The Foster Years

                                                                              The Foster Years

                                                                                Foreword (Judy McDonald, nee Foster)

When one passes by Tenindewa these days, it hardly rates a second glance, which, if taken fleetingly reveals it to be just a lonely solitary building in the middle of nowhere.

Consequently, it would also be difficult to imagine that this was a once thriving and vibrant community with a busy Store, a largish Community Hall, a railway siding with an imposing Goods-Shed, stockyards, a CBH wheatbin with it’s various ancillary buildings, a local Bushfire Brigade Headquarters with the Store’s western verandah housing the water pumps and tanks etc. Further it had Tennis Courts, and, even for just a period, a Football oval incorporating a cricket pitch and a nearby school up until 1939. The village of “Tenindewa” was made up largely of a collection of houses that served as accommodation for the West Australian Government Railway employees (WAGR fettlers) and their families plus two houses immediately adjacent to and associated with the Store. In close proximity (walking distance) there were three further homesteads belonging to local farmers.

Our family, The Foster family, was privileged to be part of this most proud and compact community, from the years, 1946 until 1985, and we will forever remember, cherish and call this place Tenindewa “our home”.

                                                                              A Snapshot in Time

The first Tenindewa Post Office was operated by a Mrs. Eves in 1910 but it was transferred from that location to Norman Fry’s residence (Locally dubbed “The Big House” which was 100 meters south of the Stockyards) and run by his daughter in 1918,  In 1919 it went back to “The Old Hall” (the original hall some 100 meters east of the current shop) and run by Miss Kathleen Palmer and her sister Miss Eileen Palmer, followed then by a Mrs. Napier, wife of George Napier a fettler on the railway gang in 1919, and, once again by the two Miss Palmers when a Store housing the Post Office was built by a local farmer and, to-be husband of Miss Kathleen Palmer in Mr. Alex Rumble in 1921. This attractive commercial enterprise was eventually leased to a Mr. Bill Griffith until 1935, who then proceeded to built the present Shop and on its completion, simultaneously transferred the Post Office operations as well as the old shop’s retail component to the new premises.

When the Griffith family moved to Perth in 1942 it was leased to a Mr. Eric Hamilton (brother in law to Griffith) in 1943. Mr Bill Kelsey operated it in 1944 to 45 and then it went back to Bill Griffith from December 1945 to February 1946 when the business was bought by Mr. Tom and Nell Foster (nee Heelan)

Store built by Alex Rumble in 1921
50 meters east of current Store

The Old Hall
Note the telephone wire insulators above the window

                                                                   Victoria to Sandstone

Thomas James Foster (Tom) was born in Sandstone in 1910. His parents Thomas Francis and Mary Foster (nee Naylan) had come from Victoria to work in the mining industry and eventually returned to Melbourne where young Tom, their only child, did all his schooling                                                                                                                                        Tragically, both Thomas Francis and Mary passed away while young Tom was in his teenage years. Harry Foster, a brother of his father brought Tom, along with his own family, back to Western Australia and they took up residence in Geraldton. Harry, his daughter Molly and nephew Tom were all employed at a well known and successful business in Marine Terrace. This business, “Sunshine Crooks and Brookers”, which could have been described as “General Merchants” but whatever they were widely renowned for “stocking everything”.

Tom the teenager

          Teenager Tom

Tom snr and Mary

Tom in Balaclava, Victoria

Tom, Balaclava Victoria










                                                                        Ellen Monica

Ellen Monica Foster (nee Heelan) was born at Mt Erin. in the Shire of Chapman Valley, north of Geraldton, in 1912 to parents Michael and Hanorah Heelan. Michael hailed from Lismore, (Waterford) Ireland.                                              They produced six children which they raised on “Lismore Farm” in the Chapman Valley.                                                  David (Dave), Stanislaus, Mary Teresa (Tess), Ellen (Nell), Margaret Mary (Mollie) and Cletus made up the family but sadly Molly passed away at the very early age of three.                                                                                                            Nell attended the Government School at Mt Erin (East Durawah) to which she travelled by horse and sulky. Tess and Nell later spent two years at Stella Maris College in Geraldton as boarders with the Presentation Sisters.

