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When I first spoke to Barbara Cuckson, owner of the Rozelle School of Visual Arts in West Sydney, we were in the middle of Sydney’s second round of blockages.
This year, his dance school turned 50. She had been hoping to have a big reunion with past and present students coming to share their stories, but COVID-19 had other ideas.
For the first time since 1971, when the school opened with just 15 students, the former Salvation Army hall that the school called home was silent.
Barbara’s father, Eric Engel Cuckson, was a political refugee from World War II. He and his family arrived in Australia in 1949 and set up a zipper and machinery factory in St Marys, western Sydney.
But the factory was not just a factory. Eric Cuckson also provided social activities and housing for workers. He invited Gertrud Bodenwieser, who had also escaped the Holocaust, to found a school in his factory.
It was there, in her father’s factory, that Barbara learned to dance and began her teaching journey at just 14, when Gertrud passed away. When his father’s ill health forced him to sell the factory, the dance school needed a new home.
Rozelle is a hip suburb today but when Barbara started her school she was known to be popular. It was full of people who had emigrated from Greece and Malta as well as poor Australians.
Coming from a refugee background herself, the region resonated with Barbara. âThey were the kind of people I came from, poor people with big aspirations and a lot of energy and hope, and that was what Rozelle looked like,â she told me.
From now on, the restrictions are lifted, and once again the pupils cross the doors of the school of visual arts of Rozelle.
âPeople always say that when they walk in the door, they feel like the outside world doesn’t exist and they leave all their problems behind. And that’s exactly what it is,â he tells me. she.
“How privileged I have been to be able to do this and to be part of the Rozelle community, for so long.”
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