We hate you too, Leo

In Attractions, Australian Domestic Tourism, Community, Harmonisation, Media and Communications, Momentum, National Headlines, Tasmania

Photo of Leo Schofield from smh.com.au

TTN, 7th April 2015: Tasmanians have hit back at long-time snob Leo Schofield after he called Tasmania a land of ‘dregs, bogans and third-generation morons’ after he left the island. Schofield’s Baroque Festival failed to secure year-on-year funding increases from the government in the state and has now moved to Brisbane. It appears that Leo failed to strike the essential tourism balance – between initiating economic development, cultivating high-end (expensive) facilities, amenties and entertainment – and not treading on toes of locals.

The ABC story below is followed by a Sydney Morning Herald profile promoting the Baroque move to Brisbane.

Tasmania a land of ‘dregs, bogans and third-generation morons’, Leo Schofield says

From abc.net.au, 4th April 2015

Tasmania is a land of “dregs, bogans and third-generation morons”, according to well-known Australian cultural identity Leo Schofield, who said a decade spent living in the state left him feeling bitter and depressed.

Mr Schofield, a longtime restaurant critic and festival curator, was speaking to ABC News after an article published in Fairfax Media today quoted him as saying his experience in Tasmania “was probably the unhappiest episode of my life”.

“I think I came very close to either a nervous breakdown or suicide. I just started to fall apart,” he told Fairfax.

The 79-year-old, who set up the Baroque festival in Hobart, said Tasmanians had no respect for their heritage buildings or the environment.

He finally decided to return to New South Wales after the Tasmanian Government cut the festival’s funding by 25 per cent, to an offer of $300,000.

He had been looking for a significant increase for the 2014 festival from the $400,000 the Government had previously provided.

The Baroque festival has since moved to Brisbaneafter a group of arts organisations offered additional cash to secure the event for the city.

He said the rejection hit him hard and his daughters convinced him to return to Sydney.

“I was in a bit of a bad way, and she [my eldest daughter] and her two sisters come down and effectively intervened and gave me a ticket and said ‘get back up to Sydney, we don’t want this to keep going’,” he said.

“I was on anti-depressants and drinking rather too much and not in really good shape, I must say.

“It was a terrible blow when we were informed, not even officially or through a direct source, that the Government was going to whack 25 per cent off the grant that we had for the last one.”

Mr Schofield said the whole experience left him feeling bitter and depressed, and he stood by his comments that Tasmanians were bogans who did not like mainlanders.

“Well, it’s not difficult to see,” he said.

“Look at Australia’s Biggest Bogans and see where most of them come from on that television show.

“There’s almost sometimes a celebration of mediocrity evident in some areas, and a feeling we’re absolutely perfect as we are and we don’t want anyone coming here telling us how to do anything.”

Premier Will Hodgman said Mr Schofield was out of touch.

“Leo Schofield’s comments are derogatory, ignorant and right out of step with what the vast majority of people are saying about Tasmania,” he said.

Mr Hodgman also refuted Mr Schofield’s claim that the Government had chosen to cut the funding to his event.

“The Government is a strong supporter of the arts and while we were disappointed that Mr Schofield chose to leave the state after being offered the exact same amount of public funding for his event, there is much more to celebrate and look forward to in Tasmania,” he said.

Schofield spat the dummy: Tourism chief

Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania hit back at Schofield accusing him of “blatant mistruths”.

“I think it’s a bit of petulance coming through and I guess a bit of settling some scores against the state,” he said.

“It think it was quite an extraordinary outburst and to do this in a national newspaper like this it is really a bit unbecoming.”

Mr Martin said Mr Schofield had a very positive influence on the state and his comments were disappointing.

“Leo’s got a bad case of sour grapes and it’s unfortunate because he did actually make a really positive contribution to Tasmania for a long time,” he said.

Mr Martin said Mr Schofield was alone in his assessment of Tasmanians.

“Sydneysiders are coming down to Tasmanian in unprecedented numbers and … they see something down here that’s quite exciting,” he said.

Asked if he had any plan to live in Tasmania again, Mr Schofield replied:

“No, no, no, no, no, I’m very happy back in the bustling metropolis of Sydney, back in Potts Point where I’ve lived for many years anyway, and where there are many people happy to see me, where elsewhere maybe they’re not.”

