Henry Job Stafford (1864-1959)
Popularly known as HJ, Henry Job took up farming land north west from Tenindewa on the Yuna Road in around 1908.
“To Sow the Barley” is one of two wonderful short stories written about Tenindewa, its people and its history. The author, Doreen Butler (Lindsay) who was born and raised at the tiny siding writes of the very first farmer settlers.
“The first farmers came with, as far as I know, a shovel, pick, a team of horses, a drill, with two or ten furrows, and a cultivator”. She continues “Arnold Meadowcroft, Alex and Nat Rumble, Harry Stokes, Norman Fry, Leo Critch, Henry Stafford and Walter Brenkley, [came] to take up land around the railway line. So started this era from 1905 on.”
Henry Job Stafford (HJ) took up farming land starting about 6 kilometers and stretching to about 12 kilometers north west from Tenindewa on the Yuna Road in or about 1908 (leases 68/4572 & 68/4690). A bend in the road in that proximity is still referred to by some as “Stafford’s Corner” and it was in fact on this bend that the permanent homestead for the farm “Natti” stood and which would become the residence for his wife and extensive family. They originally lived in a semi-permanent dwelling some 6 kilometers from Tenindewa.
Harriet Isobel “Stratford”, his wife to be, whose maiden surname co-incidentally was just so similar in sound and text to Stafford, and like Henry Job himself, must have been some of the earliest-born non-indigenous Australians, given her time on this earth was (1864-1940) and born in Botany Bay and, in the same year, Henry Job born in Bulli NSW. (1864-1959). They were married in March 1884.
Highlighting their early entrance into local history it is also known that Harriet was the first white lady to live in the area that we now term Tenindewa . (When the Staffords arrived in the area at the turn of the 19th Century it was known as Kockatea or Wolya as will be seen further on in this story)
Like other early residents such as the Weirs, Johnsons, Dalgety’s and many others H.J, as he was commonly known, was from a Railway background and was in the late 1800’s a Station Master in NSW. In fact in WA he was indeed the Station Master at the all-important post of Geraldton immediately before they, the Staffords moved to farming at Tenindewa. Maybe it was this occupation that led to him having the all-time classic and unique nickname of “Narrow-Gauge”?
Something else that set him apart was his partiality to the, noble art, boxing. So taken by the sport was he that it is reputed that he always had a pair of very obviously displayed boxing gloves hanging at Stations where he was in charge. The purpose of displaying these gloves was to, essentially, invite people who may have been inclined “that option” in the sorting of disputes was available?
The railway line from Geraldton to Wiluna was completed in about 1900 but would have come to Tenindewa in about 1893 and, like many before them, the very conveyance that most-likely got them to Tenindewa.
As mentioned the land they took up was in the area north west of the Tenindewa settlement and they had in fact two farms there, “Natti” and “Mittagong”, the latter at one stage being managed by a Mr. Frank Hawkins and his wife Gert. They also had land at Indarra (8 kilometers west of the “Settlement”) and by 1930 owned all the land from “Natti” south-east to the Tenindewa siding along the Yuna-Tenindewa road. Thus in Agricultural terms and in retrospect HJ, Harriet and their eldest son Charles John (Joe) clearly had an eye for quality when they selected land, as the loam textured soil that made up the majority of their farms, to this day, show themselves to be an easy working highly reliable producing soils year in year out. The serious sting in the tail of this however is that, in settler terms, the best land supports the biggest and most robust vegetation including, in Tenindewa’s case the very robust York Gum (Eucalyptus Loxaphleba). When contemplating the task at hand we must remember that the tools to deal with clearing this vegetation or any vegetation had hardly improved since Roman times, except, it has to be said that “at least the Romans had slaves”. But back to the settlers, in their case it was just sheer hard hot and exhausting toil that was the agonizing answer to bringing land into production in Tenindewa at that time.
