An Aboriginal take on French impressionism - it's the big barramundi

This week I have been in Paris and it reminded me of my first visit.

This week I have been in Paris and it reminded me of my first visit.

As I jumped into the taxi at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip in 1972 I was busting to try out my schoolboy French.

But all that went out the window the moment I got in. There, sitting in front of me, in the front passenger seat with its back to the windscreen and its eyes locked onto mine, was a huge black Alsatian dog.

I hadn't planned on sharing, but I decided on this occasion I might.

"Argent, argent," said le cabbie.

The dog's ears twitched, but its deadly stare didn't move from my face. If anything it just breathed harder.

"Ah Jean," I said. "Nice Jean. There's a boy."

And then, with recovering confidence I said, "Tres bon, Jean."

The female taxi driver seemed a little perplexed but overall quite happy for a Parisian in a service industry.

The rest of the trip was spent in unblinking silence - me and the dog staring each other down as the little Citroen honked its way around the boulevards and back streets at hair-raising speed.

It was only when I tried to hand over my Amex card outside my Left Bank digs and le cabbie started shouting "argent" again, that I realised that she was asking for cash (argent), not reintroducing her dog, whose name I never got in the end.

Taxis cop a fair bit of criticism all around the world and more than their fair share of abuse at times. My cabbie in Paris sure had come up with effective protection from any out-of-control, claret-filled conventioneers who were flooding the city of light.

But the occasion for my most recent arrival in Paris was far more enlightened and expansive than the 1972 conference of media buyers. It was the unveiling of the largest Australian indigenous public artwork in the world on the roof of the Musee du quai Branly that stands beside the River Seine in the 7th arrondissement- slap bang in the middle of the city, in other words.

Warmun woman Lena Nyadbi had already changed the streetscape of Paris with her embossed-style footprints over the three-storey wall of the museum which president Jacques Chirac commissioned to celebrate the world's first peoples and personally opened in 2006.

Seven years and 9.3 million visitors later, the president of the museum, Stephane Martin, wanted to make one more statement to the world about the artistic genius of indigenous peoples and Australian Aborigines in particular.

With the support of private patrons and the Australian government, he commissioned Lena to create a new work stretching across almost 700 square metres to cover the roof of the Musee du quai Branly so that the 8 million people who visit the Eiffel Tower each year will cop an eyeful of huge and beautiful art.

Lena's picture is called Barramundi Scales and was presented to the French people last week by its Australian patron and sponsor - your humble columnist.

I have no doubt that it will become as famous as Blue Poles, but far more accessible, as it is a permanent feature of one of Paris' most prestigious modern public buildings.

Our indigenous people have suffered much hardship but their contemporary art is a resurgence of spirit that has already won huge international respect. Their culture has much to offer the world in so many disciplines.

Australia can be easily forgotten in the northern hemisphere but moves such as this with the Musee du quai Branly will do much to keep us front and centre. Barramundi Scales will become one of the most famous paintings in the world and it will be there for the world to see as long as Paris stands.

As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, "We will always have Paris."

And I am pleased to add that Paris will always have the big barramundi.

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