Baroque and bogans battle over the menu at lunch with Leo Schofield

www.smh.com.au 4th April 2015

Leo Schofield, the charming man once known as “Mr Sydney”, is unlikely ever to be called Mr Tasmania. He has recently returned to Potts Point after two years living in Hobart.

He moved south because there were beautiful buildings everywhere. “What I didn’t realise was Tasmanians don’t give a flying f— about their buildings, on the whole, any more than they did about their natural environment. Their two greatest assets are the natural and the built environment, and both of these are in the process of destruction by a bunch of bogans.”

His experience in Tasmania, he says, “was probably the unhappiest episode of my life”.

“I think I came very close to either a nervous breakdown or suicide. I just started to fall apart.”

We’re having lunch in the Bridge Room near Circular Quay. It’s a bit unnerving for me because Schofield is a pioneer restaurant reviewer, a celebrated foodie, a distinguished cultural figure and noted bon vivant, whereas I am none of those things. To make it worse, Schofield used to have his own regular feature, “Lunch with Leo”, in Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, in which he dined and drank with the great and the good, and also Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who brought his publicist with him.

Schofield, 79, has also been a successful advertising man, and he has run the Sydney Festival, the Melbourne Festival, and the Hobart Baroque festival, which this year became Brisbane Baroque. Schofield grew up in Brewarrina, NSW, a small bush town east of Bourke, where his parents owned a pub. Brewarrina used to be the end of the line of the NSW Railways network, and Schofield went back recently to refresh his memory for a memoir he plans to complete. It is even more isolated today. The line has closed and the station has burned down.

“Initially, I went to school at the local Catholic school,” he says, “which was called the Convent of Mercy, run by Mercy nuns who were, in fact, merciless. Poor bitches, they were dragged out from some boondocks of Ireland and shipped out to the boondocks of Australia. God knows what sort of a life they had. They had a rough time, I think, and so did we, as a consequence. They were mad with the birch.

“When I was eight,” he says, “I was despatched from Brewarrina to a Catholic boarding school which was a preparatory school for St Joseph’s at Hunters Hill. Again, more nuns but a different order. They were not quite so free with the strap.” His parents’ pub went bust, and the family came to Sydney when Schofield was 12, and ran a “ham-and-beef shop” in the inner west “because the German word ‘delicatessen’ was not attractive” in the 1940s, he says.

He went to Christian Brothers’ High School Lewisham, where the Brothers were “mostly reasonable”, he says, “but there was one particular sexual molester who, in today’s climate, would, I suspect, be immolated Savanarola-style in Martin Place for his extensive depredations. A terrible man. But we didn’t talk about it very much. There was a code of silence.” Schofield wanted to write, so he left school to take up a cadetship with the Herald, while he studied for a BA at Sydney University. He also enjoyed six months’ national service in the air force.

“I think it should be absolutely compulsory for all young people,” he says. “It would do them the power of good. Discipline is the greatest thing for health. You rose, bathed, shat, ate, worked, in that strict routine.” I point out it would be courting disaster to do it in a different order.

“It was like going to a health farm,” says Schofield.

He ended up finishing neither the cadetship nor the degree, and became an advertising copywriter instead. For lunch, Schofield orders ash-grilled duck. He says he doesn’t usually bother dining out on a dish he can cook at home, such as pasta, and he never makes duck. Since I can’t really cook anything, my choice is less restricted, but I plump for the Wagyu sirloin because I know what it is.

Schofield returned to Sydney University as the director of a theatre company, and met his wife, Anne, on one of his productions. They moved to London in the 1960s, because that’s what everyone else was doing, then returned to Australia after their first child was born. They missed London’s dynamic cultural life, but the arrival of twin daughters slowed them down a little anyway.

In the 1970s, while still working in advertising, Schofield began a parallel career as a newspaper columnist and restaurant reviewer. He says food criticism, like drama or music criticism, is important because it may end up as the only evidence that the performance – or the meal – ever existed.

“When I think of all the restaurants that I’ve known and eaten at in Sydney,” he says, “they’re now just memories: Primo’s, Romano’s, Prince’s – dozens of restaurants that used to have a reputation – are long gone. And the only record that exists of the type of customer they had, and the sort of food that they served, and the quality, and where they fitted in the big scheme of Australia’s development from a country that didn’t care much about food to one that’s almost obsessed about it now, is there in reviews.