Like their immediate neighbors, [they would not have lived more than two kilometers apart] the Palmer family, whose pioneering foray into the region is well documented by family member Kathleen (Rumble) in another story of the area titled “Memories of a Migrant”, life was by any measure tough and almost a nightmare at times. Reading Kathleen’s account of day to day happenings we note, and she writes early in her story, about her first winter in Tenindewa after arriving from England as a 14 year old.
“After tea we would sit around the fire (just an external bonfire) and talk and sometimes sing. The cold wind would blow on our backs so we would turn around and give those [our backs] a turn of the warmth.”
“About nine o’clock we would decide to go to bed but not much comfort awaited us there. The wind blew through the thin hessian walls and we were short of rugs. We lay on one hip until the top one ached with cold and then turn over and attempt to warm that one. The morning was welcomed as we arose and caught the dew that was beginning to drop from the roof”.
Incidentally that winter she describes, the winter of 1914, was possibly the worst winter collectively Australia has ever had. In terms of grain production the country did not even produce enough to feed its own small population and had to import supplementary grain from Europe. It was also the year the Stafford’s were about to have!
One can only remain bamboozled ad infinitum as to why so many of these sane, educated, rational people attempted such a risky endeavor at that time. Was it about the male ego and men’s opportunity and desire to “live the dream” or was it that the alternatives, urban Australia, England, Ireland, or the “Old World” itself generally were not all that wonderful, either financially or in lifestyle? We can but speculate on the “whys” but what we do know now are the facts in terms of the real risks that these “green adventurous“ took. In today’s terms, and I emphasize today’s terms, we would see these people as bordering on “derelict of duty”. The life and conditions coupled with the isolation, particularly of the pioneering mothers of the day in these hostile surroundings, again in comparative terms, would seem to us today as being a massive risk in terms of rearing children and to the mothers themselves “deprivation personified”.
Try to imagine an emergency trip to Geraldton by horse and sulky. It would have been two whole days all things being considered and the weather favorable. Climate-change may be a catch-cry for more recent generations in bemoaning hot summers days but records don’t lie and 115 degrees Fahrenheit then is still 46 Degrees Celsius now and so hot is hot regardless. The logistics in getting a sick child to medical attention 80 kilometers, or the 45 mile as it was then, through waterless sand-plain would have been torrid. “The Great Western Desert” or the “Cruel Sand-plain,” was just two of the names coined by the Teamsters of the day for this horror section of the trek. With the best of the roads made of stones and the worst “mere ruts” and given the pedestrian paced transport of the day, it would seem to us an enormous feat, but, to them it was all in a day’s work so to speak. There was of course very little in the way of alternatives and these were in fact, a very brave and skilled people.
Harriet gave birth to no less than 10 children beginning with Viola Harriet at Mittagong NSW in 1884 through to Harry Stratford Stafford in Geraldton in 1906. The firstborn eight of this family lived for a period in its entirety and God help us, let us hope, it was a loving and blissful time. As fate would have it in the period pre-Tenindewa and post New South Wales they had lost three children and all in the same year. Viola Harriett aged 13 years, Arthur Wesley aged 5 years and Stella May aged 10 months were taken from them over just 11 days in 1898. They are all buried in the Metropolitan area. Doris and Harry were to be born later in Western Australia in 1901 and 1906 respectively.
In the late 1890s Typhoid Fever was epidemic in Western Australia and it was a disease that thrived in the frontier living conditions that prevailed in many parts of WA that time. Many parents would have faced similar tragedies but to lose three children in 11 days must have been a nightmare beyond belief. Salmomella Entrica (Typhoid) is the disease that took the lives of Viola, Stella and Arthur in that horrendously short period and that health calamity must have tragically panicked, not just the Stafford family but indeed, the community at-large into an atmosphere of Ebola like paralysis.
Given the ebbs and flows of Agriculture at any time and surely there would be more ebbs than flows in the unfamiliar and hostile environment that the Stafford’s and most of the other “Settlers” had placed themselves one would have expected the worst and yet it is obvious there was progress. According to newspaper articles and memorabilia the family was at the forefront of local social activities and tennis particularly was their joy.
