Foreword Judy McDonald, (nee Foster)
“When one passes by Tenindewa these days, it hardly rates a second glance, but if fleetingly taken, reveals it to be just a lonely solitary building in the middle of nowhere. Consequently, its 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 Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) wheatbin with it’s various ancillary buildings and the local Bushfire Brigade Headquarters. Further it had Tennis Courts, and, even for just a period, a Football oval incorporating a cricket pitch and nearby a school which operated up until 1939. The village of “Tenindewa” was made up largely of the 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 remember, cherish and forever call this place Tenindewa, our home”.
A Snapshot in Time
The first Tenindewa Post Office was operated by a Mrs. Francis Agnes Eves in 1910 but it was transferred from that location to Norman Fry’s residence across the main highway and run by his daughter in 1918. This attractive and imposing new homestead, locally dubbed “The Big House” was 100 meters south of the Stockyards. In 1919 it went back to “The Old Hall” (the original Community Hall some 100 meters east of the current shop) and run by Miss Kathleen Palmer and her sister Eileen, followed then by Mrs. Napier, wife of George Napier who was a fettler on the railway gang.
In 1920 it transferred again back to the two Miss Palmers at which time a Store housing the Post Office was constructed by local farmer Alex Rumble. This attractive commercial enterprise was then leased to Mr. Bill Griffith up until 1935, who, at that point in time, proceeded to built the present Shop and on its completion he transferred the Post Office operations and the all old shop’s retail component into the new premises.
When the Griffith family moved to Perth in 1942 the Shop was leased to Mr. Eric Hamilton (brother in law to Griffith) for a short period. Mr Bill Kelsey operated it in 1944 to 1945 and then it went back to Bill Griffith from December 1945 to February 1946 when the Shop and the business was bought by Tom and Nell Foster (nee Heelan)
From the State of Victoria to the town of 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 his mother and father, 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”, could be described as “General Merchants” but regardless, they were renowned for “stocking everything”.
Ellen Monica Heelan, later to become Mrs. Nell Foster, was born at Mt Erin in the Shire of Chapman Valley, some 25 kilometers north east of Geraldton. She was born in 1912 to parents Michael and Hanorah Heelan. Michael hailed from Lismore, (Waterford) in the Republic of Ireland.
They produced a family of 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.
Tom and Nell, both keen tennis players, met at the Catholic Tennis Club in Geraldton and in addition both were keen members of the Hibernian Badminton Club. They were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, in January 1942.
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, and they did their best to enjoy themselves by taking in the football, the Tivoli Theatre, horse races at Flemington and the abundance of local Chinese food.
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 to be closer to family and become domicile, but in the first instant this was 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 a new chapter in that of the Tenindewa Community.
Things moved very rapidly from this point and a short time later Tom and Nell moved to Tenindewa after the completion of the deal with Mr. Bill Griffith. It was now February 1946.
Immediately after starting business Miss Kitty O’Brien, daughter of local Tenindewa farmer and Nell’s cousin Tom O’Brien, came to work at the newly acquired shop. Kitty soon became a familiar and valued part of the team at the Tenindewa Store.
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. Judy soon enshrined herself as the mascot and resident darling of the Foster household and the Shop patrons. This delightful arrangement was to remain for many years to come. By 1951 the family became the perfect unit with the arrival of son and bother to Judy in Desmond (Des) who also was born in Mullewa. Des was destined to be part of the Shop and the Tenindewa Community for the next 34 years.
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) depot and weighbridge shed containing the scales and an office which left miniscule accommodation space for a 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 its Siding and largish Goods Shed which had the capacity (height and width) to allow the Locomotives and their wagons to move through. There were also numerous Railway Employee houses along with (on occasions) some tents for casuals. 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”. It was a most impressive homestead given the times, but not surprisingly as it was built by the famous Bert Crothers of (later) Geraldton Building Company fame. The house was completed in 1914 for one of Tenindewa’s first farmers (termed those days as settlers) in Norman McNeil Fry
The Store and Surrounds in 1960
The District and its People
By the mid 1950’s the house and shop were powered by a rudimentary 32 volt lighting plant and the water supply was rainwater-only which was 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 and carted in!
Contrary to modern days the only community phone for the district was the phone-box outside the shop. Tom however would deliver urgent telegrams but for understandable reasons the farmer folk would sometimes be in trepidation, seeing Tom’s car coming down their drive. Tom in fact mostly brought good news in the form of births, engagements, wool prices and often he took the opportunity to have Judy and Des come along with him for the ride and for the socializing opportunity 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 their home countries and their homes and forced away from their 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, trying to comprehend a foreign language and 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. It must have been big as 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 only a cursory look at those grimy items of clothing and immediately threw them in the bin from whence they went directly to the Tenindewa Tip!!
