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Artist BiographiesJack Britten - Artist of the East Kimberley

Gwion

Born: approx 1920
Language: Kija
Sub-section: Joolama

Medium: painting in natural ochres on canvas, with gum resin or spinifex fixative where possible, otherwise acrylic. Kangaroo blood and red-ochre mix is a specialty of his work.

Jack Britten

Subjects/themes: East Kimberley and Ord River country from Alice Downs northwards, Bungle Bungles, Mabel Downs to Lissadell and Lake Argyle, west to Bow River and Bedford Downs. He mixed country themes with stories of gnarangani (Dreamtime) characters and events.

Jack Britten was one of the legends of the Kimberley and was the custodian of the Bungle Bungles, one of the most visually striking landscapes in Australia.

Yalatji (Jack's given name at birth) was born and raised in the bush on Tickelara cattle station just south of Turkey Creek and west of the Bungle Bungles. Until he passed away in July 2002, he lived in the area at the community of Warmun, where he was a senior elder. His first memories included seeing camel trains and their Afghan drivers with supplies for the outstations, and encountering his first motor vehicle.

Jack Britten, a white manager of Hann Springs cattle station, took young Yalatji under his wing, "bestowed" his name on him and taught him the basics of station life. Having "footwalked" most of the station country with family as a young man, his services were actively sought by subsequent station managers, both for his local knowledge and his ability to survive in the bush.

Jack's horsemanship was legendary, and he worked as a stockman on many East Kimberley cattle stations, including Mabel Downs, Bow River, Lissadell, Texas Downs and the now defunct Tickelara, Hann Springs and Bungle Bungles cattle stations. He participated in some of the last big cattle drives from Mt. Isa and Biloela, in Queensland, bringing herds of up to two thousand animals, all the way back to the Kimberley and in doing so crossed Australia from east to west.

In the wet seasons, when mustering and working the cattle became impossible, Jack would be found camped out in the gold fields of Halls Creek, where, with his keen eyesight he would look for alluvial nuggets and gold -bearing rocks. These he would trade with dealers for tobacco, flour and blankets.

He did not paint during his years as a stockman. His inspiration as an artist arrived later - apparently not coming until he was community-based, perhaps from his proximity to such artists as the late great artists Queenie McKenzie, Paddy Tjamatji (Jampinji), George Mung Mung and Rover Thomas.

As a senior lawman, his repertoire of the myths and legends of the gnarangani (Dreamtime) was endless and provided a firm base for his visual and descriptive canvasses. He was the latest in the line of succession of traditional owners of the Bungle Bungles.


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