HJ along with other well-known Settler neighbors, such as Stokes and Fry, found time to serve on the “Road Board” as Local Government was known then. Indeed politics and controversy must have been in his blood because he fortuitously, for us anyway, managed to find himself hosting an investigative mission from the Geraldton Express newspaper on Tuesday the 18th of November 1913.
We are never to know what exact controversy triggered the visit from these reporters of this august newspaper, however, the following story that describes the visit is indeed a treasure in getting a snapshot of Tenindewa at that time and also some reasonably accurate insight into the ways in which the Staffords went about the task of pioneer-farming at Tenindewa. The Story from the Geraldton Guardian reads:
“We had been falsely accused of holding a poor opinion of the Tenindewa country. We could never ascertain how such an impression existed, as we were not aware that we had ever said anything derogatory to the district. Whenever we spoke of Tenindewa it was from hearsay as we had never been there. We have concluded “if fault there was” then “hearsay was to blame” and we had better go to Tenindewa and see for ourselves.
There was a standing invitation and an offer to pilot us around from a Mr. HJ Stafford, the enthusiastic Ex-Station Master of Geraldton, so one fine morning we set out with a light heart. 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 a beautiful name is not the theme of a spring-poet.”
“Tenindewa is almost due east of Geraldton, and as the train crawls 55 miles distant”. En route the train attains at Indarra four miles from our destination with Mullewa ten miles further on.”[From the destination]
“On arrival at Tenindewa we alight at a spic and span station, and are heartily greeted by the “ex stationmaster”, who looks a typical pioneer—bronzed clearly but still wiry, and emblematic of his old railway sobriquet.”
“We set out behind “Duke” for Mr. Stafford’s residence on the banks of the Kockatea Gully, three miles distant, where we were heartily welcomed by Mrs. Stafford and her daughters. Their healthy appearance and assurance that they enjoyed the “simple life” that falls to the lot of those that go to the land, were happy auguries for the tenor of these notes and eloquent testimony to the climate of Tenindewa.”
“Mr. Stafford’s homestead is comfortable but unpretentious. It is built of iron and provides ample accommodation for his large family and the occasional travelers like ourselves. He jocularly refers to the fact that the original portion (of the house) was like the world built in six days. Mr. and Mrs. Stafford wisely deferred the selection of a site for and the erection of, the permanent building until they got used to the place. They have now selected the site and it well not be long before a home is laid. After refreshing the outer and inner man, we take a stroll round the farm buildings, whilst our steed “Duke” is recuperating for a hard afternoon’s work.
Enthusiastic though he is to his prospects as a wheat grower it is satisfactory to note that as we emerge from the house that Mr. Stafford has not deserted his old love. And that he continues to breed high-class poultry. As it is well known he enjoys a reputation in the poultry world and the show pens. Hundreds of White Leghorn fowls of all ages flit here and there as we pass along the incubator room, which contains two machines. Several foster-mothers are distributed on the grassy slope adjacent the house, and in the distance turkeys are contentedly picking as they roam. Needless to say, the returns from Mr. Stafford’s poultry yard are satisfactory”.
A quaint description, we would say today, written in period English more fitting of a visit to a theme park than a 1900’s developing farm, but never the less, it gives us an excellent picture of the progress HJ and his family had made in four years and also a snap-shot of the settlement and the district in 1913.
Also the correspondent speaks politely of “healthy appearance” and of “happy auguries” when describing Stafford daughters? I believe one can be excused for interpreting these old style words as the writers code in description of the “distracting good looks” of Isobel, Eva, Ivy and Doris Ada whose ages would have ranged from 12 years to 25 years. Photographic evidence and just the general reputation of the family that has held to this day is the evidence of the beauty of those girls which would have excused any male visitor for being a little breath-taken at the sight of this “bevy of beauty”, in such humble and isolated surrounds!!
The beautiful Stafford girls
“We next came to a fair sized paddock, fenced with Cyclone netting and barbed wire, which has just been completed, and it is intended to keep the pigs within bounds, Mr. Stafford having decided to go in for pig breeding, as part of his scheme of mixed farming.”