Stan, Tess, Dave with baby Mollie and Nell


Tom at Sunshine Crooks and Brookers in mid 1940s

Family group in Forrest St Geraldton. Nell in front right








Nell, Mother Hanorah and Tess










Tom and Nell, both keen tennis players, met at the Catholic Tennis in Geraldton and both were keen members of the Hibernian Badminton Club.                                                                                                                                                                  They were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, in January 1942

Tom and Nell January 1942

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne










Tom and his delightful bride lived in Melbourne for 5 years where he was employed in an all important munitions factory. These were happy times for the two of them despite the backdrop of  war they did their best to enjoy themselves taking in the football, the Tivoli Theatre, horse races at Flemington and the abundance of local Chinese food.

Moonee Ponds and their house

And in the brrr Snowfields











During this time Nell made several trips back to Western Australia to visit her mother, Hanorah, who unfortunately was not enjoying the best of health. Nell undertook these trips by travelling on what was known as “State Ships” across the Great Australian Bight and in all weather, sometimes experiencing the very roughest. These epic sojourns west convinced Tom and Nell ultimately to move back to WA permanently to be closer to family, and become domicile, but in the first instant in Perth. During this time Nell’s brother Dave Heelan, himself a Tenindewa farmer, advised them that Bill Griffith had put the Tenindewa Store up for sale. The couple immediately proceeded into negotiations for the purchase of this enterprise and so began the next chapter of their lives and of that of the Tenindewa Community.                                                           Tom and Nell moved to Tenindewa in February 1946 after the completion of the deal with Mr. Bill Griffith.

Doreen Butler, Gloria Butler, Joyce Stokes, Maureen Quin, Bill Griffith (1934)

Kitty O’Brien, daughter of local Tenindewa farmer and Nell’s cousin Tom O’Brien, came to work at the newly acquired shop.                                                                                                                                                                                          The year 1948 would have been a year to remember for the new residents of Tenindewa with the arrival of Judith Mary who was born in the January of that year in Mullewa.  By 1951 the family became a unit with the arrival of son Desmond (Des) who was also born in Mullewa.

Kitty (O’Brien) Rowe at the “Closing of the Shop” in 1985

Kitty (O’Brien) Rowe (just decipherable) outside the Shop 1946








Railway employees houses looking west from the Shop (note tank-stand)

Siding building with Railway Houses to the right (note tank-stand)
CBH “H Type” shed and “Pig Pen” to  left








Tenindewa in the early 1950s consisted of the house and the shop with the Community Hall next door. Opposite (over the line) were the Stock Yards, the Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) Weighbridge shed containing the scales and office which included miniscule accommodation for the Weighbridge Officer.  CBH’s footprint included one permanent Storage Shed and in the harvest to out-loading period a semi permanent storage known as a “pigpen”         The Government Railway (WAGR) was the focal point with a Siding Shed, with a largish Goods Shed which had the capacity (height and width) to allow the Locomotives and its wagons to move through plus numerous Railway Employee houses and along with (on occasions) some tents. About 200 meters south of the shop and on the other side of the Geraldton-Mount Magnet Road was what was locally known as the “big-house”  which was the most impressive homestead completed in 1915 for one of Tenindewa’s first farmers (known those days as settlers)

Doreen Butler outside the family home in 1952 with Sandy the bull (One klm east of the Store)

Norman Fry’s house completed in 1915






Gert Hawkins and Doris Hamilton ( nee Stafford and wife of the Shop owner) See photo and tree opposite






                                                                                 The District and its People

The house and shop ran on a 32 volt lighting plant and the water supply was only rainwater captured from the rooves and stored in tanks. Tenindewa was then, and still is a low rainfall area (300mm) so if it was a long dry summer or a short winter then water had to be sourced elsewhere carted in!

