Down with the French, pariahs of the Antipodes

MELBOURNE DAYS

During a visit the other day to Melbourne, Australia's culinary capital, an old friend took me to one of the city's best French restaurants. As it was a Saturday night, and the restaurant is usually booked out weeks in advance, I counted myself fortunate. "You were lucky to get a table," I told her. "Oh, it was no problem," she replied. "They've had people ringing for days cancelling."

As we tucked into the Tasmanian seafood, I scanned the half-empty restaurant and the head waiter confirmed her story. "It's very sad what's been happening," he said. "We may be a French establishment, but we don't necessarily agree with what Chirac has done. And most of our employees are Australian people. They're the ones who are really being hit by these boycotts."

He was referring to something which has become a familiar pattern of Australian life since President Jacques Chirac announced three weeks ago that France would embark on a new round of underground nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, in French Polynesia, in September. His decision has rendered the French the pariahs of the Antipodes. Melbourne, with its penchants for gastronomic indulgence and political demonstration, has turned against the French in a big way.

Jacques Reymond, owner of one of the city's many French eating-houses, arrived one morning to find his windows spray-painted with the words "Steamed Genitals a la Carte". He laughed resignedly as he told me: "I've been in Australia for 13 years, and I'm as much against this stupid testing decision as anyone else. It's shocking. We don't need it. The South Pacific is a wonderful part of the world. Why violate it like this?"

Joelle Delongvert, with several other French restaurateurs who oppose the tests, has displayed a sign outside her restaurant declaring: "We do not support the French nuclear testing." Curiously enough, it was the French consulate which advised them to take this step as a security measure. At supermarkets across the country, French products such as yoghurt and cheese have been slashed to half price in a bid to win back buyers. After being fully subscribed, balls and dinners to mark Bastille Day on 14 July are being cancelled because organisers fear a backlash from flaunting so defiantly French an occasion.

Gary Steele, head of a Melbourne importing company, said he had cancelled an order for 48,000 bottles of French wine after his clients, supermarket chains, said they feared customer resistance if they displayed them. The wine had been targeted to compete against cheaper Australian brands whose prices have been forced up due to a drought-induced grape shortage. In this market, Australian drinkers are sticking rigidly to the likes of Jacob's Creek, quietly forgetting that Orlando, the South Australian vineyard from which it comes, is now controlled by Pernod Ricard of France.

Ever since French intelligence agents in 1985 sank the Rainbow Warrior, which was due to set out from New Zealand on a protest voyage to the Mururoa test site, anti-French feeling has never been far below the surface in the Pacific. As the Rainbow Warrior's successor sails to Mururoa this week to mark the 10th anniversary of that event, the latest Australian protests have been echoed through the region. New Zealand has warned the French not to fire on this Rainbow Warrior, as they have threatened to do, or else. Western Samoa and other island states have imposed embargoes on French goods. Paul Keating, the Australian Prime Minister, wrote an article in Le Monde on 28 June describing Mr Chirac's decision as "an assault on the rights of small nations by a large one" and "a regression to old colonial attitudes".

France has replaced the British monarchy as the politically incorrect order of the day in Australia. Compared with the passions aroused over the French tests, Mr Keating's republican campaign has become a somewhat small issue. The French seem to have forgotten, or ignored, the fact that the Pacific is a different place than in 1962, when they moved their test site to its coral atolls from Algeria after Algerian independence. Then it was full of island colonies. Now the only colonies left belong to France: New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

I'm glad that I made my Melbourne French-restaurant visit now. The way temperatures are rising, when the eight nuclear tests start in September and continue through to May, I doubt whether one will be able to be seen patronising anything French without being spat on.

ROBERT MILLIKEN

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence