In 1973, when she was just 15 years old, Leonie became the first woman employed as an apprentice at Bennelong, the Opera House’s famed restaurant.
“I finished the School Certificate on Friday and went to work on Monday at Bennelong restaurant,” Leonie, now 65, recalls.
At the time, she was only one of four female trainee chefs in NSW.
“I was instructed on the technique for cutting vegetables, and of course I was very slow for the first few weeks. I then began to slice a never-ending supply of 20kg bags of carrots, onions and zucchini. There were plenty of cut fingers and onion tears for many months as I learnt to master the technique and build up speed.”
In her position Leonie was invited to attend many shows at the spectacular venue, including opera, ballet and plays. Leonie was so inspired by the performers that she went on to study opera at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music.
“I was totally captivated by the music, the singing, the extravagant sets, and costumes. I had been taking singing lessons for about a year, and this show [War and Peace] sparked my love of opera,” she explains.
“Later I went on to study opera and sang with English National Opera chorus in London and several shows with the Opera Australia chorus.”
Eventually, Leonie traded her chef’s uniform and the stage for a headset and has been working as a tour guide and front of house attendant at the Opera House since 2002.
“It’s always gratifying when people have a special dream of visiting the Opera House … it exceeds their expectations, and I’m able to be a part of that experience,” she shares.
Even after so many years, Leonie says the magic of working at the Opera House has never faded.