“Although he has only been on the place for four years there is sufficient shed accommodation to keep all the machinery and horses under cover.”
“Mr. Stafford’s horse flesh was unfortunately seriously depleted during the year with the death of two draught mares whilst foaling. The two mares were value at 100 pounds ($200). “It’s all in the game” philosophically comments our guide, as we inspect the working teams. We did not see the sheep. The present flock is quite a recent acquisition; [but they] had [it seems] inconsiderably walked through the fence and sampled the crop!”
The year 1914 was a horror winter and it would have left those early settlers wondering what they had come to. Tenindewa has rainfall records going back to that time and beyond and they show that that winter was the driest on record and that record remained for one hundred years hence until being re-written in 2014. The Geraldton Express [29th September 1914] again reports on Tenindewa:
“Things around the district are as bad as they can ever be, and few, if any farmers, will have any crops to take off.”
“There will not be one bag of wheat produced east of Northern Gully, hence farmers will have to acquire seed wheat and manure for 1915 [planting]”
“With the season an absolute failure, it naturally has a most depressing effect, and many of the farmers would prefer fighting the Germans to farming”. These turned out to be tragically prophetic words for the Stafford family.
The season of 1915 was completely the opposite with record rainfall. It was known as “the year that bogged the horses” but comparatively that would have been a minor worry for our courageous pioneers. Towards the end of 1915 an inconspicuous little article appeared in the Geraldton Express under the Tenindewa Notes section:
“Three young fellows from these parts left for Geraldton yesterday to enlist for the front. Claude Wilword, Bert Jones and Lew Stafford and there are a few more men who should go, as the Empire’s needs should come first”.
An article from the same newspaper in late 1916 titled “Not The Worst Game” indicated that up to that point young Lew was staying safe. The article read:
“Private Lew H. Stafford of Tenindewa, Western Australia, writing from France on the 13th of August says; so far I have managed to dodge the German shells. I cannot give you any news of my movements but I can say that the soldiering caper is not the worst game in the world. I have not had one day off for sickness or otherwise since I joined, and I am about two stone heavier. (13 Kgs) I often meet Geraldton boys and without exception that they look very well. France is a pretty place, and the people show the greatest hospitality towards us. I am in the artillery now. I left the Light Horse while in Egypt and at the present moment I would like to be with them again”
Kathleen Palmer takes up the story and writes:
“Our cousin Claude, Lew Stafford and a chap that worked for them, Bert Jones, decided to enlist. I think a recruiting sergeant who had been staying with the Stafford’s had fired up their imaginations. We were staying in Geraldton when they went on their embarkation. We got up early to farewell them from the Railway Station. Those boys wanted to kiss us goodbye but we would not let them. Looking back how I regret our very reserved upbringing. Lew and Bert were soon blown to pieces.”
Records will show Lewis Harrington Stafford was killed in action on the 8th of November 1917 at Zonnebeke, Belgium. He was just 26 years of age.
Seemingly, despite another massive setback, the Stafford’s pushed on and their activities were very diverse throughout the district. It is reported that on the 28th of July 1917 a farmer named Richard Dunkin and a newspaper man named Mr. E Constantine were washed down the flooded creek along with their unfortunate horses and the buggy. It is further reported that “The Misses Staffords” heard their cries for assistance and gave the alarm at the house which was ½ mile (1Kilometer) away. [The near tragedy was on a crossing on the Old Geraldton Road 3 kilometers directly west of the Wolya Reserve and ajacent the then junction of the “Old Geraldton Road” and the “Old Yuna Road”] Eventually “Mr. and Mrs. Stafford jnr (Charles John (Joe) and wife Elsie) appeared at the scene.” Suffice to say the story has a very happy ending for all concerned including the horses.
