Clara Mill

Clara Fletcher was born 28th December 1906 in Bolton, Lancashire, England to Clara Louise (nee Banford) 1866-1943 and Thomas Fletcher (1851-1923).
Seeking change after her husband’s death,  Clara Louise Fletcher departed London, England aboard the “SS Borda”, on 27th March 1924 bound for Port Adelaide, South Australia with her three children Marion 19 (occupation – Cotton Operator) Clara 17 (occupation – Weaver) and Norman 14 (school) to join her brother Herbert who had been in South Australia since 1914.
In 1928 Clara Fletcher married Victor John Henry Mill in the Hindmarsh district South Australia.
A chance conversation on a bus with Lionel Brown, a Tennant Creek miner who was holidaying in Adelaide, saw Victor Mill keen to travel north to seek work during the Great Depression, as Lionel advised there was plenty available.   Arriving in Tennant Creek at Christmas 1935, Victor obtained work assisting the baker, Tom Lockie.
The old bake house building (on the present Bus Terminal site, Paterson Street north) later became the Church of England with Brother?   in attendance.   Father Dew at the time presided at the Catholic Church on the hill.
As work proved to be steady for Vic,  Clara and children Heather, Iris and Ronald, joined their father Vic in July 1936.
At that time the population of Tennant Creek was about 200 and housing for the most part was galvanized iron buildings, tents or bough sheds with dirt floors and accommodation was difficult to find.  Vic was lucky to rent a shed from Jock Nelson,  which  had a dirt floor and no furniture,  all cooking  was done outside using  a charcoal  blower, but  later a 44 gallon  drum was converted  into a stove.  Laundry was also done outside using half a 44 gallon drum with the other half doing duty as a copper.   Furniture was made from wooden beer crates – at that time beer bottles packed in straw came five dozen to the crate; this furniture was used to divide the shed into rooms and the whole effect was fairly roomy home.   Plenty of wood was handy in those days for the fuel stove; lighting was by kerosene or carbide lamps.  No mosquito trouble but flies were a menace, and the children particularly suffered from “fly eye”.
Perishables were brought from Alice Springs each Tuesday by Sam Irvine, and had to be eaten as soon as possible, because they would not keep as there were no refrigerators.   Lack of water made attempts at growing vegetables frustrating as water being carried from the 7 mile bore (Tennant Creek) by the town water carter, Hugh Jones, costing 6/- for 44 gallons was prohibitive.
The Australian Inland Mission (AIM) was well established with the Rev. Ken Beckett in residence. Women from out of town found it a haven of rest where they could bath themselves and their children.

With Vic away mining, Clara put her energy  into the school, which at this time consisted of one room with a verandah and all grades were taught by the one teacher, Mr Allen.
On the corner south of the Post Office was a building used for medical treatment; where Mrs Darcy Goddard, a trained nurse, treated cases for which there was no charge.
Never afraid of hard work, Clara cooked for both hotels and in October, 1936, Clara was offered the job of Cook at the Eldorado Mine’s Mess at 30/- per week from each of the twenty boarders, but as this amount had to cover the cook’s wages and buy all the supplies – it did not pay. Clara did remember the time when a wind storm blew all the tents away and everyone had to sleep in the mess.
PHOTO Eldorado
Snowy Richards found the Eldorado in 1934/1935 and sold it to a company who started the shaft and open-cut on the south side, then built the battery which started to operate in 1936.
For two years the Mill children were taken to school in an A model Ford bought from Mr Chapman for 75 pounds which proved a faithful friend.
PHOTO dr at hospital
In approximately July, 1936, Dr Catalano took up residence as Medical Officer in Tennant Creek in time for the opening of the District Hospital in September. The nursing staff consisted of Sister Muirson assisted by a native boy, Sandy, who sanded the floors and did general cleaning.
Two male and two female beds coped with the population at that time, with one maternity bed being more than enough. Clara’s son, Maurice Tennant, and Mrs Harold William’s daughter, Wendy, were both born at the hospital in 1937.

PHOTO maurice and knocker

Prior to Dr Catalano’s coming Dr Fenton “the flying doctor” flew in to attend serious cases, often landing his craft in the most unorthodox places, on one occasion at the front door of the new hospital, as there was no aerodrome  at that time within the township and all surgical cases were flown to the Alice as no ambulance operated on the dirt road to that centre.
Approximately 1937 the beer prices were raised to 3/- a bottle causing a blackballing of the hotels, and pickets placed at the pubs.  Thirsts being what they are in this country the “strike” collapsed and the price of beer remained at 2/9.