Contrary to modern days the only community phone for the district was the phone-box outside the shop. Tom would deliver urgent telegrams and but for understandable reasons the farmer folk would be sometimes, subdued, seeing his car coming down their drive, but mostly he enjoyed getting out for the drive as normally he brought good news in the form of births, engagements, wool prices and often he took the opportunity to have Judy and Des along with him for the ride and for the socializing with the farm kids.

In the early days the Railway Gang employed many displaced folk from Eastern Block countries especially Poland. They had, in many cases due to the war, been forced out of the homes and away from the families to be resettled in Australia to start new lives. What a shock that must have been for most of them, arriving at Tenindewa to a peace-meal existence and a foreign language in the middle of a Tenindewa February? They were all great folk in the eye’s of Tom and Nell and the couple would do their upmost to make them feel at home and remained great friends with these ‘New Australians’ long after they moved to better employment opportunities and other locations.

But great spirit of community and generosity was abound in those times which the Fosters found quite overwhelming.  They noted that if a farmer was incapacitated for any reason and unable to sow his crop, harvest his crop or shear his sheep the entire district would pitch in and organize a huge busy bee which entailed logistics on an almost military scale.  There were several examples of this and a most memorable one was a harvest busy-bee organized to take in the crop for Dick Dunkin in the mid 60s. “Young Dick”, as he was known, was seriously injured in a car crash and found himself recuperating in, what was called then as “traction” in the Victoria District Hospital in Geraldton. At the completion of this massive busy-bee and at the end of the second day, as the times dictated, the women folk put on a banquet and the menfolk put on “a keg”  which, when it (the keg) was consumed, decorum degenerated and an all out oil fight commenced. Now this “oil fight” was very much like a snow fight but with the combatants using discarded sump oil in the place of snow balls. This bizarre bit of revelry was talked about and remembered in the district for decades to come and particularly by Dave Heelan (Nell’s brother) who, the next day, in desperation took his super-soiled work-clothes to sister Nell at the Store to launder. To Dave’s utter amazement and shock Nell took one look at those grimy items of clothing and threw them straight in the bin from whence they went directly to the Tenindewa Tip!! The Foster family also were, due to unfortunate circumstances, recipients of a similar kindness in beginning in July 1958. Tom suffered a massive heart attack on this day while chopping wood and was rushed to hospital in Geraldton. Nearby neighbors Paddy Butler and Bim Desmond, who along with husband Paul, was living in the adjacent “Big House” at that time stepped in and together Paddy and Bim ran the shop until some degree of normality returned for the Foster family. But for the next eleven years Tom, unfortunately, endured less than perfect health which, eventually, brought about his demise which occurred on the 7th of August 1969. The assistance and support given from the whole community during that period to Nell, Judy and Des has never been forgotten and especially in respect to the two major stalwarts in Paddy (Butler) and Bim  (Desmond).

The “Big House” during the time of Bim and Paul Desmond.

This Phone Box used to stand in front of the Shop but now resides within








Nell and boys (Martin, Graham and Andrew)

For a small community in the 1950s and 60s it was really quite busy with the shop, the hall and the siding all playing their part to create a hub for the district.                              Meetings, dances and for a period church services, Christmas Trees annually plus a couple of 21st birthday events for Joan Weir and Athol Rumble and a wedding.

 (Uncle)Terry Cream Kevin, Robbie, Joan, Mel and Brian Weir

Paddy Lynch, Josie (Morris) Jones, Bill Cox, Gloria (Butler) Cox, Keith Butler, Doreen (Butler) Linsey, Judy (Foster) McDonald the Flower Girl…. 1952

Doreen (Butler) Lindsey and Athol Rumble; 1985

With the Shop having the only Public Phone for miles it (the phone box) served as “the office” at times for may business-calls and for calls to loved ones and to not so loved ones and calls of all nature took place from in front of the shop. On election days, a makeshift Polling Booth was constructed and Tom (from behind the counter) acted as the Officer in Charge of proceedings and any other role that might be needed. When the voting was done and the shop was closed for the day, on many occasions, an impromptu party would erupt which ended up being the best social event of the year.                Melbourne Cup time was “Sweep Time” and the horses and their recipients names were drawn with much anticipation the night before.                                                                                                                                                                The Commonwealth Bank Agency, the Goldsborough Mort Agency, the Fuel Agency and the Post Office with it’s letters, parcels and telegrams creating much activity at the Shop.                                                                                                Thursdays were the busiest days at Store as that was the day when fresh vegetables and fruit would arrive at the Tenindewa Siding from the Perth Markets.

