WORDS TIM WILLIAMS
PHOTOGRAPHY MATT TURNER
The dark blue timber facade of La Buvette stands out along Adelaide’s Gresham St. Surrounded by historically beautiful — but mostly run down — buildings, the style of the French bar’s exterior is exquisite, chic and, most of all, authentic.
Authenticity was important for business owners Dominique Lentz and his Adelaide-born wife, Hayley, when they opened the wine bar about two years ago. “People are tired of that image of France with the baguette and the beret and the bicycle,” he says. “(La Buvette) is like you are walking into a trendy wine bar in Paris, which surprises people because they say ‘You are not playing French music’. And I say ‘Yes it is, but it’s French hip-hop. Sometimes they have English in French music’.”
Mr Lentz, 37, who hails from Alsace, France, met his wife while he was on a working holiday visa, then ran a few businesses in Sydney before settling in Adelaide in 2011. Positioned between Adelaide’s hectic Hindley St and the city’s cultural boulevard that is North Tce, La Buvette, which is French for simply “the bar”, has been part of the renaissance of the bar scene in the city’s west end. “When I first moved here there was not really much happening, but it was still a very pretty and attractive city,” Mr Lentz says. “The last four years the growth has been exponential.”
La Buvette is only one of the many links between Adelaide and France that are finding their joie de vivre of late. The biggest of them all is, of course, French shipbuilder DCNS’ winning bid to be Australia’s international partner on the Future Submarines project, set to deliver 12 new boats.
The 30-year, $50 billion project will create 3000 jobs in SA, including 1700 at the Osborne shipyard in Adelaide’s northwest, with construction to start in the mid-2020s. That submarine deal has spurred the South Australian Government to develop a French Engagement Strategy, aiming to leverage the relationship with DCNS to develop ties with France, ranging from defence and trade to education and the arts.
A few kilometres south of the city, Highgate Primary and Unley High are the two schools which have been chosen for the state’s first bilingual French program, a voluntary scheme where children are being taught significant portions of the curriculum in French in order to become fluent.
Highgate launched the program this year with 50 children across Reception and Year 1. Principal Phil Johansen has been delighted by how quickly the junior primary kids are picking up the language. “It’s children speaking lots and lots of French words already,” he says, adding he is hopeful of forging ‘sister school’ links with the port town of Cherbourg, so students from both countries can exchange letters and videos.
Education Minister Susan Close is quick to point out the benefits: “The State Government wants to enrich the academic, cultural and linguistic experiences of our students and foster their development as global citizens, while ensuring the Future Naval Shipbuilding program is a success in every possible way. By offering the bilingual/binational program … we are opening doors to travel, culture and employment.”
Highgate Primary is expected to attract dozens of children of DCNS staff within a few years. The school is in the Unley Council area, where Mayor Lachlan Clyne wants French expat families to settle.
The council supports an annual French Christmas market, is planning regular French film screenings at its town hall, and has already mounted a Tintin exhibition at the local museum. Unley is also developing printed materials in French promoting the area, and is sourcing French magazines for its libraries.
To add to its relationship with Alliance Francaise d’Adelaide, which is already based in the district, Unley is hoping to attract the Creative France organisation to occupy a council-owned cottage on its village green.
“One of the things we are looking at is having an artist in residence at the cottage, and engaging with local schools through French art and literature as well,” Mr Clyne says.
Back in the city, Adelaide University has just formed a partnership with the KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux, enabling exchanges, study tours and joint projects for students, teachers and researchers. “The partnership provides our industries with opportunities to build relationships with one of the world’s most renowned wine regions, and opens the door for international industry placements and access to global leaders in wine business,” Dean of the Adelaide Business School Professor Mark Gabbott says. “It may be the most exciting outcomes of this partnership are those we are yet to discover; knowledge sharing and research collaboration ensure endless possibilities.”
SA Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith says the State Government is investing $4 million in the French Engagement Strategy. “A new chamber of commerce has been attracting French heavy hitters to South Australia as industry and government forge new economic ties around the $50 billion Future Submarine contract,” Mr Hamilton-Smith says. “Membership in the newly activated French Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has grown from zero to 20 state council members within a year, attracting major French companies including Pernod Ricard and Schneider Electric.”
Most recently, the State Government and Adelaide City Council unveiled a plan to transform Gresham St — the home of La Buvette — into a French quarter. “It would be great to be able to create a little touch of Paris in Adelaide,” Premier Jay Weatherill enthused when announcing the idea.
While Mr Lentz backs the French quarter idea, he says it must not become a “theme park”.