Vic had work at the Paddy’s Mine and in 1939 he built a shack at the Wheal Doria Mine on which he held a tribute and  he got a few crushings with the assistance of Clara’s sister, Marion’s husband, William James “Todd” Sloan.  The next move was as a worker at the Black Angel Mine for Dick Turner. All hands decided the 35 miles to Tennant Creek was too long, and on the advice of a half-caste boy, Don Stokes, a track was cut from the Bough Shed, a deserted mine nearby, through to the Curlew mine, (near the Ivanhoe mine) through two mulga stretches and then used the existing bush road to Tennant Creek.  Later Chinese stripped the timber from these two mulga stretches for the wolfram mines at Wauchope.  On one occasion Turner took the only working truck to town to get supplies; got into a card game for high stakes with Jim Maloney (publican of the Goldfields Hotel) becoming so absorbed he forgot the hungry people at the mine.  Hunger pangs becoming severe the men rolled out an old International truck which had been the first Tennant Creek water cart. It had no tubes so the tyres were filled with spinifex, the carburetor was primed with shellite, and using diesoline for petrol, they finally reached town after having many stops on the way to refill the tubes with spinifex. Later Victor and fritz Ruger mined at the You and Me mine together and he also worked at the Wolfram mines at Wauchope.
Clara also was a foundation member of Tennant Creek’s Country Women’s Association (CWA) which in those days was affiliated with South Australia ..and in 1936 the first meeting was held in Scott’s Hall  at which were present Mesdames Clara Mill, Ena Griggs, C.Armstrong, R.Wappett and Whitehead.
During the war years and the  convoying of troops from Adelaide to Darwin, following the bombing of Darwin in February 1942
CWA members manned refreshment rooms for the troops, making and distributing 2000 scones and  cakes and fresh tea to as many as 800 men daily. Two women were rostered on each day and five coppers were kept boiling to provide cups of tea.
When the troop transports came through Tennant Creek there were no staging camps, and the boys were grateful for refreshments. Clouds of dust on the distant horizon gave the women plenty of warning of the troops approach.
After staging camps were established for the troops, CWA then turned their energy to raising money for amenities for the troops,  and arranging dances for army personal who had taken over the hospital as a signal base and other offices.  (The signal base concrete floor was the foundation for the present Memorial Club.) Proceeds from dances bought eggs which were delivered to military staging camps.
Food was also given to refugees going south from Darwin, but this work ceased on military instructions as a safety measure.
Military measures made it necessary to evacuate all persons not in essential employment. The Civil Construction Corps (CCC) was formed in March 1942 to provide a civilian workforce for war-related construction projects. Most of the recruits were over 35, including Victor Mill and were employed as labourers, carpenters and truck drivers.  The Civil Construction Corps volunteers were involved in the construction and maintenance of the North-South Road during the later war years.
Early in 1943, a well-equipped workshop was established by the Country Roads Board of Victoria at Tennant Creek. The workshop consisted of a three span structure 100ft long and 56ft wide, half of which was occupied by machine and welding shops.
Life continued in this way, with the children still at school until the end of the war.
In 1945 Clara bought the Green Mill Cafe next to the present E.S.&A. Bank.

1950’s Cook at the Government Battery, Peko Road
PHOTO mess
Clara, the town’s official wreath maker – story by a friend and neighbour at the Government Battery, Mary Edwards.


Northern Standard (Darwin, NT : 1921 – 1955), Friday 28 February 1947, page 6
Attractive Wedding
The marriage of Heather, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Vic Mill, of Tennant Creek to Leonard Gordon, second son of Mr and Mrs W J Hargrave, of Kadina, South Australia, was the most attractive wedding held in Tennant Creek for some time.
Ivory satin and lace were worn by the bride, and her attendants were dressed, in pastel shades of pink and blue, their posies arriving by plane that day from Adelaide. Bridesmaids were Misses Iris Mill (sister of the bride) and Ellen Perry, and the train-bearer Miss Mary Perry. The bride was given away by her father, Mr Vic Mill, whilst the best man was Mr Dick Hayward and groomsman Mr Don Pearsall.
The ceremony was performed at the hall of the Australian Inland Mission by the Rev. Doust at 7 pm on Saturday, last, the reception commencing at 8 pm in Scott’s Hall.
The Rey. Doust officiated as toastmaster. Mr J Bohning proposing the toast to the happy couple, Mr A Graefe that to the bride’s parents, and the Rev. Doust that to the bridesmaids.
Mr and Mrs Hargrave left on Sunday to spend a short time at Kadina before returning to take up residence at the southern end of the town.

Retiring after three years Clara took less trying work at Wave Hill Station.
PHOTO tennis? or basketball
One of Clara’s first memories is her surprise (and horror) on seeing members of the local basketball club (ladies) seated, wearing shorts and talking to men friends.  This game was played on a court on the south side of the Tennant Creek Hotel.  (Peko road corner?)
Whenever two ladies teams were not available men would supply the team.  Some early players were Margo Miles and Flo Sullivan.
The children later married and scattered to Alice Springs, Darwin and Adelaide, but Clara clings to her old town and is resident on a comer block on Stuart and Noble Streets, Tennant Creek.
To pay for the home she retired to, on the corner of Noble and Stuart streets? Clara worked as a cleaner for the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) for 14 years and the Post Master General’s Department (PMG) for 8 years.
With age and ill health Clara was cared for a the Alice Springs Nursing Home for four years, returning to Tennant Creek early 1991, following a long delay in securing accommodation in the towns new nursing home.


Northern Standard -Tennant Creek Notes – Friday 28th February 1947, page 6