The Foster family also were, due to most unfortunate circumstances, recipients of a similar kindness 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 (nee Mary Agnus Cullerton), who along with husband Paul Desmond, were 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 absolute demise which, sadly, occurred on the 7th of August 1969. The assistance and support given by the whole community during that period to Nell, Judy and Des has never been forgotten and especially in respect to those two major stalwarts in neighbors, Paddy Butler and Bim Desmond.
For a small community in the 1950s and 1960s it was really quite busy with the shop, the hall and the siding all playing their part to create a hub of activity for the district. Meetings, dances, for a period church services, Christmas Trees (annually) two weddings plus a couple of 21st birthday events (one for Joan Weir and earlier, Athol Rumble) took place in that community hall.
With the Shop having the only Public Phone for miles it (the phone box) served as “the office” for may business-calls and for calls to loved ones and to not so loved ones and for calls of all nature which took place from that phone in front of the Shop. On election days, a makeshift Polling Booth was constructed within the shop 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 most occasions, an impromptu party would erupt which often ended up being the best social event of the year for Tenindewa.
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 created much activity at the Shop.
Thursdays were the busiest days at the Store as that was the day when fresh vegetables and fruit would arrive at the Tenindewa Railway Siding from the Perth Markets.
The Wedding of 53
Gloria and Bill’s Cox’s wedding reception took place on Wednesday the 11th of February 1953 at the Tenindewa Hall. Historically it was not unusual for weddings to take place on a Wednesday, because as the time dictated, shops often were closed on that day and many weddings took place mid week.
Gloria was the daughter of Alex and Olive Butler (Nee Stone) of Tenindewa and Bill was a product of the Agricultural School (CBAS) at Tardun run by the Christian Brothers. It is one of only two recorded marriages to have been celebrated locally. The previous one took place some 41 years earlier in August 1922 with the exchanging of vows between Miss. Jean Eves and Mr. Michael. J Kember. In that instance the Nuptials and the wedding breakfast were both held in the “Old Hall”
The Cox-Butler wedding was a joyous event with the entire district and beyond involved. The weather was warm, as might be expected in Tenindewa 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 a sizable person by description. This gentleman was so affected he had still not fully recovered when the shop opened for business on the Thursday so Tom, a man known 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. Possibly the scenario would have been a little unsavory to some but for Tom it was just part of ‘business as usual”.
As fate would have it during the day a traveling salesman visited as part of his brief and then after hurriedly leaving Tenindewa, arrived at Mullewa some 15 minutes later, in a semi horrified state. Without introduction and needing no invitation, this by now very confused travelling salesman, gushingly and nervously blurted to a client shop proprietor, that he was absolutely certain he had just caught a glimpse of the body of a “dead giant” laying semi-concealed 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 (10 gallon) waterbag suspended in the middle which guaranteed ample cool water for all for the duration. Trestles with scrumptious afternoon teas that the local ladies supplied always materialized. It has to be said, Country Ladies were amazing and consistent in feeding the multitudes in the likes of those humble surrounds. In Tenindewa in those days in that bough-shed they served delights, of a quality you would not expect at Claridge’s in London.
Also as were the times, the dress code expected, and respected by all despite the spartan setting, was pristine whites as evidenced by the photos of the era.
Live entertainment in the district was somewhat of a rarity but usually folk had the end of year pantomime to attend which was produced by the Mullewa Repertory Club and on some years a Mid-Year production also.
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 essentially a lively and very entertaining band and it eventually became known, more famously and universally, as the Slim Dusty Show.
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 livestock. In those days the aboriginal community had especially strong links to that industry via its employment opportunities. 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 and loyal shop patron, in Mr. Paul Byron had been invited to participate with the 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 this program modern context it was a prelude to the TV program of “Australia’s Got Talent” and was ‘compared’ by a household celebrity of the time in Mr. Terry Dear.
District functions included the Debutant Ball, the Mullewa Agricultural Show and the annual horseracing fixture, The Mullewa Cup
Debutante Balls were a feature of the Social Calendar in all sorts of places in years gone by. Essentially it was a means for a young lady to announce her “coming out” or her entrance into society and these gala events would occur among the rich and famous in the cities around the world and around Australia and they also occurred in Mullewa. Often Churches of various denominations would run them for their parishioners and all of the town.
