Melbourne's Bastille Day Festival

The crème de la crème of French culture at your doorstep.

French version

This article has been published exclusively by the Courrier Australien and the Alliance Française de Melbourne.

On the 15th and 16th of July, the Bastille Day Festival will return to Melbourne for its third year, with a fresh program of events and a new location: North Melbourne’s iconic Meat Market venue. The festival’s project manager Charlotte Diethelm gives us a run down of some of the highlights and its little secrets.
Does it still make sense to celebrate Bastille Day today?

Yes, of course, especially in Australia! It’s a way of getting closer to France, even if we’re 18,000 kilometres away. For me, it’s also an opportunity to talk about France’s history, its present and its future with all of its ambassadors, who are the French people here. I’ll add that Bastille Day is the only non-political and non-religious event that brings us all together in a festive way… a bit like Australia Day.

How is this festival different to the other French events that happen in Melbourne?

It is a voluntary and community based event, not a commercial one. Initially, Bastille Day was celebrated separately by the [French] associations in Victoria. Each one would organise a celebration in their area. It was such a shame! Three years ago, they all came together with the support of our Honorary Consul General, Myriam Boisbouvier-Wylie, and it was decided that we’d organise a big celebration together, which made more sense really – I’ll spare you the details about how it is being coordinated now.  

What’s new this year?

First of all, we have changed the venue. We were previously at the State Library, but we will now be at the Meat Market, a magnificent building that offers us 2500 square metres to set up in. Secondly, the festival is now organised by the Alliance Française de Melbourne, which is able to contribute both its experience in event management and its reputation. We also have a new program of conferences and workshops, an art gallery, a kids’ corner, musical performances… and the cherry on the cake is the presence of Paul Taylor, a very well known British comedian who makes fun of French idiosyncrasies (in jest) in his videos ‘What the F*** France’. Visitors will be able to meet him, have a photo taken and attend one of his shows.

One of the other changes is also the entry fee…

Yes this is true. The entry fill will now be $2 to cover part of the costs. As for the conferences, they will be $5. During the first year, a lot of people reserved spots and didn’t show up. With this ticketed system, we’re trying to ensure that those who sign up will actually come. It’s also a way of acknowledging the quality of the speakers. This being said, a lot of the events will be free, particularly those for children. Take note that the Alliance Française will also be organising a workshop unlike any other: ‘Pardon My French’ which will be teaching the language in a colourful and playful way.

In 2016, the festival was marked by the attack in Nice, do you think this will still weigh on people’s minds this year?

Of course we will think about it. Regardless of the physical distance, we were all very affected by this event last year. Despite everything, life goes on and France has to continue to shine, and to keep flying the flag for liberty, equality and fraternity. With our Australian friends, I would say that “fraternity” is particularly important! We have a close connection, tied to the battles we fought together during the last two world wars. We have all the reason to maintain our solid relationship… and to celebrate together.

Is there anything missing from this year’s festival?

I’ve celebrated many Bastille Days, especially in Brittany, and one of the biggest moments of the day revolves around the ball! I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to organise this component… but obviously we had to find the venue first. I’m crossing my fingers that it will be possible next year.

One last message for our Australian readers?

The statistics show that 1.5 million Australians visited France in 2016. Rather than getting on a plane, they now have the opportunity to discover our culture at their doorstep. It will be a sociable occasion with the best of our representatives. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the participation of our Belgian, Swiss, and Mauritian friends. The festival is French, but our Francophone partners play a big role.

Charlotte’s top 3 picks for the Bastille Day French Festival this year:

1. The savoir-vivre of French Tables with Christofle on the 16th of July at 3:30pm
2. The Gallery 17 which will be exhibiting the best French artists in Victoria
3. And everything else, the workshops on desserts, cheese, wine... and Champagne of course!

Bastille Day French Festival
Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 July 2017, 10am – 5pm
Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne – One stop from the free tram zone.
For Paul Taylor tickets click here. For conferences and workshop reservations click here.

*Photo : Charlotte Diethlem in front of the festival poster
Article by Valentine Sabouraud
Translated into English by Ilaria O'Brien

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