Born: approx 1920
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.
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
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
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
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.