In the year 1952 Tenindewa was represented when Judy Foster and her life long friend Alice Cunningham were the flower girls. Nell and Tom Foster were Hostess and Host on one occasion as was Glady Moore.
Along with various district responsibilities, Tom was the secretary of the Mullewa Race Club. Like most race clubs in the Murchison and Geraldton areas the Mullewa club had only one event each year which was attended by all and sundry. Tom would also attend the Geraldton, Northampton, Mingenew, Dongara and Yalgoo meets in order to solicit nominations for the Mullewa event.
The Mullewa Show was the highlight of the year with exhibits and displays of every kind, cakes, wheat, chooks, vegetables, wool, photography, equestrian events, machinery. For kids most of the above meant nothing except for the side benefit of maybe a new suite of clothes for the boys and or a new dress for the girls. In kids minds, it was Sideshow-alley that ranked as the number one 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 the rest of the day was spent with friends often wandering around and occasionally listening and watching George Stuart of “Stuarts Troop”. George’s booming spiel would be about enticing the locals and particularly some of our hardy and naturally talented aboriginal lads to match themselves against his professional touring pugilists. Then after a bout was publicly 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 heralding 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 at 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. Sir David would annually put the Mullewa Show into his diary.
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 a suitable gift for each child, finding a suitable tree and decorating that tree in Christmas glitter. It was 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”. The children of Tenindewa, from that year to the present have continued to enjoy a similar traditional Christmas tree .
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.
Kevin Weirs memory of the events over the years are as follows (2014)
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 a thriving tennis club. The Geraldton-Mullewa rail line had opened in 1893 and Tenindewa had a permanent railway gang living here plus there was a railway goods shed built to accommodate the growing demand in 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.
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 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 refueled it after much stumbling around. 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 fuel and some clothing. Being a manual telephone exchange and Post Office, the shop was the 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 the bush Christmas tree and helping out wherever needed. Keith Butler still holds the record for attending the most Christmas trees which was over seventy.
Mrs. Roma Rumble, wife of George Rumble who lived halfway between Tenindewa and Ardingly, was the main organizer of the tree in the late 50s and early 60. This lady was a power-house both organizationally and practically. These days the mothers are more inclined to 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, Critchs’ generously offered the use of their shearing shed to hold the Christmas tree.
In 1985 the Tenindewa Exchange became the last Manual Exchange in WA to close. With the Post Office no longer part of the business and with fewer farmers the viability of the enterprise was in question and understandably the Foster family decided to close the shop and move to greener pastures in Geraldton. The much loved Shop was then converted to a meeting hall and Christmas Trees came back to Tenindewa.
For a period our numbers declined so for a year or two we combined our tree with Devils Creek but then our numbers increased again when the Critch families and others started to repopulate Tenindewa.
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.
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 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 an often used standby. A more opportunistic and audacious conveyance for Santa was occasionally the Guards Van on a passing Freight Train. On at least one occasion 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 preferred mode of transport.
Growing up in Tenindewa town
There seemed never to be a dull moment for the the Foster kids as customers, 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. Then there were 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” in Marine Terrace for a kids matinee picture show.
The activities that the Foster kids enjoyed in those days were games that entertained them and most kids for hours. These were games that had been played for millennia, yet, for the most part 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 rarely played these days.
Another most unconventional 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 a very multi agency arrangement but it was especially a provider of 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!! 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 a “big bang”. It goes without saying the Health and Safety legislation must have still been in “draft form” in those years.
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. Most likely it is where Judy and particularly Des honed their skills for the real game of tennis. Des went on to become the Mullewa Club Champion on several occasions and those were years when there was some serious opposition to contend with.
Because of their proximity to Geraldton-Wiluna rail-line, “train spotting” was a real favorite with the Foster kids. 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 an eagle eye for approaching rail traffic. This traffic could be any number of rail-vehicle types including a passenger or freight train, the Diesel Car, the Length-runner’s trolley or the fettlers’ trolley.
The evenings for Judy and Des, Nell and Tom were mostly quiet as radio was the only medium of outside entertainment with TV, still many years into the future. It was the year 1970 before Tenindewa and those type areas could access “limited” and only “black and white” reception and even then with the help of a very tall aerial (eg 12 meters). This (depending on weather) resulted mostly 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. In other words the invertor compressed 32 volts into 240 volts which added another weak link to an already very weak chain. But back to the 1950s and 60s it was all 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 until all hours.
