Deceased September 21, 2019
Jean-Paul Delamotte, writer, literature lover and staunch promoter of Australian culture in France, died in Boulogne-Billancourt (France) age 87.
His life began Oct. 21, 1931, and ended Sept. 21, 2019. Jean-Paul Delamotte died one month before his 88th birthday in his home in Boulogne surrounded by his lifelong passions—literature and his wife, Monique, whom he had met when she was an 18 year old and he, a handsome 33, at the Boulogne Film Studios. Their house in Boulogne hosted thousands of Australian authors, publishers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, politicians and diplomats, whom the Delamottes introduced to French counterparts in an attempt to make Australian culture known to French intellectual and political spheres throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
The Delamottes had moved to Australia in the 1970s, boarding a boat in Genoa on a six- week journey, to arrive in Perth and across Australia on the Indian-Pacific, all the way to Newcastle, North of Sydney, where they were to teach—French literature and Cinema for Jean-Paul, French classes for Monique. They had applied for work at three Australian universities with introduction letters from French writer Ionesco and NYU Prof. Serge Doubrovsky, and Prof. Ken Dutton in Newcastle had replied first. They discovered a mining city with a convict past, one of Australia’s oldest cities with landmark buildings, charming windy streets, majestic fig trees, stunning beaches and a beautiful university. (A good hospital too, where Monique gave birth with a view over the ocean.) The emerging art scene of the 1970s was at full speed, they were greeted by the local newspaper and treated as friends and felt immediately at home. Their strongest friendships were born there and then, with such exceptional people as book award winner, now an Australian literature classic Frank Moorhouse, and architect, art defender and community saver Brian Suters. Oh, the times they had!
When a few years later family difficulties back in France brought the couple back to Paris, the Delamottes endeavored to promote Australian literature and culture to French literati—who thought that French literature should be world renowned but made no effort to reciprocate and acknowledge the value of other literatures. Jean-Paul Delamotte became a pioneer in the move to open literature to otherness. French Publisher Philippe Picquier, champion of Asian literatures in France, wanted to meet him in his early days. Jean-Paul became a staunch promoter of cultural reciprocity. He lobbied diplomats and personalities like former president Jacques Chirac, a friend from his university days at Paris’s Sciences Po. He was a great admirer of committed Francophile Gough Whitlam; reciprocating, Margaret Whitlam granted her patronage to the Association culturelle franco-australienne which he launched with Monique in the early 1980s.
Jean-Paul had briefly studied at Science Po before his studies were interrupted by military service in Algeria. Upon his return, he had thought to apply for the degree anyway, and when the head of the school refused, 20-year-old Jean-Paul proceeded to say, “Je me considère comme diplômé de votre école, Monsieur!” and left. He later earned a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, but his fondest school memories were of Amherst College and Harvard. Thanks to composer Darius Milhaud, a relation of his beloved and well-connected grandmother, he had found a teaching assistant job there. Not only had he had the pleasure to observe American girls, but he had hitchhiked all around the United States and Canada with a board saying “French Student” which seemed to attract enough interest.
He had discovered literature in his grandparents’ library in an old house of Boulevard d’Auteuil, in Boulogne-Billancourt, in the leafy west of Paris. He had spent his wartime childhood with limited schooling but quality education and love, in the privileged surrounds of a country house garden where the donkey was called Kiki and the pig, Adolf. He was 14 when his father had returned from the war and walking towards him on a country road, he was uncertain that he would recognize him. His childhood taught him a staunch love for freedom which his parents did not understand. He started a diary at the age of 14, and literature always was a part of his life. He published books with publishers Plon and Gallimard, thanks to the patronage of Jean Paulhan, and knew Beckett, Roy and Ionesco. But when this old generation gave way, he found less support in publishers and made a living from working in the film industry as a managing producer. When publishers in the 1990s and 2000s asked him to handle the Australian collections they were setting up, he declined, out of fear of being constrained.
Convinced that he would not attain fame but would leave his novels for later generations to discover, he rediscovered and published forgotten authors, and grateful for the encouragements he’d received as a young author, he helped others. Paul Wenz, a writer from Reims, better known in Australia as Paul Warrego, was also a station owner and cattle breeder near Forbes, NSW. Thanks to Jean-Paul, Wenz now has a street by his name in his hometown and his books have been revived and translated. La Petite Maison, the Delamotte small press, also published young Australian authors (Chris Andrews, Maurelia Meehan, Bill Laganza and more) to help them thrive and famous Australian ones (Katherine Susannah Prichard, Robert Brissenden, John Rowland and more—and JP’s contemporaries Frank Moorhouse, David Malouf and more), to promote their names in France. Jean-Paul translated Marcus Clarke and Frank Moorhouse into French and had them published by well-known French publishers. He was central in organizing a literary event, the Australian edition of the Belles étrangères literary festival in Paris in 1990 and many others (including the noteworthy publication of two special issues of the Nouvelle Revue Française by Gallimard). He subtitled many Australian films such as Peter Weir’s. The Delamottes lobbied for the medal of the City of Paris to be given to painter Lloyd Rees and for the distinction of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres to be awarded to singer Joan Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. Future consuls and ambassadors or French literary celebrities such as Bernard Pivot, would come through the Boulogne house, which acted as an Australian cultural centre. Jean-Paul was made honorary fellow of Macquarie University, Kelver Hartley Fellow by Newcastle University and a member of the Order of Australia (AM) by the Australian government. Most of all, he was loved by wonderful Australians and loved them back.
He wrote his whole life—novels, short stories, essays, poetry. His diary is thousands of pages long. Thanks to Monique’s devotion, he remained to the end in his peaceful home in Boulogne and stopped living when he could no longer write, talk or type.