                                                         The Wedding of 52

Gloria and Bill’s Cox’s wedding reception took place on the Saturday at the Tenindewa Hall adjacent to the Shop. Gloria being the daughter of Alex and Olive Butler (Nee Stone) of Tenindewa. Bill was a product of the CBAS Tardun Farm School run by the Christian brothers  It is one of, only, two recorded marriages to have been celebrated locally in this way.  The previous one took place in August 1922 between two local people in Jean Eves and Mr. M. J Kember.  The Cox-Butler wedding  was a joyous event with the entire district and beyond involved. The weather was warm and, as it turned out, the guests were thirsty. Unfortunately, due to a miss calculation by the caterers consumption outstripped supply and, a little like in the biblical story of the Wedding Feast at Cannae, the beer ran out! A resolution emerged however and in this case a mere mortal redeemed the situation with his ample supply of wine. And, oh dear yes, there were repercussions!!!  The outcome that unfolded, for good or for bad, has become legendry, with the stories still being recounted to this day. One of the classic stories that has survived is of an adversely effected gentlemen farmer from the north west of Tenindewa in the Bindu area, a gentleman by manner indeed but sizable by description. This gentleman was so affected he had still not fully recovered when the shop opened for business on the Monday. Tom Foster, a man know never to panic and a most laconic operator to say the least, accommodated this man-mountain and the situation by allowing him to stay slumbering at the rear of the store. Seemingly a little unsavory for some but for Tom it was just ‘business as usual”. As fate would have it during the day a traveling salesman visited and after leaving Tenindewa arrived at a Mullewa some 15 minutes later in an outwardly distressed state and stumbling for words stutteringly conveyed to a client shop proprietor there, that he was absolutely sure he had caught a glimpse a “dead giant” laying at the rear of the Tenindewa Store!!!



Tennis was very popular at Tenindewa and the Community conducted a most successful club. There was a “bough shed” style clubhouse regaled with a 50 litre waterbag suspended in the middle guaranteeing ample cool water for all for the duration. Trestles with scrumptious afternoon teas that the ladies supplied. It has to be said, Country Ladies are amazing and in those humble surrounds they served delights, of a quality you would not expect at Claridge’s in London. The dress code expected and respected by all, despite the spartan setting, was pristine whites as evidenced by the photos of the era.


4th from left front; Rita Oldham (girl), 6th from left (no hat) Mrs. Gwen Oldham, 5th from right; Mrs. Olive Butler (no hat) 6th from right; Avis Stokes, 2nd from right-back; Bob Oldham (tall hat), Guy in the sky; Digger Desmond


(From left to right) Arthur Stafford (tip toe), Gert Hawkins, Flossy Griffith, Bill Griffith, Mrs Jean and Harold Hayes, Doris Olman, Eric Hamilton, Elsie Stafford (nee Howson-CJ Staffords wife), Ralph Short, Esme Stafford (sitting), Charles John (Joe or CJ) Stafford (sitting) Dorrie Hamilton (nee Stafford-sitting), Jeff Simpson, Frank Hawkins, Archie Oman, Ivy Griffith, (nee Stafford Brian Griffith’s mother) Lil Selbourne, Nell Stafford, Eva Dunkin (nee Stafford) and Richard Dunkin
Baby Brian Griffith with Jack Short (kneeling) Marg Dunkin, Mary Dunkin, Elsie Stafford, Nellie Stafford, Dick Dunkin

(from left) Unknown, Jack Short, Unknown, Harold Hayes, Unknown, Ralph Short (with pipe), Kathleen Rumble (nee Palmer), Alex Rumble, Doris Olman, Bob Oldham, Jean Hayes.