These were also the glory days of Australian tennis with names apropos, Rosewall, Newcombe and Laver (just to name a few) the live radio broadcast of the Wimbledon Championship would have Tom and Nell with ears glued to the “wireless” or radio as it was referred to in 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 Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) by a lady named Gwen Meredith. She and Blue Hills were household names in Australia and 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 and it goes without saying, Blue Hills was popular.
Late nights were a rarity as 32 volt lighting plants were used sparingly as it seemed “fuel was always expensive?” So when the generator was turned off at a certain time each evening, it meant bedtime for everyone. In as much as the 32 volt systems had batteries linked to them for limited power after the generator shutdown this accessory was used most sparingly as “flattening”, or partial flattening, was deemed detrimental to the life of the of the “expensive” 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. For all Mullewa kids and for the Foster kids especially the highlight of those evenings was the interval-treat in the form of a chocolate coated ice-cream (some times a double) served by the famous Mrs. Peet at Peet’s deli across the road from the Town Hall and theatre.
Wolya in Flower
Wolya, is a parcel of crown land on the north side of the lake and behind the store, but for the Foster kids it was an amazing private adventure playground. It seemed like Judy and Des, often accompanied by the cousins and friends, spent half their lives there. This Wolya Reserve was very easily accessible to the Foster family in the dry times but in the winter months or after summer thunderstorms it had to be approached via the “stone footpath” This footpath, which could be described as a “permanent statement in stone” and built by a Mr. George Bone and his son Ron in the 1920s was to enable the kids from the Tenindewa Settlement to access their school that was operating there at that time.
But over the years, not only the Fosters, but generations of fettler kids especially would undertake activities like building forts, do bird watching excursions and have picnics and cook-ups in one of the many picturesque and exciting picnic spots throughout the reserve. The Foster gang generally organized these cook-ups, mostly in a semi-sophisticated form utilizing pots, pans and utensils, especially stashed for such excursions. These excursions were tastefully augmented with a selected cuisine of sausages, chops, damper and the like.
The Army, in the form of the 42nd Machine Gunners had been encamped in the middle of the reserve north west of the school during the second World War and kids, the Fosters especially, as part of a Wolya excursion would inevitably gravitate to this area to enact out war-games. The site of the tents and encampment is still clearly marked out with stones that have stood the test of time.
Annually, in August, September and October, the entire complexion of the bush explodes into a myriad of colors as wildflowers and shrubs burst forth out of, what seemed previously, a dry and dreary landscape. To Judy and Des at that time of year the reserve became The Tenindewa Botanic Gardens which, in their minds, displayed for all, botany in a superior style to anything elsewhere in all Australia.
Wolya in Prose
“In pre-railway days and up to the time it blossomed forth as an agricultural centre, it was known as Wolya. The old Wolya Well was a favorite camping place for weary travelers across the cruel sandplain, on the road to Mullewa and en-route to the Murchison. Contrary to usual practice , the Railway Department (or whoever named the siding) has endowed it with a more euphonious name –Tenindewa–how glibly it runs! We are told it a most beautiful place in the Spring, and we shall not be surprised if, in the near future, such a beautiful place with such a beautiful name is not the theme of a spring poet”– GERALDTON GUARDIAN 18TH NOVEMBER 1913
Occasionally for the Foster family there was swimming at the Noondamarra Pool, situated in the Greenough River quite near their Uncle Dave Heelan’s farm some 20 kilometers north of Tenindewa. Since the settlers started taking up land in the area, and more than likely centuries before that, this Noondamarra Pool was regionally very popular for swimming, picnicking and camping. It stayed this way until the inception of the Mullewa Swimming Pool and other such constructed attractions that materialized in the 1960s.
However, even in its time, its attractiveness varied somewhat depending on a good seasonal flow of the river which when it did occur, produced water with a pristine quality and clarity for the pool. Despite the surrounding mud and reeds this pool was often a most refreshing and relaxing place to exercise and be enjoyed on hot summer days.
Enter the 60s
The decade of the 1960s brought progress and change and by then the shop sold just about everything. Over and above the Post Office there were groceries and green groceries, the latter which would come from Perth every Thursday. It also included a Commonwealth Bank Agency, the Goldsborough Mort Agency, the fuel agency (Shell), a Dry-cleaning Agency and with the attraction of newspapers being delivered every day it all combined to create a busy little bush hub. More refrigeration was installed at the Shop during this time also and there was a noticeable uplift in the number of Commercial Travelers and Salesmen calling.