“Dishes were incredibly popular that would not grace a menu anywhere anymore. When I grew up, the posh dishes were carpetbag steak or chicken in a basket or prawn cocktail. None of them are to be despised, they’re all terrific, but they’re out of fashion.”

Unfortunately, Schofield’s most famous restaurant review, published in this newspaper in 1984, led to a successful defamation action by the Blue Angel restaurant, which objected to Schofield’s dismissal of its lobster dish as, among other things, “close to culinary crime”. The restaurant and its owner were awarded $100,000 damages plus interest when the truth and comment defences failed.

“I’d like to be remembered for things other than that,” says Schofield. Did the experience change the way he reviewed restaurants? “It just moderated the language a bit,” he says.

But he received a lot of support, and Governor-General Bill Hayden invited him to stay at Government House, and he concedes he might have been “getting a little too cocky”.

“So I think it was a good thing, in way,” he says. “In the same way as I don’t think what happened in Tasmania was a good thing.” We’ll get to that.

Schofield and his wife broke up after 19 years. “I’m gay,” he says “but not in a proselytising way and many gay men would envy me for the fact that I’ve been able to have children.” Schofield loved living in Sydney and, in time, became a minor symbol of the city, like the Queen Victoria statue but with glasses on.

“The tourism people would ring me and say, ‘There’s someone coming from overseas, will you tell them about Sydney?’ I should’ve written a f—— book about the place.” At the same time, however, he had long been “absolutely obsessed, tremendously intrigued” by Tasmania. He had “a romantic view about architecture” and Tasmania has some of Australia’s loveliest historic buildings. “I must’ve made at least 60 trips down there,” he says, “and I looked at houses, and I had this romantic idea of buying something down there, and eventually, a couple of years ago, I did.”

Schofield, by now the veteran director of 11 arts festivals, suggested Hobart might take advantage of its grand heritage and stage a Baroque music festival. He won support from the tourism authority, and the 2014 festival garnered five Helpmann nominations, and one Helpmann winner. “They’d never had that for a Tasmanian event,” says Schofield, “except for a puppet theatre.”

Schofield hoped to expand the festival but the new Liberal government of Tasmania instead cut its funding by 25 per cent. “We were deeply wounded and shocked,” he says. “I worked nearly two years for nothing, and never even cashed a chit for a petty-cash cup of coffee. And it was supported by a lot of wonderful people down there, who shared the vision that the government wouldn’t. Anyhow, we threw up our hands and said, ‘We’re not going to do it anymore. F— you.”‘ An arts festival needs to secure performers years in advance, he says, and can’t survive without some guarantee of its budget.

“The whole process knocked me about terribly,” he says, “and I honestly started going to pieces. I was drinking, I was taking a lot of tablets, and stupidly driving when I was in no condition to drive. I was suffering from acute depression.” One of his daughters was working in Tasmania at the time, and she and her sisters “decided on an intervention”, plucked him out of Melbourne and spirited him back to Sydney.

At the same time, he was approached by Brisbane to take his baroque festival to Queensland. Astonishingly, within six weeks, they had moved the entire programme up the coast, in time for its launch on April 10. Schofield is bursting with praise for Queensland, but “still bitter” about Hobart. “Tasmania’s such a beautiful place,” he says. “It’s blessed as no other area in this country is blessed, and yet they can’t wait to dig it up, chop it down, sell it to the Chinese. All the young people leave, and the only ones left are the dregs, the bogans, the third-generation morons.” He plans to reserve a chapter in his memoirs for Tasmania. “I’m going to call it ‘Revenge of the Bogans’,” he says.

Life and times

1935 Born in Sydney

1962 Marries Anne, lives in London

1963 Daughter Nell born, returns to Australia

1965 Twins Emma and Tess born

1993 Starts three-year run as artistic director of Melbourne Arts Festival

1998 Begins four-year run as director of Sydney Festival

2000 Receives Order of Australia

2002 Loses 70 per cent of his stomach to cancer

2002 Publishes The Garden at Bronte

2013 Founds the Hobart Baroque festival

2014 Founds the Brisbane Baroque festival

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