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Mystery of the Englishman who paints Aboriginal art Believes ‘dead’ son and spirit guide responsible for his artistic career

Admirers of Len Cattell’s superb works of art are invariably astonished to discover he is an Englishman. The colour, style and technique of his paintings are exactly like Australia’s Aboriginal art – the oldest form of art known to humanity. Not only are Aboriginal elders impressed by Len’s artistic talents, they are also mystified that they contain a sacred symbol whose meaning only they should understand.

Len Cattell

They would be even more amazed if they knew the extraordinary story behind Len’s artistic development, which has never before been published. It involves one of the UK’s top mediums, Tony Stockwell, Len’s dead son, Dean, and the soul of an Aborigine who has become Len’s spirit guide.

Len and his wife, Ruth, emigrated to Australia in 1982 with their son and daughter, Tracy. It was to be the start of a wonderful new life in a country full of opportunities, but their hopes and expectations were shattered in 1984, when tragedy struck.

Dean (pictured below, left, with the family dog, Karma) had made many young friends in Australia and enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle that is so characteristic of life Down Under. He didn’t need to be asked twice when invited to join them on a camping and trial-bike- riding weekend. But, as is often the case with impetuous teenagers, safety was not high on their agenda.

When they set off, Dean and one of his friends added an extra element of excitement to the escapade by climbing into the rear of an open-backed two-seater utility vehicle – known in Australia as a “ute” – with trial bikes, instead of sitting with their

friend who was driving. Rather than sit on the floor of the ute’s platform they stood astride their trial bikes as they headed for the campsite.

It was getting dark and the driver began messing around, zig-zagging as he crossed the rough terrain. Suddenly, Dean was thrown from the vehicle. He hit the ground and almost immediately a second vehicle ran over him. The second ute was defective and unroadworthy, its lights were not switched on, and it was being driven by a 15-year-old.

The accident killed Dean. He was just 16, and in that one, reckless moment the Cattells’ Australian dream fell apart.

Even though they believed in life after death and that Dean was aware of their grief, his passing had a huge impact on his parents’ and sister’s lives. Len, in particular, found it difficult to come to terms with the situation, because he had taken the family to Australia. Although he had set up a building company and had plenty of work to occupy him, he felt depressed and needed psychological support for a period.

Aboriginal art collage
One day Len and Ruth went to an exhibition of Aboriginal art in Adelaide. Len loved the paintings and wanted to buy one even though they were very expensive. “But Len, you could do that,” Ruth told him. “I don’t know how, I just knew he could,” she explains. From that time on, Len began having visions of Aboriginal images. He did not understand why this was happening, but felt compelled to capture what he had seen in his mind’s eye, on canvas, furniture and pottery. He began studying Aboriginal culture and the way in which Australia’s indigenous people used dots of bright colours to produce their paintings.

To others, they are impressive and vivacious, but to Aborigines they are very significant because they depict ancestral links.

“I dotted two paintings and entered them in the annual Saddleworth Show, which was where we lived,” Len tells me, as he explains how his artistic skills developed. “To my astonishment I won first and second prize. Part of the prize was also to exhibit my work in Adelaide. I did that and one particular painting caught the eye of the Aborigines and they said I should not know about these things. They said it was ‘black fella business’.

“So they asked me through an interpreter, ‘Where did you see those images?’ I said, ‘I see it in my head’. They replied, ‘Then you’re one special white fella’. They asked my name and when I told them they said, ‘Well, you’re Lenny Whitefella’.”

That’s the name under which Len has painted, ever since 1985, supported and encouraged by his wife.

“It’s called dot painting and is like the French pointillism,” Len explains, “and I use various objects – a toothpick or a meat skewer, for example – not brushes. It’s also known as dreamtime painting and features their ancestors, such as the rainbow serpent, emu and kangaroo, depending on their different beliefs. Each painting tells a story.

“I did one painting, called The Seven Sisters, about the constellations but in Aboriginal terms, and when I took a photograph of it I could see an image of an Aboriginal spirit. I believe he’s my guide.”

The Cattells spent another decade in Australia, until Len suffered burns and a severe spinal injury in a 1996 bush fire. Unable to continue working, he and Ruth returned to England and now live in Coventry, West Midlands, where they had friends. One of these was Margaret (known as Mags) McPhilimey who runs a healing circle from her Coventry home.

When she learned that Tony Stockwell (pictured above, centre) would be demonstrating spirit communication in 2008, Mags invited Len and Ruth to join her and an aunt, who was visiting from Ireland, to see one of Britain’s top mediums in action.

Len Cattell's Aboriginal art

As usual, Stockwell provided some members of the congregation with impressive evidence of their loved ones’ survival. The Cattells, however, were not among them. Though disappointed, Ruth was so heartened to see the comfort Stockwell had given to others, she joined the queue of people wanting to speak with him.

“Mags wanted to thank him,” Ruth recalls, “and I said, ‘Well, I would like to also, because he was amazing’. When it came to my turn, I said, ‘Thank you very much, Tony, your talk and demonstration were very, very interesting. I’m only sad that my loved ones didn’t come through tonight’.

Len Cattell's Aboriginal art    

“He still had hold of my hand and he said: ‘You’re talking about your son. He’s tall and very handsome’.”

Realising Ruth had become the recipient of a spontaneous spirit message, even though his demonstration was over, Mags asked her aunt to fetch Len, who was already heading for the car park. He was soon at Ruth’s side.

To their astonishment, Stockwell said their son had had an accident with a ute.

“Ute” is not a term that is used in the UK for this type of vehicle – it’s called that only in Australia and New Zealand – and most people elsewhere in the world would not even understand what it meant. Stockwell’s use of the word, therefore, not only provided very specific evidence relating to the accident but also identified the country in which it occurred.

“When he said that, I knew he could see something, or my son was relating this to him. He then said my son used to sit around the campfire with his friends and they’d be singing and they’d grab their guitars.

“He also talked about a motorbike, saying it was used on dry land, not on the road. That’s exactly what Dean had – an off-road trial bike which you ride or race over rough terrain, standing up. I can’t recall everything else Tony said but it was all pertaining to our son Dean. He even told us that Len had placed something on his coffin as it was being lowered into the grave.”

Roy Stemman
Roy Stemman is an author and
journalist with a lifelong interest in
the paranormal. He was assistant
editor of Psychic News under its
founding editor, Maurice Barbanell.



The undertakers had suggested that the Cattells should not view Dean’s body, remembering him instead as he was. That meant they could not place anything inside the coffin with his body, so Len had decided to place an item of special significance on top... just as Stockwell described.

Len Cattell – ‘Lenny Whitefella’ – firmly believes his artistic endeavours are due entirely to the intervention of the son who has since provided such good evidence of his survival after death.

My own theory is that Dean could see how badly cut up I was when he died – it had ruined our lives, to a degree, at the beginning – and he met an Aboriginal spirit and asked him to go down and sort his Dad out.

“He has been showing me visions of his culture, explaining their meaning and encouraging me to paint them ever since. It has changed my life.

“I am just as certain that Dean watches over us, too.”

To view much more of Len Cattell’s artwork, visit: www.lennywhitefella.co.uk


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