Deliveries of fresh bread, smallgoods and frozen items from Geraldton became a feature of the service. In terms of customers the district probably hit its peak in that decade with the 60s being great years for the farmers who increased their workforces. As a consequence of increased production the WAGR-Railhead and the associated fettler gang were all functioning at full capacity and even expanding which also applied to CBH’s Receival Point.
On the down side, and especially for Nell, supply of potable water was scant with the shop and the dwelling still being reliant solely on rain water. Her long term dreams of a nice green lawn faded back to the starkest of realities in having just the same half dozen pot-plants as she always had.
One of the biggest and most pleasant changes since the arrival of the Fosters happened as a consequence of Judy leaving School in 1962. Coinciding with that event was the Manual Exchange was in the process of being connected with a total of eleven subscribers and that created a demand for more hands on deck so it was then that Judith Mary came aboard and became, and remained always, Tenindewa’s most delightful telephonist.
All round, despite it being long overdue, it was great that the new subscribers could experience the convenience their city counterparts had long since taken for granted. Previous to this Tenindewa’s communications were just one “party-line” and the one telephone box to service its many subscribers. To make communications more congested, previous to 1962, Tenindewa was sharing this one line with Mullewa, Geraldton, Indarra, Eradu, Wicherina and Northern Gully so at “high traffic times” it could be a very long wait indeed before a subscriber got their connection to the outside world.
Like many things in the region in the 1960s football was evolving, as modern transport and higher incomes gave rise to travel and entertainment, in a more regional way. Up until 1963 Mullewa had 3 teams comprising the local competition, they being, Railways, Federals and Devil’s Creek which were all supported in a most passionate and partisan way. Tenindewa too had also had a team in this competition for a period back in the 1940s. With great foresight the principals of the three clubs collaborated in 1963 and negotiated a deal with the Great Northern Football League which enabled Mullewa to enter a combined team in that competition.
The Fosters from the outset became passionate supporters of this new Mullewa team and not only cheered on the local boys but Tom, who had coached Devil’s Creek for a time in the old association, became the Mullewa time- keeper. So every Sunday during the season it was football, be that in Mullewa, Geraldton, Northampton or Chapman Valley. For a period Irwin Districts also fielded a side which meant heading south for those games too. At this time enter Robbie McDonald, a Dumbleyoung footballing import in the form of a dashing attacking back flanker. Robbie who excelled for Mullewa in those foundation years obviously came under the discerning eye of more than just the selectors, as very soon he became part of the Foster family which culminated in he and Judy marrying in 1969. Also, the talented Des, after returning from boarding at St Patrick’s College Geraldton in the late 1960’s, represented Mullewa with distinction in the 1970s. However it must be said that Tennis, Golf and Badminton were the sports at which he really excelled. In fact the entire family had uncanny amounts of natural sporting talent but a hallmark of the Foster modus operandi to all sport was that their talent was displayed in association with the utmost degree of sportsmanship.
Sport and the Basketball Phenomenon
In the 1960s Basketball was introduced into the sporting options for young Mullewa men, women and kids. It took off like a rocket and Judy immediately joined the Angels Club and Des the Olympians later to be called Apollos. Basketball popularity exploded for about 20 years it seemed every man woman and child in the town and around were involved.
Both Tom and Nell had been, and indeed Nell still was, very sport orientated. That talent had naturally flowed onto Judy and Des who together became a strong and valued part of Mullewa’s sporting fraternity. The sports on offer in the late 1960s early 1970s years were tennis, basketball, football, badminton, netball and golf. Nell meantime became a lawn bowls devotee and in the course of that activity she often traveled with Mel Weir, Ellie Thomas and Rita Desmond and very often to Pennants. That delightful quartet became affectionately tagged in bowls circles around the districts as Ellie, Mellie, Nellie and Rita.
The Wedding of 69
In February 1969 Robert McDonald, late of Dumbleyoung, but by then a popular local resident and all round sportsman, married Judy Foster. The nuptials took place at the famous, Our lady of Mount Carmel Church in Mullewa. The Reception was held at the Mullewa Town Hall. Judy was attended by Regina Giltrow (a Tenindewa local) and Geraldine McCartney and the groomsmen were Stephen Criddle and Greg McAuliffe. It was indeed a grand and happy occasion for Mullewa generally but for Tenindewa residents and customers of the store there were some silent reservations. This marriage was a case of locals being both delighted and denied. Judy, in the style of her mother and in tandem with her mother had become a constant and ever present delight. Those same residents and customers had become resigned to the fact that they were about to lose her as the newlyweds were about to make their home in Geraldton.
