Notation for August 1st 1996
Some people have the ability to make you feel the most special
person in the world.
Alfred Ruskin made so many people feel they were valuable, they
were doing great things, and they should keep going and do even
When he died, suddenly and peacefully, early in May this year,
a force was lost to the arts world, to the dance world. Alfred
was a perfectionist himself, and he urged those in his personal
orbit to pursue excellence. Now he is gone we will lose some
of his transmitted impetus. The wide circle of his friends now
need to withdraw and regroup their emotions.
Geoffrey Ingram, the first administrator of the Australian Ballet,
said it all in his obituary notice in the Melbourne Age.
He described Alfred as "The Great Encourager".
Alfred Ruskin, always with his wife Pamela, (A Walkley award
winning writer and a leading contributor to Dance Australia
since its inception) was part of the life blood of the Australian
Ballet - a member of the Australian Ballet Foundation Board,
on countless sub-committees, involved in numerous projects. In
his ceaselessly alert way he was discerning, streetwise, lateral,
imaginative, big thinking, politically adept, and ambitious.
Ambitious for what? What do you mean? I hear you ask. Alfred
Ruskin was ambitious for the arts to prosper, ambitious for dancers
to flourish, ambitious for devotees to enjoy beauty, grace, movement,
music and all things good - ambitious to increase the sum total
of human happiness.
He exuded warmth, he exuded humour, he had his feet on the ground,
he talked straight; if you did bad, he had words to say.
He was eighty-two when he took his leave of us. I honestly can't
remember going anywhere of consequence - opening nights of ballet,
opera, drama, musical comedy, show biz or festivals - Alfred
and Pamela Ruskin (unless they were at La Scala or the Royal
Opera House) always seemed to be there - vitally interested,
full of comments, knowledgeable of the background, stimulated
by the event.
Friends and family had a wonderful birthday bash for his 80th.
And for us who are getting conscious of advancing age, he made
eighty seem young - he showed the world that one can still be
doing good and constructive things at eighty plus.
So Dance owes Alfred much. But aside from the focus of this magazine
he was also, inter alia, foundation Chairman of the Victoria
State Opera and Chairman of the Melba Conservatorium of Music,
President of the Australian and New Zealand Union for Progressive
Judaism, the bearer of an OAM, and a Green Room award. He was
married to a talented wife, he boasted a beautiful family, idiosyncratically
collected an amazing collection of owls - and many more things
Rabbi John Levi, at the synagogue service, told the assembled
gathering of how Alfred's father fought for Germany in the first
World War, was awarded the Iron Cross and other decorations for
valour. And how is this for gratitude, despite the fact that
he was a war hero, and just because he was a Jew, Hitler deported
him to Minsk and had him executed.
As a young Jewish medical student, Alfred, in 1938, came to Australia
because it was the farthest place on earth from Nazi Germany
and "man's inhumanity to man".
I have a mental picture of him on the wharf at Circular Quay
in Sydney after the long sea voyage, a migrant among thousands
of other migrants, a refugee among thousands of other refugees
- an escapee from Nazis and Fascists in a strange place.
Who then could tell he was such a special person? But in the
soul of Alfred Ruskin were thousands of years of intelligence,
learning, morality, humanity and culture. The words of Bryce
Courtenay in A Recipe for Dreaming could well be applied
You inherited a thousand generations of wisdom, skill,
all the sunrises and sunsets of knowledge past.
You are the sum of all the people who went before you.
You are a refinery of inherited intellectual wealth,
the full flood of antecedent wisdom is stored within you -
In this coarse and sunburnt country the genes of culture,
intellectual life, and artistic skill blossomed and flourished.
Alfred became a superb personal illustration of what migration
has done for Australian life. He went on to become a most respected
arts publisher. He was creative and imaginative, an artist in
this way until well into his seventies. He did wonderful publications
and programs for Garnet H. Carroll, Kenn Brodziak, J.C.Williamsons
and the Australian Ballet.
We who were close to him felt his effectively gentle force almost
every day, right up until the May day of his death. I couldn't
begin to tell you what he did to ensure the success of this magazine,
Dance Australia. Suffice to say, that without Alfred Ruskin,
and his effective assistance in the crucial times, we would not
Alfred Ruskin was born into an honoured, respected, and prosperous
family. Man's inhumanity took away from him everything human
beings value - family, relationships, material possessions -
and from thence, from nothing so to speak, he built a family,
and a life, and a community, and a nation.
As Rabbi John Levi punchlined in his eulogy,
"Not bad for a twenty-five year old Jewish German refugee
who arrived in Australia with ten pounds in his pocket!"
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