Written by Anne Fam – December 2010
I lived in Tennant Creek 1971 to 1978. I have some great memories from that time. We arrived via the Ghan from Adelaide in around July 1971. I was expecting to live in Alice Springs, as that is where my husband’s job was based. Married for only a few months, we had trouble finding accommodation. He was working for the Post Masters Generals (PMG) Department. Then one day, after a short while of living in a caravan, he came home from work and advised me that he had been offered a house to live in. Only hitch was that it was 315 miles north – in Tennant Creek.
So we moved to Tennant Creek, in to a brand new house at 1 Ford Crescent. At the time it was the last finished house in the area. If I remember correctly there were a number of other houses partially finished in the area. A crew called Pettit & Sevett (I think) had just left after running short of funds to complete their contract – or so I recall. We lived with sheets in the windows for a while, and the security patrols would delight in shining their spotlights through our bedroom window late at night. The new houses were gradually finished and more neighbours filled them.
We lived next door to teachers – Vinney and Andrew Jeffreys. There were more teachers across the road, Jim and Sheila Cowley. There was a Postal house nearby as well, Kevin and Cynthia Shepley. Then Robin and Joan Small moved in next door. More teachers, Col and Mary Allen moved in the other side when Vinney and Andrew left. Other neighbours across the road were Rae and Brian Jones whose daughter became my daughter’s best friend for a few years. Some other good friends were Beth and Dennis Staunton, Beth babysat for me for a while when I was working. Mike and Lesley Brand, who we caught up with again in 1980ish when we were in Katherine for a holiday, then again a few years later when holidaying in Perth. A number of people came and went in the years that we lived there. There was a core of locals and many others who touched our lives for a few years before moving on again.
We had a great little area. If someone started a BBQ, all the neighbours would pull meat out of their freezers. Many BBQ’s and parties were had in our little corner of Tennant Creek on the corner of Ford Crescent and Turner Street.
Our entertainment was the ABC Radio, and yes, I did listen to the very last episode of Blue Hills by Gwen Meredith. We also frequented the Folk Club where Martin Curtis and Smokey (George Schmolke) led a troop of singers and entertainers. We believe that Jim Cowley could recite the whole of “Alice’s Restaurant”, but we never actually heard him do it. The venue was at the Golf Club off Peko Rd when we first started going. Later it moved to the Tennant Creek Hotel. I still have some cassettes with recordings that were taken from this live entertainment on an old reel to reel tape recorder.
In the very early days of our time there we went to the Walk-in picture theatre – and later on, around 1973/4 I think, the Drive-in was opened. We were Sunday night regulars for a while. There was still a Walk-in at Warrego, run by our neighbour Robin Small. I remember playing tennis nearby and watching all the locals walk past with chairs on their shoulders. Some looked like chairs from their lounge room.
We met many more people through sport. I played tennis and softball, and my husband Arthur, played golf. I played tennis with the DCA (Dept. of Civil Aviation) team. We would travel to Peko and Warrego to play as well as the courts in Purkiss Reserve. I played with Ray Maher, May and Trevor Wilde, and a number of others whose names elude me.
A while after I had my first child, Sarah, I went to work at the Telephone Exchange. It was at the side of the old Post Office. There were about 6 or so of us who worked shift from 7am to 11pm. I can remember a few of my co-workers. I remember Anne Landry, Jenny Berwick, Jenny Paterson, Jill Darlington and Bonnie Kappler. There were a number of others but the names elude me. When I was taking time off to have my son, Adam, the old Post Office was pulled down and a new brick one was opened. The exchange went from 1 trunk switchboard and 2 local ones, to 3 trunk boards and 2 local ones. The technology was great. Instead of writing the number making a local call on a card, we were able to push a button to record the number each time a local call was made. Trunk calls still involved paper records right up to its closure in about 1980ish. I have some wonderful memories from my time working there. I can still hear Anne Landry sitting there singing Bonnie Tyler’s song “It’s a Heartache” I believe that the old Post Office was one of the Nissan Huts that seemed to be around the Territory. I think that the Old Catholic Church in the early 1970’s was one as well. Both were pulled down eventually and new brick ones were built.