A Moment of Reflection
Sadness was to soon follow the joy of Judy and Robert’s wedding when Tom passed away on the 7th of August of that same year, 1969. Though not totally unexpected, as he had been in declining health for the previous 11 years, Tom’s passing came at the relatively young age of 59 years. His passing was a huge loss, not only to the little Tenindewa Community and the Mullewa District generally but an almost unspeakable loss to Des and Nell in regard to the business. Tom was to the entire community, and beyond, an absolute gentleman. Tom was also the most modest of men and one of wonderous patience with an amazing depth of knowledge that was supplemented by his own style of mild mannered humor.
A Changing of the Guard
In the intervening years Des and Nell ran the Store. The Mother and Son team “Nell and Des” soldiered on most admirably from the year of Tom’s passing until 1974. This was the year that heralded another major happy highlight and a most memorable milestone in the Foster story. In May of 1974 Des married the delightful Annette Lynch of Geraldton and they were to make their home at Tenindewa. This was welcomed by the community as a most fantastic outcome.
Front Row; Doug Brenkley, Robbie Weir, Athol Rumble, Albert Cream and Keith Butler
Middle Row; Jack Brenkley, Brian Weir (partly obscured) Kevin Critch
Front Row; Glenys Desmond, Faye Keeffe, Jean Brenkley, Mary Critch, Mel Weir, Annette Weir, Carol Moore, Jean Cream, Des and Annette, Elaine Butler, Val Brenkley, Rita Desmond, Pat Weir, Kevin Weir, Paddy Butler and Ellie Thomas.
Very Front; Allan Desmond
The year I974 was wet in Tenindewa and it was in August of that year that Des and Annette’s new home would arrive. It turned out to be a far from straight forward exercise getting this modern transportable house onto its stumps after a week of heavy rain but with the assistance of friends and neighbors heaving and toiling in mud and slush the new home was finally settled on its foundations. Very soon after with the newly-weds personal effects in place the new home appeared as if it had been there forever.
Matriarch Nell re-enters the story at this time as it was about at this juncture that she discovered in her retirement new found independence. Nell did not learn to drive until late in life, and as a consequence, she was never a super competitant driver. Regardless she purchased for herself a little green Datsun 120Y, but, “out of courtesy” and caution when she indicated to the family (at Tenindewa) that Geraldton was a likely destination Des would park this little green gem in front of the Shop pointing in the Geraldton direction. Conversely when it came time for the homeward journey the Geraldton relatives would do similar but in their case, leave the little 120Y parked, roughly pointing in the direction of Tenindewa.
Nell was known to be always a “forward thinking” person and it especially applied when it came to her driving prowess as she never reversed, and as a matter of priority showed that once she got mobile, she would match it with the best and reach destinations in quite impressive times. However, covertly, the family were of the firm belief that the St Christopher medal that swung gaily from the review mirror was, of heaven sent value, in insuring those safe arrivals.
(Footnote; Des and Annette’s former home still exists and is viewable to the eagle eyed in one of those little beach- cottage enclaves north of Leeman)
The 1970’s were a productive decade for Des and Annette. Their family blossomed forth in a most regular fashion in the second half of the 70’s with Andrew being born in 1975, Graham in 77 and Martin in 1979. The Mullewa District Hospital and the legendry Doctor Docherty facilitated at all three births. The boys, as had their Dad and Aunt (Judy) attended Our Lady of Mt Carmel School in Mullewa by catching the school-bus each morning right outside their door up until the move to Geraldton in 1985.
The Price of Progress
Communication has always been of paramount importance to humans since they ambled out of their caves 50,000 years ago and ever since Alexander Bell invented the Telephone in 1885 modern man has flocked to it en-masse. One hundred years later Tenindewa was about to enter the modern age of telephone, albeit making them the last folk in Western Australia to go to “Automatic” which of course phased out the need of the “Manual Exchange System” and its operators.
Though the installation of the long awaited and long promised conversion from a manual to an automatic telephone exchange was about to occur, the excitement was tempered considerably as it was known by one an all there was to be a saddening negative flow on effect. Despite Tenindewa being the last exchange in Western Australia to convert to automatic and despite all of the locals that availed themselves of telephones being excited at the prospect of an instant and continuous telephone service being imminent, their spirits were seriously subdued as one and all knew there was a sobering sting in the tail of this communications upgrade.