In an article in March 1921 it is apparent that Charles John, (Joe) HJ’s eldest son, is now the President of the “Primary Producers” Tenindewa Branch. Again in 1921 the Misses Staffords were reported “prominent” in the “Annual Tenindewa Spinsters Ball” and again “prominent” in the preparation of the festivities surrounding the celebration of the wedding of Miss Jean Eves and Mr. M.J. Kember which was held at the Tenindewa Hall.
Tragically however, an event that must have been somewhat of a final blow to Henry and Harriet’s resolve occurred on the 14th of December 1921. Henry (HJ), eldest son Charles and youngest son Harry were driving to Tenindewa in a horse and sulky. They stopped to open a gate about midway to their destination (quite possibly on Leo Critch’s farm) when the horse spooked and Harry as a consequence was run over and killed by the sulky wheel. It is stated that “it was the one day in his life he did not get to hug his mother goodbye”. He was just fourteen years of age and he was laid to rest in Geraldton. Unbelievably this meant that five of their ten children had perished in miserably sad and unfortunate circumstances and in a considerably short space of time.
Clearly they pressed on although it was probably very soon after that sad event that Harriet shifted to 57 Gregory St in Geraldton.
Sometime later Henry also left Tenindewa and, amazingly for his age, leased a small shop at the Fitzgerald St end of Marine Tce where he focused on poultry supplies and the breeding and showing of “birds”. He lived alone above the shop.
This obviously left Charles (Joe) and his extensive family to continue what HJ and Harriet had begun at Tenindewa. Seemingly, this continued until about the mid-1940s when, judging by paper columns etc, they, for whatever reason, drifted away from the district and from agriculture?
Except for Isobel Rose (Nellie) the other siblings all married and all produced grandchildren for HJ and Harriet. Nellie instead, by the mid-1940s, became Matron Isobel Rose Stafford at the Geraldton and Districts Hospital. She was at that stage the youngest person ever to reach that rank anywhere in Western Australia.
Charles John married Elsie Howson and they had five children including the stunning Esme who went on to marry David Williams, who was a very well-known school teacher at Tenindewa for about 5 years.
The youngest daughter Nellie married William (Bill) Wheeldon a Yuna farmer and that name lives on in the Yuna area and beyond today.
Eva Mary, again most attractive, was Tenindewa’s first teacher. She initially taught in the school built privately by Norman Fry and in his paddock south of the siding for two years. She then continued on for another three years when the school was relocated to the Woolya Reserve and when it became an official “State School” in 1915. Later she married prominent Tenindewa farmer Richard Dunkin and they had three children including “Dick” who was a larger than life character and continued farming at Tenindewa until he and Del (his wife) sold out to Lindsey and Gaye White in the mid-1970s.
Pretty Ivy Garrett Stafford married the Tenindewa Store owner Bill Griffiths and remained in the area until the (1940’s) when they sold to Eric and Doris Hamilton. They had two children, Brian and Corrine. Brian Griffiths stays in touch with his old roots to this day. Bill and Ivy built the current store and the associated house. Doris Ada, the last of the surviving daughters to marry, was wed to Mr. Eric Hamilton and they produced Margaret Anne.
footnote; After a tussle of 3 years with the State Government instrumentality in the Geographic Naming Committee (GNC) and finally with the help of the City of Geraldton the Community of Tenindewa was finally able to name the road adjacent to the Store, “Griffiths Road” in 2018. (This road had previously gone 105 years without a name!!)
Somewhat sadly the HJ Stafford line will probably fade out in name as although his son Charles John (Joe) had sons only one (Arthur) in turn produced a son (Warrick) and to this day, as luck would have it, he has no male offspring however the Henry Job’s DNA still runs strong in the area and afar and thus this courageous pioneer and his unbelievably resilient partner Harriet Isabelle, God bless her, will be remembered, we pray, for as long as there is a place named Tenindewa.
Henry Job passed away in 1959 at the Home of Peace Perth
Harriet Isabel passed away in 1940 and is buried in the Methodist portion of Karrakatta Cemetery
After Harriet’s death HJ bought an orchard between the Mundaring Township and the Mundaring Weir where he lived for many years.
The Stafford family
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