As well as flying the Australian flag in France, Stephen Brady is Canberra’s envoy to Algeria, Mauritania, Monaco and Morocco: a combined area roughly the size of the entire EU. Fortunately he doesn’t have to commute very far when he’s in Paris: just a couple of floors separate his top-floor residence from the embassy offices. The lift doors open into the latter’s cavernous drawing room, bathed in light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Striking Indigenous Australian paintings warm the white walls and a sculpture called “The Donut II”, by contemporary artist Brook Andrew, occupies a central glassed-off area.
Supported by Peter Stephens, his partner of more than 30 years, Brady took up the post in 2014. Since then the reception rooms have been put to almost continuous official use, with visits from some two dozen Australian ministers. That’s more than to either London or Washington; evidence, says Brady, of a growing strategic interest between the two countries.
In April 2016 Australia awarded the 21st century’s largest defence deal to France in the form of 12 submarines; Brady notes that the Australian PM and French president compared the €37bn deal to a 50-year marriage. The announcement was made at the same time as the first state visit of an Australian governor-general to France, itself timed to coincide with First World War centenary commemorations.
“We face similar issues,” says Brady. “The Paris and Nice terrorist attacks involved Australian casualties and right now there is no closer area of co-operation than that of counter terrorism.” Economic diplomacy is also at the heart of Brady’s work and it is a mission he seems to relish; the EU is Australia’s largest source of foreign investment and its second-largest trading partner. “If you take a ferry in Sydney, a bus in Adelaide or a tram in Melbourne, you are aboard a French-built means of transport. Similarly, an Australian company co-owns the Paris to Lyon highway.”
Circulating a plate of madeleines and cannelés interspersed with blueberries, Brady turns the discussion to another aspect of his work: promoting Australian culture and sport. Recent visitors to the embassy have included the Indigenous Australian Bangarra dance company, a delegation of up-and-coming Australian fashion designers and the national rugby team. “Everyone wanted to meet the Wallabies,” says Brady. “Like us, the French love rugby and the invitations to that reception were highly sought after.”
Another coveted invitation is the Bastille Day rooftop barbecue every 14 July. The seemingly unlikely decision by French officials to celebrate their national day sipping Aussie wine may be to do with the setting: with the Eiffel Tower just 400 metres away, the terrace offers one of the best views in town.
The main building was designed by architect Harry Seidler and completed in 1977. It is on the banks of the Seine in the 15th arrondissement.
A cadre of 56, of whom 16 are envoys from various government ministries in Canberra.
“My mandate is to build relationships so as to obtain rapid decision-making on issues of importance to Australia’s national interests.”
Year built: 1961
Architects: Walter Gropius and Pericles Sakellarios (consultant)
The fact that Walter Gropius, the father of international modernism, was chosen to deliver a gleaming new embassy for the US in Greece shows the ambition of this project. Its price tag – $1m when first planned in 1957 – garnered headlines in The New York Times.
The building is made up of a square podium suspended by white columns; the cladding is in the same brilliant white Pentelic marble used for the Parthenon. Gropius said that “modernism was a vehicle for regional expression” – and all materials and craftsmen were local. Of particular note is a beautiful turned-wood stair railing made from Greek pearwood. The embassy was extensively restored and extended by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects in 2013.
Monocle comment: This set a sober yet jubilant tone to an American modernism that was to become a theme in many diplomatic missions. Today it is both prominent and inconspicuous enough to be able to function as the archetypal big embassy.
Canada is backtracking after implementing visa restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians visiting the country: it’s threatened its relationship with the EU. All conditions will be lifted by the end of the year.