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New Delhi, Sep 18 (PTI) Seeking to engage Indians with the Australian culture, spanning food, music, theatre and heritage, a six-month-long mega festival was Tuesday launched by the country's envoy here, who emphasised that people-to-people ties would be the "defining feature" of the Indo-Australia ties.
Australia Fest, which builds on the Oz Fest held in 2012, will be hosted across 20 cities in India involving over 75 events.
"It has long been my conviction that connections between people will be the defining feature of the Australia-India relationship. With this festival, we aim to deepen the engagement between our two countries and further strengthen our people-to-people ties," Australia's High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu said.
Interacting with reporters at the High Commission, she also said that the grand event will be spanned across India from Delhi to Mumbai and Bengaluru to Aizawl.
"We have the economic and educational dimension and then we have the cultural dimension. And, our connection with India is deep, from students coming for study, or research collaborations between universities and other institutions, tourism to other fields," she said.
The envoy asserted that the centrepiece of the festival would be the tour of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, with performances in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Bangarra is Australia's leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance company, internationally acclaimed for combining ancient culture with powerful contemporary dance, immersive soundscapes, music and design.
On the tourism front, she said, Australia is becoming as a "popular destination" for Indians.
"From India, about 300,000 tourists visited India in 2017 and the number is growing rapidly. From Australia, about 280,000 people visited India last year," the ambassador said.
On the diaspora population in Australia, she said Australia has about 700,000 India-origin residents, of which 400,000-500,000 were born in India," she said.
Asked what was the size of the bilateral trade, she said, it stands at 27 billion Australian dollars, two-way.
On the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, she said, "Negotiations will take time... And, Australia is keen to have the FTA in the near future."
Asked if Australia has collaborated on the Smart City initiative of the Modi government, the envoy said, "We have not partnered with any city but we are engaging with it by providing technical know-how."
Also, Australia is engaging on the front of Skill India initiative as well, the envoy added.
On academic collaborations between institutions, she said, "The collaborations continue to grow...We are deeply engaging with IITs, among other institutions."
As of now, there are 68,000 Indian students studying in Australia and the number is increasing, she said.
The festival has three ambassadors, well-known author John Zubrzycki, Indian music composer Raghav Sachar and renowned Australian chef Gary Mehigan.
The Sydney-based author was present during the interaction Tuesday. His latest book 'Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns' on the legacy of Indian magicians will be released in the evening at the High Commission premises.
Celebrity chef Mehigan also interacted with reporters from Australia vis a video link and said he was looking forward to again visit India and engage with people on the cuisine of the two countries.
Other attractions of the festival that ends on March 30 will include the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow, best of Australian Cinema, Australian World Orchestra and exhibition on built heritage. PTI KND KJ