Back; Roma Rumble, with her 3 boys immediately in front of her in Carl, Wilf and Bevan then; Keith Butler, May Brenkley, Paddy Butler, Alex Butler with arms folded, Tom Foster..far right.                                                                              Front; Col O’Brien, Gloria Butler, Nell Foster, Judy Foster (girl with hat) Doreen Butler, Olive Butler, ? (boy with the racket and 2 X kids in front unknown)                                                                                                               

Terry Dear with Paul Byron 1958 Geraldton

Live entertainment in the district was somewhat of a rarity but usually folk had the end of year pantomime given by the Mullewa Repertory Club and on some years a Mid-Year production.                                                                                    Every couple of years however the Foster family would, as a consequence of promoting the shows through shop front advertising, receive free tickets to a family travelling show known as The Kirkpatrick’s. This show was always, lively and very entertaining, but it eventually became known more famously and universally as the Slim Dusty Show.

Slim Dusty
Alias David Gordon Kirkpatrick AO MBE

Slim (David Gordon Kirkpatrick AO MBE) of course went on to become a household name and a cultural icon right across the nation. With his wife Joy McKean, herself a singer songwriter, they produced two talented offspring in Anne and David Kirkpatrick as well as volumes and volumes of wonderful country music. The group was hugely popular in Mullewa as it specifically targeted regional audiences with association to The Rangelands and the raising of cattle and livestock.  In those days the aboriginal community had especially strong links to that industry and its employment opportunities thus they along with the other jackeroos, stockmen and station folk would flock, from near and far, to hear Slim and the family. In the Mullewa shows Slim would always sing a song composed by a fellow singer songwriter, Buddy Williams, featuring a local aboriginal stockmen named Les Dingo to the delight of the local audience.

                                                             Paul and the “Amateur Hour”

In 1958 the whole district tuned into the “The Australian Amateur Hour”, a very popular weekly radio program. It was travelling Australia and was on location in Geraldton to pick up on local talent. Tenindewa Farmer and great friend of Tom and Nell’s and shop patron in Mr. Paul Byron had been invited to participate with his most novel of musical instruments, “a piece of elastic stripped out of a golf ball”.  Incredibly, Paul could hold this, Piece of elastic’  to his mouth, vigorously blow it and produce a tune similar to a mouth organ. To give the program context it was a prelude to the modern TV program of “Australia’s Got Talent” and was compared by a household celerity in Terry Dear.

District functions included the Debutant Ball, the Mullewa Agricultural Show and the annual horseracing fixture The Mullewa Cup

Tom Foster was the secretary of the Mullewa Race Club which was attended by all and sundry along with the Geraldton, Northampton, Mingenew, Dongara and Yalgoo meets that would be attended, especially by Tom, in order to solicit nominations for the Mullewa event.

                                                                                       District Events

The Mullewa Show was the highlight of the year with exhibits of every kind displayed. Cakes, wheat, chooks, vegetables, wool, photography, equestrian events, machinery and machinery demonstrations. For kids most of this meant nothing except for, maybe a new set of clothes or a new dress for the girls with Sideshow Ally being the number one kids attraction. Showtime also meant that kids would manage to wheedle out of the parents money for Sideshow Alley where they would head directly, and if they could, spend the rest of the day there. Merry-go-rounds, clowns, shooting galleries, fairy floss and hot-dogs would very quickly deplete the finances, so for the rest of the day was spent with friends often wandering around and occasionally listening and watching George Stuart of “Stuarts Troop” boxing tent fame. George’s booming spiel would be about enticing the locals and particularly some of our hardy and dexterous aboriginal lads to match themselves against his professional pugilists. Then after a bout was negotiated, George’s team, plus these newly enticed local challengers, would all line up, high on an elevated platform above the entrance to the  huge and classic show-tent.  George would at this point introduce the newcomers with much shouting and showmanship and break into his rallying command of “Give ’em’ a rally on the bells and the drums” . The boom-boom-boom and the clang-clang-clang would resonated around the entire showground which would herald all and sundry to, flock through the door and fork out their cash to witness the next stupendous bout.  Although kids were forbidden to go in, they sometimes found a peephole and the back of the tent.                      Another highlight that was unique to the Mullewa Show was, often, the presence of the Premier of WA in David Brand, himself a Mullewa product and local member for the Greenough District.


