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When Tully took on the French... and won

Cartoonist Zanetti’s take on the epic battle.
Cartoonist Zanetti’s take on the epic battle.

WHEN Goodna councillor Paul Tully smashed French champagne bottles opposite the Ipswich Turf Club 21 years ago it was a declaration of war.

It was a war then French president Jacques Chirac was to lose and Cr Tully and like-minded people around the world would win.

On June 13, 1995, Chirac announced to the world he would resume nuclear testing in French Polynesia and break a three-year moratorium.

Eight underground tests were planned for the South Pacific, including Mururoa Atoll.

Due to the time difference, the news broke in the early hours of the morning in Australia the next day and Ipswich City Council led the protests.

"We happened to have a 9am council meeting that day and we were probably the first government at any level in the world to move so quickly to ban the purchase of French goods or services," Cr Tully recalls.

"We put forward a special resolution to that effect.

"In Australia, within days, there was news of people boycotting French restaurants. French restaurants closed.

"I got some bottles of French champagne and went down to the reserve opposite the Ipswich Turf Club, and in front of the media smashed the bottles with a hammer."

The QT of June 15, 1995 reported that incident with a visual of Cr Tully in action, who was quoted as saying it nearly killed him to destroy quality French champers.

"When Australians start destroying alcohol you know we're serious about sending a message that we want a ban on all French products in Australia," Cr Tully says.

"The world's oceans are no place for the testing of nuclear weapons."

It was still night in France and England and because of that Ipswich was leading the world with the coverage and the protests.

"So our decision, plus the visuals of the bottle of champagne being smashed with a hammer, led their coverage of the breakfast news and daytime television," Cr Tully says.

Cr Tully was the president of the Australian Local Government Nuclear Free Zone Secretariat at the time, representing 112 nuclear free zone councils around Australia.

He is still active with the secretariat in an official capacity and recently told the QT that storing nuclear waste at Oman Ama, one of six sites slated by the Federal Government to store nuclear waste, was "an environmental disaster waiting to happen".

Back in 1995, Cr Tully hadn't finished with the French after smashing the champagne.

Several weeks later he burned a French flag before boarding the Western Express at the Port of Brisbane, a protest vessel bound for Papeete and the atoll.

The French were hardly impressed with his trip to Tahiti.

"As we were going over there we had a couple of French military aircraft swooping low above us to take photos," Cr Tully grins.

"We got to Papeete in Tahiti and we were probably lucky we weren't locked up for 10 years.

"They refused us fuel to go down to Mururoa.

"We weren't allowed off the boat and they seized our passports."

Peter Knott was a federal member at the time, who had flown in to Papeete.

"There was some buildings burned down at the Papeete airport and it was always alleged that he was a part of that conspiracy," Cr Tully says

"We could see the smoke in the distance as we came into Papeete, not knowing what was happening.

"We had live radio links back to Australia and I was giving these live reports from the boat about what we could see.

"We finally docked later that evening and the police were after Peter Knott.

"About 10am we saw this taxi speeding towards the dock and he came flying up the gangplank of the boat and he said 'hide me Tully. They are after me'."

The Western Star only had enough fuel to limp back to the Cook Islands.

"I was on the vessel as a crew member…and we had an engineer on the way over there to Papeete and the captain from Norway didn't like him," Cr Tully laughs.

"He reckoned the engineer was lying about the amount of fuel available, so he ordered me under maritime law to arrest the engineer and lock him up.

"I didn't study maritime law and I wasn't sure whether I could be locked up too for failing to obey the captain's direction.

"But just then the radio telephone rang and I said 'I've got to answer it'. That is how I got out of that."

The French did test six atomic bombs in the South Pacific.

But the international pressure, led by Ipswich, saw the French stop nuclear testing on February 22, 1996.

The French champagne, which evaporated outside the racecourse at Bundamba, ultimately quenched the thirst of all those who desire a nuclear free region.

Needless to say, Cr Tully has since returned to being a Francophile.

"All is forgiven and I love the French, now that Jacques Chirac is gone," he says.

Topics:  big read france paul tully