New Zealand & France - strong links

New Zealand and France have a relationship that's as long as it is deep - a shared history that goes back to New Zealand's early days.

Kiwi - Gallic relations - between New Zealand and France - have a history that's long and deep.

Half a world away from each other, the two nations might not be obvious partners but for nearly a century they have shared a passionate history that's been sometimes bloody, sometimes divided and often profound.

Past resentments over the French nuclear test programme at Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific during the 1970s and 1980s, and bombing of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985, are now just memories of a dark past.

Today, relations between France and New Zealand are focused on mutual interest with the countries actively engaged in business and university exchanges, promoting strong political, trade and economic links, and collaborating in the Pacific in areas such as disaster relief and fisheries surveillance.

New Zealand is welcoming a steadily growing number of French tourists, and younger French and Kiwis are taking up increased opportunities to work in each other's country.

French battlefields

The strongest and most powerful link remains the bravery and courage of New Zealand soldiers who fought and died in the battlefields and trenches of France during the two world wars.

Almost a century ago, 12,000 young Kiwi soldiers travelled across the sea - from "the uttermost ends of the earth" - to fight and die on French soil during WWI. Twenty years later, New Zealand forces returned to France to take up position alongside their French allies during WWII.

War commemorations are an important feature of France / New Zealand relations. The project Shared Memory links New Zealand with France and other countries to keep alive the memories of the two world wars, and to ensure future generations understand the sacrifices made on French soil.

Opened in 2008 in Arras (northern France), the museum of the Carriere Wellington reveals an extraordinary tunnel system built in 1916 by the New Zealand Tunnelling Company.

The New Zealanders constructed the tunnels for 25,000 British and Commonwealth troops who attacked the German lines on Easter Monday 1917. While this offensive, one of many during the terrible Battle of Arras, was a success, there were huge casualty rates.

The Arras tunnels are an historic and moving testimony to an extraordinary and little known feat of Kiwi ingenuity. Their chalk drawings of maps, loved ones and poems are still visible today on the tunnel walls.

Le Quesnoy, another small town in northern France, has had strong Kiwi - French links since 1918 when it was liberated from German occupation by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. The New Zealand soldiers took the German garrison in a spectacular operation that included scaling the town's medieval ramparts with ladders.

The whole operation was completed with no loss of civilian life, and the people of Le Quesnoy remain indebted to New Zealand to this day. Many local streets and places have been renamed after New Zealand places and people.

Rugby rivals

New Zealand's strong links with France are also remembered through rugby.

The All Blacks played their first-ever rugby international against France in 1906. Under captain Dave Gallagher, the All Blacks team were the victors of that match.

Later Dave Gallagher returned to France to fight and die in WWI. Gallagher was killed in France and is buried in a Belgian war cemetery. His wartime sacrifice is commemorated by the Dave Gallagher Cup which is played between the All Blacks and France.

Whenever the All Blacks play a test match in France during the month of November they wear a red poppy on their sleeves.

French connections

The earliest French connection goes back to New Zealand's pre-European times.

In 1769 - more than a century after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 - French explorer Jean Francois de Surville became the first Frenchman to sight New Zealand.

This was the same year that the British explorer Captain Cook made landfall in New Zealand and, the saying goes, had the French been just a few days earlier, New Zealand's own colonial history could have been very different.

French pioneers were the first settlers at Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula, in New Zealand's South Island. Streets in the little town are labelled 'rue' and many locals have French names.

Cultural exchanges

On a cultural and more modern level, the Musee du Quai Branly, in Paris, features some spectacular works by Maori artists. New Zealand photographer Greg Semu was selected in 2007 as the museum's first 'artist in residence'.

New Zealand writers, films and film-makers are increasingly well known and admired in France.

New Zealand's most famous writer Katherine Mansfield lived and worked in France for some years, and died there in 1923. The Katherine Mansfield Fellowship - a joint literary fund between New Zealand and France - is awarded annually to a New Zealand writer to spend six months at Menton, in the south of France.

Many modern New Zealand authors such as Elizabeth Knox, Vincent O'Sullivan and Dame Fiona Kidman are known and frequently translated into French.

Peter Jackson's first film Brain Dead became a cult classic at film festivals throughout France. His Middle-earth trilogies - Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit - have also been popular in France.

More information

Akaroa: the French Connection

European influences on NZ wines

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