Tom, Nell, Des and Judy off to the Mullewa Show 1966                                                 

                                                   The Tenindewa Christmas Tree

The Tenindewa Christmas Tree was usually held a week or so before Christmas Day. The planning, the cooking, the purchasing of an individual and suitable gift for each child, finding a suitable tree and the decorating of that tree in Christmas glitter was all about making sure each and every child had a lasting  memory of that special day. The event was an annual demonstration of what could be achieved when generous people, determined to get it right, pulled together and did their best in a small community.                                                                                                                          The first Public Christmas Tree was held at Tenindewa in the Railway Goods Shed in 1914 according to Kathleen Rumble (nee Palmer) in her book “Memories of a Migrant. Children like the Foster children of the 1950s, Judy and Des and their off spring have enjoyed similar events in subsequent years and right up to the present.

The Tenindewa Goods Shed. Note Stockyards to the left

Again according to Kathleen Palmer around about 1915 the farmers formed a Cooperative and built a hall. No doubt this would have been the venue for Christmas trees for some time and then, later, at the end of the second world war a redundant Air Force Building was purchased from the RAAF at the Geraldton Airport to be Tenindewa’s new hall.

Ned Higgins AEC Semi delivering the new hall (1945)                                                                        Top; Keith Butler. Standing on tray; Peter Pipkin, Jack Brenkley and Doug Brenkley.         Ground; Nelson Edwards (the driver), Unknown, Frank Butler, Alex Butler, Walter Brenkley

Kevin Weirs memory of the events over the years are as follows

The first recorded Tenindewa Christmas tree was 100 years ago when the district went through a growth spurt. A school opened in 1913 and ran till 1939 and Tenindewa had an oval with its own cricket and football teams and had a thriving tennis club. The Geraldton-Mullewa rail line had opened in 1893 and Tenindewa had a permanent railway gang living here and there was a railway goods shed built to accommodate the growing rail freight. This goods shed was the location of the first Christmas tree in 1914.

My earliest memories of the Tenindewa Tree were from the early 1950’s. While the event hasn’t changed a lot over the years, I can remember a lot more children were around in those days. With smaller farms there were more farming families and there was a small railway community here as well.

For a short time the Christmas tree started at 4.30pm with a sports carnival consisting of running races and novelty three legged, sack and egg and spoon races. Competition was keen with prize money of sixpence and threepence up for grabs. In those days this was enough to buy an ice-cream.

The Christmas tree was held in the old Tenindewa Hall which was located right next to the shop. Santa arrived in many different forms of transport including Police cars, Fire trucks, Tractors Harvesters etc. . . . After distributing gifts Santa departed and more games were held in the hall.


Cherie Mills 1979

Jamie McDonald 1979






Andrew Foster 1979

In those days there were no CD players but we did have an old piano in the hall and Jean Cream would play for musical chairs and pass the parcel games which are still popular today. As the evening progressed the adults would gather around the piano for a group sing-a-long which Jean always lead enthusiastically.

I can remember that some of the men who weren’t too keen on singing would gather around a fire out the back of the hall and have a competition throwing their empty beer cans into a bin in the distance. One year a fire started from lightning not far from the hall so these same men quickly gathered to become the brigade for fighting fires.

The electricity for the Hall was generated by a small petrol motor which inevitably ran out of fuel every year about mid-evening plunging us all into darkness until someone refuelled it after much stumbling around in the dark. For us kids this blackout was always a highlight of the night.

The Foster family and their shop were a great asset to the district and particularly the Christmas tree, providing most things that were needed on the night. At that time all the locals did most of their shopping there even buying their fuel and some clothing there. Being a manual telephone exchange and Post Office too, the shop was the main focal point of the district. I can still picture the Petrol bowser with a big hand pump on the side which manually pumped the petrol up to a glass container at the top and the petrol then gravitated into the vehicle.

