A passionate voice and unique character: Alf Bussell

Brendan KellyBunbury Herald
Alf Bussell.
Camera IconAlf Bussell.

The late Alf Bussell was a unique character in civic life in Bunbury and the South West. During Bunbury’s flourishing years of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond 2000, Alf stood out as a passionate commentator on all levels of government issues. With a flair for satire and possessing a sharp intellect, he was a regular letter writer to the newspapers and a constant caller on talk back radio. Having a firm opinion about political and community affairs, Alf’s quirky approach to a subject made him an outstanding critic. He contested numerous elections as an Independent candidate, without ever winning one. Described by former Bunbury Mayor Ern Manea as “a well-liked eccentric”, Alf’s contribution to the powder, paint and puff of politics added welcome levity to public affairs.

Alf was born in 1938, the son of Donald and Dorothy Bussell and a descendent of the family after whom Busselton was named.

An enthusiastic advocate for his home-town, with an in-depth knowledge of its history and his family’s pioneer role, Alf loved nothing more than to converse with people with an interest in the district.

His tireless campaigning to preserve the historical Busselton timber jetty made him much loved among jetty supporters. Alf was also a well-regarded collector of antique furniture and after he moved to Bunbury was known as an antiques dealer. However, it was as a never-elected politician that he really made his mark. Eloquent, witty and well informed, although unconventional, Alf was a stirrer who attracted public attention by articulate use of the media.

Alf demonstrated just how he could promote an issue, when in the early 1980s he argued passionately for Bunbury to build an entertainment centre. Along with others, he was able to embarrass the council of the day into calling a public meeting to champion the cause. Henceforth Alf claimed it was he who started the push for a performing arts venue, which was eventually completed in 1990. With a love for classical music, Alf’s flamboyant encouragement undoubtedly played a key role in the broader community effort that ultimately built the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre.

Having Alf on your side on an issue counted by way of attracting publicity.

Alf Bussell’s myth was most firmly established by nominating as a candidate in multiple elections, over many years. It would require a book to tabulate Alf’s election campaigns, but one story can be told. In 1982 he stood as an Independent in the seat of Nedlands at a State by-election, triggered by the resignation of the long-term Liberal member for the seat Premier Sir Charles Court. Court’s son Richard, a future Premier, had been granted succession in the seat, something that would have rankled Alf, as he was most vocal about democracy being a privilege, not a right. In inimitable style he boldly declared that if elected, he would keep the government accountable. The election was won easily by Court junior, with Alf receiving a mere 48 votes. However, a second independent candidate polled only 16 votes, thus enabling Alf to boast that he had not run last and had outpolled the other independent three to one.

Alf also took on an early cause, which was to change the Australian flag. His flag had a feature of the Southern Cross, green being the prominent colour. He took great pride in flying the flag from the aerial of his Volvo station wagon, as he drove down Victoria Street in Bunbury. Unsuccessful with his own design, Alf brought the idea into public view, which was his aim. Above all he remained a positive force. People remembered Alf because he was a cheerful fellow, who kept criticism of others to himself, preferring to challenge the topic, not the person. Tall, always impeccably dressed, often in a suit and tie, or he occasionally wore a silk cravat, he also favoured wearing a hat. He took pride in his appearance, as he did in his conversation. He possessed a quick wit, confident in his own ability to debate.

Alf Bussell was a man of the past, almost a relic of a time gone by.

In Bunbury, his passing has brought forward a multitude of anecdotes and stories from people who knew him. An old-fashioned gentleman, well mannered, with an analytical mind and a bubbling temperament, independent, inherently optimistic, with an individual style. Sadly, his last years were inflicted by Parkinson’s disease, which eventually dimmed his considerable talents. However, there was one certain thing about Alf’s original personality and fervent disposition — there were not too many people who walked away without a smile on their face after a conversation with Alfred Donald Bussell.

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