Not only did the closing of the manual exchange herald the closing of the shop it was the trigger for the final curtain call for this tiny Tenindewa town and it’s history. Tenindewa from the late 1930s had gone into a steady decline when its school closed. Incrementally from then on it lost its railway gang, its CBH depot, its rail siding, its hall and now it was 1985! The Foster family from 1946 to 1985 had been so much more than just the owners and operators of a convenient retail store they had literally been the heart and soul of Tenindewa. To the local community, the Foster Family’s departure effectively resulted in an end to that constant hub bub of friendly chatter and happiness at the centre of their little world that they had always taken so much for granted. All of this was suddenly and decisively replaced by a void, a void of eerie silence that has neve stopped being just that. Silent!
From the time the rail had got to this non existent outpost in 1894, on its way eventually to Wiluna, the village cautiously took root and slowly grew. In those very early times the place was known as 55 Mile Siding. Progress began initially with the school in 1913 and then the first store and Post Office owned by Alex Rumble and run by his future wife Kathleen Palmer and her sister Eileen in 1921. This early growth then blossomed further with the new store being built by Bill and Ivy Griffith during the early 1930s. Houses, tennis courts, a hall and slowly other things appeared.
After the departure of the Griffith family it was the Fosters, Tom, Nell then Judy and Des. Next Annette and the boys made Tenindewa home but sadly residents were to discover that this was the final chapter, the closing of the Exchange.
April 1985 was the date that was to end it all and Tenindewa in fact became history, ending one hundred years of evolution. The atmosphere leading into the official closing-down functions was understandably subdued and the locals noticeably reflective in silent appreciation of what they were about to lose!
Sale of the Century
On the bright side however Telsta or Telecom, as it was branded then, hosted the most amazing closing down and sendoff barbeque. It was an event like no other with the whole district invited including the 24 subscribers that made up the Tenindewa Exchange along with Mr. Len Caudle, the State manager of Telecom, Mr. John Criddle of Telecom Geraldton and their staff. Mr. Doug Brenkley the Shire President of the then Mullewa Shire and a Tenindewa resident, the Federal MHR in Mr. Graham Campbell, ABC Television and press of all nature were also in attendance.
Other invited guests included George and Grace Eves. It was George’s mother Francis who had run the very first Post Office in Tenindewa in the year 1910. Tom O’Brien and his daughter Kitty were also in attendance. The O’Brien family had been in the district as famer settlers for many years and Kitty O’Brien (Rowe) became the first shop assistant employed by the Foster family
It has to be recognized that for Telecom it was a massive milestone event, not only for them, but for Western Australia. It was the completion of a project spanning 70 years of conversion from stone age technology to space age technology and up until the introduction of the mobile phone was a leap forward in communication like no other. They (Telecom) described it thus……
Flies, dust, smoke and the smell of burned chops …..all the ingredients of a typical Australian barbecue. One could hardly regard such an event as auspicious, however a barbeque held in the afternoon of April the 13th 1985, adjacent to a single permanent building that comprises Tenindewa marked a milestone in communication in Western Australia. Tenindewa is but a spot on the map about an hour drive, roughly east of the major regional centre of Geraldton. Some 200 people gathered to celebrate the end of an era, for Tenindewa was the last manual telephone exchange in Western Australia to be converted to “automatic” so that its 24 customers could literally “dial the world” direct from their own [home] telephone. The barbecue effectively culminated 71 years of progress for it was in 1914 that the first automatic exchange was introduced into WA.
The event certainly lived up to all expectations and it was enjoyed immensely by all. The locals busied themselves in accommodating the guests and celebrities’ and the guests in turn, well, they let their hair down. To the “telephonist fraternity” it was a rare opportunity to meet each other in person as against just the verbal connections they had became accustomed to over the many years and celebrate they did. To the celebrities’ it was a rare opportunity to view the “bush” at play and to the locals it was a valued distraction to the impending reality of what was to be the new normal at Tenindewa.
Robbie’s sister and long time Mullewa resident, June (McDonald) Morgan
Sale of the Century
The next weeks were a scurry of relocation to Geraldton and new beginnings for Des and Annette and boys. Somewhat conveniently Hararda had already departed and gone to see God as his relocation to the port city might have been “a bridge too” far for the civilized masses of Geraldton to endure.