The Butler family was also very community minded with Paddy always cutting and erecting a bush Christmas tree and helping out wherever needed and Keith Butler holds the record for attending the most Christmas trees which I think was over seventy.  in this address.

Mrs Roma Rumble, wife of Rumble who lived halfway between Tenindewa and Ardingly, was the main organizer of the tree in the late 50s and early 60s, now the mothers share the workload.

In the early 80s the hall fell into disrepair when white ants moved in so the hall had to be demolished. For a couple of years after this, Critch’s generously offered the use of their shearing shed to hold the Christmas tree.

At Critch’s Shed

In 1985 the Tenindewa Manual Telephone exchange was the last in WA to close, the Post Office closed and with fewer farmers now, the much loved Foster family closed the shop and moved to Geraldton. The shop was then converted to a meeting hall and the Christmas tree came back to its present location.

Kevin Weir advising Santa 1986

Our numbers declined further so for a year or two we combined our tree with Devils Creek but our numbers increased again when the Critch families and others started to repopulate Tenindewa so we have done our own thing for the last few years.

The Tenindewa tree has always been more than just for the kids. It has been an annual gathering to celebrate the end of harvest and to get together to celebrate Christmas and to enjoy each other’s company during the festive season, so I hope you can all enjoy the rest of the evening by reminiscing about life in our little community here and the last 100 years of the Tenindewa Christmas tree.

Santa was, by necessity, a focal part of the celebration. The staring role was usually undertaken by a local personality and usually once that person (and yes they have not been all male) got the Santa Guernsey so to speak they were inclined to be expected to continue in that role for years. Just some of the names that went up in lights over the years were Robbie Weir, Robin Moore, Craig Butler and Hobby Peet.                                                                                                    As eluded to as above “The Sleigh” or it’s Australian equivalent took many guises. In the early days the Gangers Trike (A hand pumped three wheeled contraption that ran on the rails), no doubt the horse and cart would have been natural and often used standby and then a more opportunistic audacious conveyance for Santa was occasionally the Guards Van on a passing Freight Train. On at least one occasion he (Santa) chose a Combine harvester to get himself and the toys to the event but for the years since the Community has been in possession of a Fire Engine, it is that which has been his  recent and preferred mode of transport.

                                                      Growing up in Tenindewa town

There seemed never to be a dull moment for the the Foster kids as customers of all kinds, often with families, came and went from the shop, but with or without outside help they made their own fun.                                                              Their simple but happy life also consisted of going to school on the Tenindewa Bus often driven by Fletcher Waldeck, on weekdays, Church on Sundays, visits to the McCartney and Heelan relatives in Geraldton on some weekends which might include a trip to the beach and or a visit to the Radio Theatre for a kids matinee picture show.

The games that the Foster kids enjoyed those days were games that entertained them and most kids for hours and were games that had been played for millennia but yet, for the most part, are games that have almost mysteriously and disappointingly disappeared from the Australian kids way of life in just a couple of generations! Games like chasey, brandy, marbles, hopscotch, statues, knucklejacks, tree climbing and dress-ups are really observed these days?

Alice Cunningham, Judy Foster and

But Tom with his kids in mind and a sportsman and sports lover through and through, had set up a semi permanent table tennis table in the adjacent hall for his kids and their friends to enjoy and is the place where, most likely, Judy and particularly Des honed their skills for the real game of tennis as Des went on to become the Mullewa Club Champion on several occasions.  Because of there proximity to Geraldton to Wiluna rail-line, Train spotting was a real favorite. This game entailed walking along a single rail for as far as possible, with your opponent doing the same on the adjacent rail all the while simultaneously keeping balance, and, keeping and eagle eye for approaching rail traffic. This traffic could be a number of vehicle types including a passenger or freight train, the Diesel Car, the Length-runners trolley of the fettlers trolley.

