Out on the edge of South Australia’s Sturt Stony Desert near the ‘town’ of Lyndhurst, where the Oodnadatta and Strzelecki tracks divide to head north and east respectively, lives Talc Alf.
Lyndhurst is 596km north of Adelaide and offers a pub, a general store, a community centre and two fuel bowsers – both selling only diesel. The nearest petrol is to the south at Leigh Creek. It would be safe to say that without Alf, Lyndhurst would not be particularly high on any list of tourist destinations. Well, okay, there are the highly significant Ochre Cliffs some five kilometres up the road, but you know… they’re cliffs, even if they are ochre.
Talc Alf, whose official name is Cornelius Johan Alferink, was born in the Netherlands in 1945. He moved out here to what is almost literally the middle of nowhere in the 1960s when he decided that he wanted to work in the soft talc stone (hydrated magnesium silicate) found nearby at Mount Fitton. Since then he has specialised in producing stylised carvings from the stone, although he also produces various other artworks.
Alf is not just an esoteric sculptor. Often referred to as an ‘outback eccentric’, he is more like an Australian Diogenes who lives, instead of in a barrel, in a Nissen hut that was originally used as accommodation during some nuclear testing just down the road. He bought two of them for $8 each and they now sit next to his workshop a couple of kilometres out of Lyndhurst just off the Strzelecki Track.
Combining his callings as an artist, a philosopher and a political commentator, Alf welcomes visitors. When I rolled up on my BMW F 750 GS, he took me over into his workshop and, while I photographed his creations, explained just about anything that crossed his mind.
Alf’s explanations are all ingenious even as they head off into unexplored – by others – mental territory. He will explain things in terms of Chaldean hieroglyphics or anything else that comes in handy, and he is never at a loss for a telling point. He explained the alphabet to me, but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get my phone out and record his comments. When ABC Broadcasting’s ‘Dr Karl’ Kruszelnicki visited Alf, he was better prepared. I have taken the liberty of borrowing part of his transcription. Dr Karl and I both wrote columns for Overlander magazine at one time, so I hope he doesn’t mind.
“Now take capital A for example. It’s pointed at the top and sticks straight up so it obviously stands for the erect male penis and “A” for Adam and Adult. Now if you get capital B and turn it on its side it looks like a pair of breasts hanging down so where you get the words, Breasts, Bosom, Beautiful. Now C is not quite a full circle so it’s half a circle. So you add A and B together you obviously get C and if a circle is a full person then C is a half person and that’s where you get the words Child and Children. Now D, if you lay it on its back, is obviously the shape of a dead animal lying on its back after a week in the desert, with its bloated swollen putrescent belly sticking up, and that’s where you get the words Death, Doom and Destruction. E has three equal strokes on it and that’s obviously where you get the words Equal and Equivalent. In the Letter F the top stroke is a bit further forward and that’s where you obviously get Fast and Faster.”
Got all that? There is much more where it came from. I particularly enjoyed Alf’s pronouncements on Julian Assange and Al Jazeera, both of whose names were apparently predicted by clay tablets from Mesopotamia. He is very much in favor of both, as you can see from one of his blackboards.
Alf has also redesigned the Australian flag, and he proudly showed me his design in which the red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag replaces the Union Jack, simply and effectively swapping the colonial reference for an indigenous one. I might not be entirely with him on the connection between Mesopotamia and Wikileaks, but I would be very happy with the new flag. He gave me a flag sticker as I was leaving and I am having trouble deciding on somewhere worthy of it.
You will find The Bear’s guide to motorcycling in Australia in the second edition of Adventure Rider magazine for more background on this most intriguing of continents. And countries. And islands, if you listen to some people.