For Annette the move incurred regrets but on the upside it was a move closer to home and to her Mom, Dad and siblings but to Des especially and the boys to a lesser degree, it was only a short shift in distance but a big move emotionally. After all Tenindewa was the only home the 3 boys and their father had ever known. Des would have been aware of course that the departure of the Foster family from Tenindewa was not only a physical move for him but also a heartfelt wrench for the district. The departure would delink and sever historic connections, reaching back to, and beyond the arrival of his parents, Tom and Nell in 1946. For the locals it was and will remain the closing page on Tenindewa’s longest and, without doubt, most cherished chapter.
However a more immediate and material conundrum was still to be resolved as the Foster family departed. Fortuitously for all a resolution was emerging within the prudent mind of Tenindewa district mentor in Clem Keeffe. This problem was was, how the departing Fosters could on-sell or dispose of a Post Office building which had lost lost its key income stream and thus its viability. Secondary to this was what might the departing Fosters do with various sundry items still adorning the shelves of the Store?
The resolution to both issues came in two very logical ways. Under Clem’s judicious guidance it was arranged that the old Store be purchased by the Tenindewa Community Association using a mixture its surplus cash reserves linked to a capital levy on it’s members. This amical business arrangement was negotiated and consummated and as a result produced a modest lump-sum package which the Fosters Family generously accepted.
For the locals, almost unknowingly it became the perfect solution to filling the void of their recently condemned and dismantled Community Hall. As a consequence of the generosity of the Fosters, the Community was virtually gifted a home, and a home that was accepted with open arms and one which will be cherished as long as the iconic Tenindewa Store survives. The pleasant reality that materialized was that suddenly, the Community was the proud owner of an attractive and enduring item of regional history that would serve perfectly as base and a functional meeting place.
(Des and Annette’s home was purchased separately by the Keeffe family in order that it serve their farming operation as an additional dwelling to house employees)
The send-off of all Tenindewa send-offs was arranged to formally farewell not only Des, Annette and boys but Judy and Nell also. It was held on Friday the 19th Of April and is a night that is still remembered by attendees and the many special guests. The Fosters were related to few but had become connected to most. They had become a part of every family in the entire district both past and present and naturally every individual that could attend did. Fittingly it was the most sincere, enjoyable and lovely farewell that any person could have ever attended and a credit to the Community.
So it was to be, during the celebration and immediately after the farewell speeches that the final act was to be played out. It was the liquidation of those remaining sundry items. This task was entrusted to a Mr. Bob Pearce, a local Elders stockman and auctioneer who was co-opted and instructed to “sell all by auction”. In as much as it could have seemed a somewhat cavalier way to clear the shelves it was done in hilarious but respectful style by the auctioneer and the bidding was done in generous and spirited proportions by the vendees.
As this monster clearance came nearer to the end it became obvious that the very last item to go under the hammer was to be a solitary bottle of Holbrook’s Hot Sause. It then also became apparent that in the audience, there were some random individuals, that wished to make just such unique purchase not because of what was in the bottle but because of what it represented. It also became even more obvious at this juncture that, one of the much loved and respected Tenindewa elders, Mr. Robbie Weir, was definitely not going to let the unique opportunity pass and as it played out his pockets proved, just too deep, for the assembled competition and thus history was made.
Robbie, became the purchaser of that very last item at the enormous price of $113.00.
In his inimitable and generous style Robbie not only bid up the to the maximum but out of respect to posterity he had his prize purchase appropriately mounted and captioned and hung on the wall of the shop where it remains on display to this day.
Tenindewa stalwart Robbie Weir was the purchaser of the last item sold in the now famous Tenindewa Store for $113.00. It remains a display feature in the Store.
Four of Tom and Nell’s grandsons at the Store in April 1985
Judith Mary McDonald (Foster) 2021
“The memories I treasure and miss the most are, waking up to the sounds of birds each morning. the smell of the bush and the earth after the first rains of the season and particularly after a long hot summer, the noisy frogs that magically appear again in the salt lake behind the Shop, Mills and Wares biscuits in the big bulk tins to be weighed out into bags, Plaistowe slabs of Peanut Brittle, Coconut Rough and Rocky Road, (much of which never made it into the bags) and finally the sounds of the trains shunting their wagons at night at the siding.“
Nell, after 30 years of residing in Tenindewa, relocated to Place Road Geraldton in 1976. She retained her active approach to life for the next 16 years before before slowing a little, spending her last 8 years in Nazareth House Geraldton.
Nell passed away on the 21/06/2000 and the perfect requiem appeared in the local paper to acknowledge her passing
“A large gathering of friends and former customers gathered to pay tribute to the most loved person to ever live in Tenindewa”