years but we were suddenly reminded of again in the pandemic. I was looking to capture a sense of optimism rather than gloom, which was the exact opposite of what we saw nightly on the TV news: endless stories about suffering, rising death tolls, crisis…


Image: (c) Tony Maniaty

How do you think that optimism emerged in the photographs?

Well, I hope there’s a sense of gentleness, touched in a few cases with mild humour and quiet irony. We all discovered, perhaps to our surprise, that life in a pandemic can still be enjoyed no matter what the world throws at us. Between each of these photographs runs an invisible thread of human dignity, and in some unspoken way, every person I photographed was touching the next.


You’ve produced a book of the Paris images, also called Our Hearts Are Still Open. Do you see the book reflecting this moment, or more an archival record of an extraordinary period in human history?

Well, I hope both. Originally I saw the book as being a clear visual response to the COVID pandemic as it played out in Paris, and I asked the philosopher Raimond Gaita if he would write a short foreword. Raimond is best known for his memoir of a tough childhood in rural Victoria, ‘Romulus, My Father’, which became a successful movie. He offered instead to write a major essay around the deeper meaning of the pandemic, of how it might be seen as representing love and hope in human beings everywhere. That wonderful essay, ‘Assessing Our Humanity’, sits quite rightly at the heart of the book, so that my Paris images become also a visual metaphor for the world and its response to events we still cannot fully understand.


The book is rather unique in that it’s a collaboration between a photojournalist and a philosopher: as a street photographer, you have to act decisively, impulsively, whereas the philosopher spends his life thinking deeply about the nature of things. By turning the COVID discussion away from the medical and the political, together we’ve given voice to something much deeper in all of us, our need for a common humanity.


Video trailer for the exhibition:


WHAT: Our Hearts Are Still Open / Nos Cœurs Sont Toujours Ouverts photographic exhibition

WHERE: Kirribilli Centre Gallery, 16-18 Fitzroy Street, Kirribilli, Sydney. By rail: Milsons Point
Station. Parking is limited.

WHEN: 14 November – 5 December 2021.

The viewing hours for the exhibition are as follows:
Sunday 14th November 1 – 5pm
Monday 15th November 12 – 2pm
Thursday 18th  November 12:30 – 2:30pm
Sunday 21st November 1 – 5pm
Monday 22nd November 12 – 2pm
Thursday 25th November 12:30 – 2:30pm
Sunday 5th December 1- 5pm

HOW: Simply attend the exhibition during its opening hours. Please note that NSW Government COVID-19 regulations apply.



Will you be attending the Our hearts are still open exhibition?


For other events happening around Australia and online in November, take a look at our  What’s on in November article.



Enter your email to subscribe to new article notifications about all things French and francophone in Australia

Our Hearts are Still Open - Tony Maniaty
Image: (c) Tony Maniaty