Tenindewa – 100 years of written history

Speech by Tony Critch in December 2013 at the Tenindewa Christmas Tree centenary.

Thanks for opportunity and congratulations and special thanks to our little team of organizers who have put this function together this evening.

It must be acknowledged at the outset that what we are celebrating tonight is 100 years of Tenindewa’s written loosely linked to indigenous history.  That history of course went back millennia, and can only be described and appreciated as a kind of an amazing, unending, receding dream. However these two parts of history are firmly connected by the a word that undoubtedly has stood the test of time and that is the name “Tenindewa”.

In celebrating 100 years of written history in this place, Tenindewa, it is important that we do look back and we do recognize and appreciate what the pioneers of the area went through and the deprivations they endured to turn this into a quite prosperous agricultural region and a reasonably civilized place to live.

In researching and compiling a story around this 100 years it is indeed fortunate and remarkable that we have access to about 6 books of one description or another that allow us to track that history reasonably accurately and special thanks must go to the people (most have past-on of course) for their foresight   and generosity in putting those memories on paper. As simple and brief as these stories might seem it goes without saying they become more and more valuable as each day goes by. The reason I say that is because unlike most other countries and even other parts of Australia this 100 years is our very first 100 years of recorded history.

Memories of a Migrant‘ by Kathleen Rumble

To give you an example of the information contained in those publications I must quote from one of those titled, Memories of a Migrant, by a lady named Kathleen Rumble. Kathleen came here from England as Kathleen Palmer in 1914 aged 14 and lived in a most rudimentary house some 10 kilometers down the Yuna Road in what is now one of Weirs paddocks. She later married a Mr. Alec Rumble and they built a very lovely home just ½ a kilometer to the east of the store. Many of you will recall that house in more recent times as being the home of one of our late and famous sons, Paddy Butler.

Fittingly in the chapter “Our First Christmas Tree” she writes “the first public Christmas Tree was held in the Goods Shed in 1914”. The Goods Shed was a Railway Building just on the other side of the line. Some people here will remember that building and for those of you that do not, there is a picture of it in the store and some other pictures we have on display this evening. Also as you might guess it was that book and that very paragraph that sparked our efforts into making this Christmas Tree the centre point for the 100 year celebration.

‘A Fortunate Life’ by Albert Facey

Just while on the point of books and things Tenindewa and this area I would like to mention a quite famous story by a man named Albert Facey and his story titled “A Fortunate Life” that is somewhat of a best seller nationally. If you have the book go to the chapter about mid- way through titled “On the Road to Mullewa” and in that chapter he paints you a detailed picture of his camping spot 14 miles from Mullewa on the second day of his trek from Geraldton. I have absolutely no doubt that he was describing our Woolya Reserve just across the creek behind the store.

Now I am very conscious that this is a Christmas Tree and a time for kids to enjoy themselves and we will respect but there is a responsibility I believe for all of us that we honor our pioneers by briefly tracing back the 100 years and attempting to picture the scenes, in addition, as I mentioned previously getting some appreciation of deprivations they encountered and of course some of the good times.

To Sow the Barley‘ by Doreeen Lindsay (nee Butler)

Doreen Lindsey, (formally Doreen Butler) is the author of one of these very important books that I mentioned earlier. Again many of you would be familiar with this book To Sow the Barley that Doreen compiled and it too verbally paints various vivid pictures of those historic and stoic times. Early in the book she writes of the first farmers that arrived just post the turn of year 1900. And she writes “The first farmers came with, picks and shovels, maybe a team of horses and a 10 furrow drill. Arnold Meadowcroft, Alex and Nat Rumble, Harry Stokes, Leo Critch, Henry Stafford, Walter Brenkley and Norman Fry.”

Interestingly Norman Fry was also the Regional Manager of what was then called the Agricultural Bank and amazingly, to me anyway, was stationed here at Tenindewa. Even more amazingly Mr. Fry had a very stately home built for him just south of the siding and it too is depicted in a few of the scenes we have in the display. It stood until the late 70s. Further it should not now come as any surprise that Mr. Fry also had a race course on that property across the road along with a fairly successful racehorse named “Tenindewa”. Doreen later refers to the house semi-reverently as the “Big House” and speaks of some of the more upmarket social occasions of the day being held at that house.

