Meet the artist recluse of Flinders Island, north of Tasmania, Australia.
By Hans Egefalk
We all have our favourite places. It might be a fancy restaurant—by the foreshore, somewhere out in the country or on a backstreet. It might be a holiday resort on a tropical island, a mountain retreat, a luxury cruiser in the West Indies. I have my place and I have just been back there again, about 12 years since last time. It’s got zero stars (the kitchen, especially), except a million in the brilliant southern evening sky. The sand is white, the rocks are stacked high everywhere, the road to it hardly exists at all and even with a four wheel drive you are hesitant to continue the track. There is no shopping and only one person lives there. At the end there are two overgrown wheel ruts among high tussock grass. Out there lives my own Robinson Crusoe, having spent 40 years building countless shacks, hideaways, rooms, artwork and whatnot from driftwood and rocks from the beach, plus whatever people have given him. His hair is wild, his ideas follow no straight pattern, but he has found his home in this world and that is 30 acres of bush by the beach below rock strewn mountains on Flinders Island, north of Tasmania, Australia.
Arne was born in Sweden and as a young boy ran away to sea, like many others, as he found school and life in Sweden hard, confined, and not what he wanted. He spent a few decades on the oceans, travelling the world, working as a telegrapher on merchant ships, seeing foreign ports and drinking too much in foreign bars, earning him the nickname “Arne Kalas” (Arne Party Time). One day, when he was about to go on a ship to Antarctica, he had enough and decided to step ashore. He had been to Australia before and liked it, as it was a young country, full of empty land, free of pretensions, laid back, friendly and far away from the snow, slush and hard memories of Sweden.
He stepped ashore in Australia, drifted around a bit, digging for opals in Lightning Ridge, building power stations in the Snowy Mountains. Then he stumbled upon Flinders Island, went to have a look at an empty bush block by the coast on the far north on the island. Once he saw it, coming over the sand hills among the rocks, seeing his ocean again, he realised he had come home. People called him Arni and since then he does not need a second name.
That was 40 years ago. He did not have any money left and decided to make do with what the oceans of his seafaring days had washed ashore—and he has never stopped. Coming to see him is like coming to Robinson Crusoe and it is a privilege to come sit among his driftwood shacks, drink tea and talk to Arni about life.
By now his home is not a shack, not a house, but a whole village where you easily get lost. You get lost because inspiration has taken Arni’s building work in all sorts of directions, sideways, in labyrinths, upwards to viewing platforms, mezzanine floors, hidden stowaway areas, a couple of saunas, countless baths and cooking corners. You also get lost because art and colour is claiming all spaces, too. Driftwood mobiles, paintings, sculptures, collected debris from his beach and coastal wanderings, countless memories from all souls that have found his place. People come and go, whoever has seen his driftwood kingdom tend to come back again and again, and most people leave memories. There is an underground shrine, a whalebone sculpture that first resembled something from a Montana cattle ranch, intricate paintings and symbols on small rocks everywhere, faded photos, wildly-painted walls, fabrics covering bits of walls, and polished granite boulders that seem to come from a city gallery entrance.
“I started and now I just can’t stop,” Arni said as we sat in his rocking chair in front of a bookcase. He loves reading Swedish poets, the old poets that had bittersweet dreams, walked the dirt roads and most of the time struggled to make a life as a poet or writer.
Besides countless birds in the trees and bushes that freely wander in and out of doors and windows, ABC Classic FM provides a background soundtrack—Arni loves classical music. He chuckled as he told a story about when his ageing mother came to visit him when she was in her 80s. Arni gave her a shack of her own, newly built, but was not aware that he had turned some roofing tin the wrong way. When a thunderstorm came at night, it quickly directed all the runoff water directly into her bed in her shack.
“Last port of call,” it says on the cover of Arni’s guestbook. Isn’t that what we all dream of? To find our own last port of call, a place where we are at home, our own little haven on this earth? A place to call home after our wanderings on this restless planet.
– Photos by Hans Egefalk