Early Rail Car at Tenindewa
A Bus on Rails

Another most unconventional game and a game not possible for conventional kids was “playing the drums” but not the drums that soldiers play. From the years 1940 to 1970 most farm and transport fuel was in 44 gallon drums which we now see as 200 litre drums. The Store was very multi agency arrangement but it was especially an agency fuel which it had, stacked on a ramp right adjacent to the Store and to the Foster house. Dozens of full drums of petrol, diesel and kerosene plus dozens of empty and partially empty drums of the same!!  Now to be good at this game one had to have an ear for music, the dexterity of a mountain goat a big stick or a hammer and most essentially no fear of the “big bang”. It goes without saying the Health and Safety legislation must have still been in draft form in the 50 and 60s!!

The evening for Judy and Des, Nell and Tom were mostly quiet as radio was the only medium of outside entertainment with TV many years into the future.  It was the year 1970 before those type areas could access “limited” and “black and white” reception and even then with the help of a very tall aerial (12 metres) resulting in very sketchy reception results. Further, as all TVs were manufactured to plug into 240 volt only and most rural homes and businesses were serviced by their own generators which were 32 volt only a device known as an ‘Invertor’ was required to link the two, that is the current to the TV which added another weak link in a very weak chain.                                                                                                   But in the 1950s and 60s it was still favorite radio shows such as, Jason and the Argonauts, Greenbottle, Jack Davey, Life with Dexter, Dad and Dave. Tom and Nell were avid sports fans and particularly Tom who would listen to Test Cricket from England for all hours. These were also the glory days of Australian tennis with names like Rosewall Newcombe and Laver to name a few so the likes of the Wimbledon Championship would have Tom and Nell, ears glued to the “wireless” as radio was termed those days.                                                                                                                  At 1.00 PM every weak day after the County Hour on ABC was a program titled Blue Hills which was written for the ABC by a lady named Gwen Merredith. She and Blue Hills were household names in Australia generally but Nell, like almost every rural woman and quite a few rural men, would never miss an episode. The program ran for 27 years so clearly it was popular.

Late nights were a rarity as 32 volt lighting plants were used sparingly and it seemed “fuel was always expensive?” So when the motor was turned off, which it was at a certain time each evening, it was bedtime for everyone. In as much as the 32 volt systems had batteries linked to them for limited power after the motor shutdown this accessory was used most sparingly as “flattening”, or partial flattening, was deemed detrimental to the life of the of the batteries.

Occasionally a real treat for kids of that area was a trip to the “pictures”  in the Mullewa Town Hall or outside the Town Hall in the “open-air theatre” in the summer. Like for all Mullewa kids for the Foster kids the highlight of that evening was the interval treat of a chocolate coated icecream served by the famous Mrs Peet at the deli across the road from the Town Hall and theatre.


This story has been supplied and written by Judy (McDonald) Foster and Des Foster and is being compiled currently

So its work in progress with much more to come.

Annette enjoying “photo-time” during the closing celebrations in 1985


Nell, Des, Robert, Judy, Tom 1st February 1969

L to R; Brian Weir, Helen Bycroft (nee Lynch), Annette Foster (nee Lynch) Des Foster, Tricia Murphy (nee Lynch) and Neil McCartney………………May 1974

Back row; Doug Brenkley, Robbie Weir, Jack Brenkley, Clem Keeffe , Athol Rumble, Albert Cream, Keith Butler        Middle row: Glenys Desmond, Faye Keeffe, Jean Brenkley, Mary Critch, Mel Weir, Annette Weir, Brian Weir                            (partly obscured), Kevin Critch, Val Brenkley, Rita Desmond, Ellie Thomas (far right)                                      Front row: Allan Desmond, Carol Moore, Jean Cream, Des, Annette, Elaine Butler, Pat and Kevin Weir, Paddy Butler                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Geraldton May 1974













  1. Fantastic story! The Tenindewa store was a great part of my childhood. Exciting times for us kids, the Christmas tree and the always happy and kind Aunty Nell Foster! She would give us a small bottle of fanta and let us open it with the bottle opener on the side of the fridge and we were the happiest kids in the world! Great memories. xxxx

  2. Great memories of dear Aunty Nell and Uncle Tom. They were always so kind and happy. We loved going there as kids. Many happy times.

    1. Author

      Thanks Maureen,

      Any photos or verbal contributions welcome too

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