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 ( Ed: actually ten ) 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 ...
• What Will says ... He’s out of touch, Premier Hodgman tells the ABC ... 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 t, in Comments: I will repeat my observation from the time of the Baroque funding debacle. Will Hodgman and Luke Martin never even bothered to pick up the phone to discuss the funding. Leo Schofield found out about the decision through the media. Will and Luke have forfeited their right to an opinion now.
• John Hayward, in Comments: Though Hobart, with its size, setting and MONA, might otherwise seem the best place in Australia for the only Baroque festival in this hemisphere, one has to remember that it is governed by a party which detests culture as much as it does the natural environment. Even the fabled Liberal Party avarice takes a back seat to their suspicious spite toward a festival attracting both interstate and international visitors. As a consolation, First Dog and the Moon this morning ( here ) addressed his weekly tribute to local efforts to finish off the swift parrot. Wood chips are the next big thing.
• Editor: The Gala Concert to open Brisbane Baroque next weekend is dedicated to the memory of Hobart Baroque friend and supporter,the late Peter Underwood AC, former Governor of Tasmania. Four Tasmanian artists are featured on the Festival program, Bryony Dwyer, Nicholas Tolputt, Julia Frederrsdorf and Will Hewer. And all those generous Tasmanians who supported Hobart Baroque for the past two years are acknowledged in the program.
• Chris Harries, in Comments: Tasmania prides itself on its developing art culture but is not quite there yet. The broad Tassie population is not, nor is our politics. It’s probably true that most Tasmanians would prefer woodchips to baroque – given a choice of the two. In political circles there is a lingering deep perception that success in art and culture symbolises a failure to develop industrially. This fault line runs through everything, and has been so since the early 1970s. It’s our leprosy. He has his failings but Leo stood at the other end of that thought spectrum. He lost.
• Chris Harries, in Comments: MONA is not a good example, John. One person showing brilliantly what you can do if you have wacks of money to do it and don’t need to rely on government sponsorship. Yes, there is a good strong arts community in Tasmania, but arts generally can be considered a small niche part of our economy and political culture as yet. It does have a keen following, albeit it’s far from mainstream. Adelaide, Melbourne do it much better. Brisbane is more deserving than Tasmania is, so good luck to them, even if Hobart may be more suited to that genre. It is also true that those larger states compete strongly for any entertainment and can afford to fork out greater sponsorship. Some of this issue comes down to Tasmania’s size.
• Hans Willink, in Comments: Perhaps it’s time for all to take a chill pill and allow Leo’s comments to just pass like water off a ducks back. Leo is a 79 year old philanthropist who dedicated 2 years of his life, without any pay, to plan and conduct a successful new Arts festival in Tasmania. He still deserves our thanks, no matter what has happened since. His dummy spit at not receiving additional State Government funding is understandable but in the long term, not receiving that funding will hopefully be seen as a good thing. Good for Brisbane, good for the Baroque festival’s longevity and good for the country if the festival were to be held in a different State Capital each year. I look forward to the return of the Baroque festival to its State of Origin in 7 years time, by which time all of our bogans will have transformed into urbane sophisticates, Leo will be a sprightly 86 year old and all will be forgiven.
• Chris Harries, in Comments: Folk music = good music. Baroque music = snobbery. Isn’t that another kind of snobbery? Go back 300 years and baroque music was folk music. Leo has gone, so we are talking past tense. His biggest mistake was being politically outspoken and then applying for funds. He should have studied what happens when you mix oil and water. Anybody who is outspoken pays a price. Regardless…. if I was a Tasmanian politician who had to look at bang for bucks I would pragmatically chuck public money into football or horse racing, not into the arts. It’s who we are.
• Pilko, in Comments: And today as local ABC radio broadcasters like Polly Mcgee joined Tasmania’s provincial media in the lynching of Leo Schofield over his &400K; arts subsidy snub anger the Tasmanian govt announced a $1M taxpayer freebie to a single Launceston native forest logging enterprise. Yup.
• Claire Gilmour, in Comments: #15 He didn’t lose, he’s still there, his achievements are still there … Tasmania lost … because of political and their bureaucratic wankers! # 17 If you don’t understand the architecture of the buildings, then you don’t understand the architecture of the meanings of history, let alone the architecture of the future … and life ! Our built and natural heritage based on the ‘hard yards’ … It should be remembered and very much considered … then there is the ol’ adage … it takes 3 generations to create it and 3 generations to break it … and then … … start again … … I suggest it’s about respecting the past, our natural heritage and building upon for the future … something our current government has apparently no concept of … lest the adage … simple minded men (some call them bogans) standing for simple minded people voting for them. # 21 even more sad for men without (apparently) real balls to write without saying their real name against a man who has the guts to come out and say it as it really is …
• Brian Inder, in Comments: Eat your heart out Leo Schofield. Sheffield’s International Mural Fest is all set to become another resounding success for this coming year, attracting as it always has tens of thousands of visitors from interstate and overseas. And now the Chinese and Asian markets are about to descend on us. All our own work. A small rural town of only 6,000 people; already recognised as Australia’s most successful small rural community. Fifty volunteers run Mural Fest and keep it afloat without sponging so much as a cent from the state government, and they don’t throw hissy fits either. Now the festival is about to go truly international with Clive Palmer’s party stepping up to be our ambassadors to the world. Not bad for a bunch of “dregs, bogans and third-generation morons”.
• Lynn Hayward, in Comments: #30. Enough of the “old woman” analogy if you don’t mind! Leo Schofield may have reacted like a bit of a “grumpy old man”, but one with an international reputation for excellence from his well-regarded directorship of 11 Arts festivals in his career. The national radio is full of references to and stories about the now Brisbane Baroque Festival which is attracting international attention as the only festival of its type in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the three most prominent counter-tenors in the world is appearing. Tasmania had a great opportunity here for a long-term event which would have continued to develop and grow and attract wide interest. We have squandered it for the want of an amount of support that, let’s be honest, the current government wouldn’t have had any difficulty at all in funding. So why didn’t it? There has been no plausible explanation. Just a rounding on the disappointed director. Anyway he and his festival have gone to greener pastures. Back to sleep everyone. Nothing to see here.
• ABC: Bogan flash mob planned for Brisbane Baroque festival as comeback to Leo Schofield spray A group of young Tasmanians has hit back at an extraordinary verbal spray from cultural identity Leo Schofield, who labelled the state “the land of bogans, dregs and third generation morons”. The artists, calling themselves Leo’s Bogan Brigade, are planning a “bogan flash mob” for the opening of Mr Schofield’s Baroque festival, which opens in its new home city of Brisbane on Friday.