Paper Wreaths made in the early days of Tennant
Tennant & District Times 28 July 1989
Recollections of early Tennant Creek by Mary Edwards
It is thirty one years this month since Clara Mill asked me if I would like to go to the Country Women’s Association (CWA) with her. It struck me as being funny that there was a CWA in town, an area not noted for farming. In the town I previously lived in, I was not eligible to join as I had no link with the land. I mentioned this fact in a speech I was giving as part of a public speaking competition and later the National President of the time assured me this was not a general rule.
So Clara and I set out in her old buckboard from the Battery to my first CWA meeting which was held in the old rooms.
We sat on divans, which doubled as beds when someone needed a place to sleep, and exchanged names and told each other where we had come from. (I still correspond with one member, Marj Fullwood, and often meet another, Zel Thyer who lives at Strathalbyn, SA). After the meeting, Clara and I drove home. How well I remember her parking under the clothes line – no trees available – and we talked until half past one in the morning.
Having not long lived in Tennant (1958) I had some spare time so Clara asked if I would like to make some paper flowers. The next morning I was off next door to the mess at the Battery where Clara was the cook, for my first lesson in making paper flowers. In between cooking for twenty six men Clara showed me how to make crepe paper roses and carnations. We made them from different colours and tinted the edges. Clara was the town’s official wreath maker and in my travels I have never met another one. We built up her stock and although we had no furniture at the time we always had plenty of flowers.
These all came in handy when a local pioneer passed away. Clara had so many orders for wreaths with none in reserve and she still had to feed the men at the Battery. I remember wandering over and asking if she needed any help. We filled the wash troughs with water and soaked newspaper which we later shaped into wreaths and set to dry. We cut green crepe paper which we wound around the shape and trimmed it with fringed paper. That was the base. Then flowers were pressed into the base and the spaces filled with the confetti covered leaves. We had made twenty six when we received word from Darwin that an extra nine wreaths were needed. So back we went to work on the shapes. Beautiful tropical flowers came from Darwin and we fitted these onto the bases and finished just in time. My husband, John, and I went to the service which was held in the old AIM building. It was very hot and by the time the service was over the tropical flowers had wilted. Clara’s, however, were as fresh as when they were made. I have often told this story because to me it is typical of the Tennant folk in those days unusual, colourful, right for the occasion and in spite of everything, enduring. Clara was worthy of her title.
I am not a handicraft worker but when it was announced that a team from Adelaide was coming to teach handicrafts I thought that I had better do my bit, so I made a stool using twine for the seat. Today my radio sits on it and when I recently showed it to our present CWA President she said she had not seen one like it – another Tennant special!
At the first CW A meeting I attended there was a general moan that a photo of the original room which had been used in war days had been borrowed by South Australian Head Office and had not been returned. This moaning kept up for the ten years I was in Tennant. Many years later when I was living in Mount Barker, a few friends and I decided to go to a CWA Conference in Adelaide. The first thing I noticed there in Head Office in pride of place where you couldn’t miss it, was the photo. I looked at it and said “so that’s the photo”. Someone there asked what I meant so I told the story to the stranger, who as it turned out, was in charge of archives and after I explained the importance of the photo to the women in Tennant Creek she ensured me it would be returned.
I hope that photo has a place in the new CWA rooms.