To some degree I feel I almost need to pause at this point, out of reverence, because as we celebrate this 100 years it is also the anniversary of probably the most horrible event in the history of the world and that is of the 1914 -18 World War. About 10,000,000 soldiers plus another 1,000,000 civilians perished in this conflict which included about 65000 Australians and all of this in a world that did not even number 1 billion. If we refer to what I will call our “little history books” we will see that Tenindewa was not spared its share sadness too and I will share this paragraph with you in its totality. Kathleen Palmer recalls her memories of the Staffords who lived some 8 Ks down the Yuna Road in what is now one of Critchs’ paddocks and were near neighbors of her and her family. She writes:

“Lew Stafford and a chap who was working for them, Bert Jones, decided to enlist. We were staying in Geraldton when they were on their embarkation and we got up early to farewell them at the Railway Station. The boys wanted to kiss us goodbye but we were too shy to let them. Looking back I regret this, which I believe was due to our very reserved upbringing. Lew and Bert were very soon blown to pieces.”

There were possibly many veterans who lived in this area that served their country but one of note was the Hon Tom Moore. Tom also has a book dedicated to him called A Soldiers Diary and it illustrates his being wounded twice at the front in France and Belgium. Luckily Tom survived and returned and not only became a very successful local farmer but a wonderful father of 9 children and also served for 20 years in State Politics. I know there are many of his off-spring here this evening.

Again on issues of sadness and war I switch back to Doreen’s book and she details how the Second World War affected Tenindewa and this time more directly. The Butlers at that time lived just about ½ Kilometer across the paddock south east of the Store. Again she writes:

“Our lives completely change into a nightmare of convoys, aeroplanes and fear. The war had begun and our fields were nothing but aerodrome, aeroplanes and army trucks. Our peace and joy had gone. The soldiers occupied all the land behind the shop and around the school.”

I think it goes without saying that many of the local male population would have enlisted, were conscripted or whatever into the various parts of the military from the Tenindewa district and I know some saw action in overseas places like Borneo, New Guinea and the Pacific.

The other major issue that affected the world in that century was what is called the Great Depression which essentially and depressingly filled the gap between the two Great Wars. By explanation it was a period when the financial system simply went into meltdown and it had horrendous consequences that affected every corner of the globe. Kevin Critch in his book speaks of how his father along with many local farmers simply abandoned their properties or had them taken into the possession of the Banks. His family’s property and homestead which were just about 1 km west of the store were also forfeited. He speaks of the times of walking with his father from places like Mingenew to Morawa in search of work and encountering just as many people walking the in other direction which gives you a sense of hopelessness of that time. Children did not have shoes and the diets were rudimentary and simple stores like spilt wheat, rabbit and galah.

Ladies and Gentlemen clearly I have dwelled here on the tough times and of course there were wonderful times in the past too. Tennis, Football, Cricket, dancing, etc. but we will just have to use our imagination on this occasion to complete that picture.

I am very conscious of the fact that I have spoken here of mainly the menfolk but please spare a thought for those silent partners the womenfolk, that, behind the scenes, lived lives and endured deprivations, that are in all honesty almost unbelievable in the world that we live now. No fresh supplies, no electricity, no air-conditioning, not even fly screens. They endured home births, basic and unreliable transport and menfolk often away for extended periods. All we can say in their praises is “God how tough they must have been.”


  1. I am a grandson of Norman Fry my mother was Adelia Norma Keilar (Fry) the Miss Fry referred to in
    “To Sow The Barley” Page 6. Also the gold watch referred to in page 14 the YAKGOO CUP well I have it in a pride place and it still works. Just thought it was of interest.
    Sorry about not knowing about the goings on on the 11th April I would have made the trip from Melbourne but it a bit rushed now. I did bring my Mother over in 1984 for her 80th birthday and she had a great time.
    Regards NJK

  2. I have been following your web site with interest as Kathleen Rumble Nee’ Palmer is a relative of mine. I haven’t been able to make contact with anyone from this side of the family but maybe this comment will be read by interested parties.

    I have been intrigued with the early pioneering spirit of many families and I compliment this Web site and contributors for maintaining and preserving the history, for others to enjoy.

    Kathleen’s father Percy, had a number of siblings of which one was Robert Chetwynd Palmer, my GGGrandfather. None of them followed Percy’s adventurous path, although Robert did find his way to India as a School Teacher in the Army. Teaching being a favoured occupation amongst the Palmer clan, with their father Edward Palmer being a National School Master in St Leonards, Hythe.

    Keep up the good work and here’s to hoping some distant relative may read this.

    Kind Regards,
    John Hutchins

    1. Hello John, I have just come across your comment (3 years too late probably). I am Kathleen Rumble nee Palmer’s granddaughter and I’m very interested in the connection with your GGGrandfather. My mother and sister were both teachers so it seems the family tradition continued. If you would like to get in touch and share information please feel free to contact me.

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