In 1974 Cyclone Tracey gave TV to Tennant Creek. Originally I believe that the live feed was going to bypass Tennant and go straight to Darwin. However, they didn’t count on Tom Darlington, the Senior Technician. He was able to patch live TV into a television up at the repeater station tower on Peko Road. It was at this station that I saw my first TV in Tennant Creek. When Tracy hit Darwin, he managed to feed the line to the town, and run wiring to his home from the telephone exchange. I’m not sure how many of us crammed into Tom and Jill’s lounge room when TV came to Tennant Creek.
In 1973, at the end of August, my son Adam was born in Alice Springs hospital. It was the day of Henley on Todd, and it rained. I believe that a diversion was made to divert the water away so that the event could still be run. When we returned to Tennant Creek a week later, we found that real milk deliveries had started. It was not the frozen cartons from Adelaide, but the real fresh stuff from Milla Milla or Malanda in Queensland. I still kept a tin of Sunshine milk handy though. The recipe on the tin used to make the best scones.
We were there to assist in picking up some of the pieces in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy. A relief centre was set up in the CWA Hall. What wonderful people there were at this time. Our new chemist in town very generously opened his doors to the stream of people heading South or East. I think we ended up with his entire supply of disposable nappies. I remember a young girl coming into the CWA Hall wearing a table cloth. I thought – we can offer her the works here, she obviously lost everything – not so. All she wanted was a toothbrush and toothpaste. Ian Tuxworth and Bruce McRae were co-ordinating the effort (I think), and when they headed home for a well-deserved rest, it was left to me to write out petrol vouchers for the evacuees. All I had was a notepad on which I wrote a few words to the effect that it was a Petrol Voucher for Cyclone Tracy evacuees, and added my signature. I always sincerely hoped that these were all honoured, and later the petrol stations were reimbursed, as promised, by the Federal Government.
My husband went to the Bakery one afternoon during this time, to pick up some fresh bread. The door was open, but no-one answered to his calls. Afraid there was a problem, he checked out the back to find our baker sound asleep. He had been baking bread non-stop for too many hours. Arthur spent the next few days working the bread slicing machine and assisting anywhere else he could. We took it in turns. He worked the days while I was at home with the kids, trying to get a nap when I could, then I would go and do an overnight shift at the CWA Hall. We lived on the Christmas ham, and the wonderful Christmas cake that my mum baked and sent up from Adelaide.
One night I spent a couple of hours bathing babies that were being evacuated by bus, while their Mothers had a well-deserved meal and a rest. I also recall chatting to one of the miners who was assisting, during a lull. He told me that he had played World Cup Soccer for his country. I can’t remember which country though. I do remember pretending to be very impressed, as I wasn’t sure just what World Cup Soccer was except that it must be a big deal from the way that he explained it. There were some very amazing people passing through, and working in the mines for a while. I also remember a Peter, also a miner, who came to Australia from his native Czechoslovakia by stowing away in a Qantas plane. He said his father was a newspaper editor, and when the Communists arrived, his father just didn’t come home one night, and was never heard of again. He thought getting away was a good idea for him. So many people came and went. I am amazed now at the variety of people we met there. The wonderful locals and the miners, many with remarkable stories.
A friend from Darwin called in briefly and dropped off a suit case of records with us to look after for him. We heard later that Trevor stopped driving when he reached Hobart. A number of years later we found him working on the co-axial cable installation from Adelaide to Perth. We were able to return his suitcase to him somewhere on the Eyre Peninsula in S.A when we were moving from Tennant Creek to Port Hedland in WA. We had arrived in the NT via the Ghan and I wanted to leave that way. We could also catch up with family in Adelaide on the way. That would have been in 1978.
I was only going to write a quick Email after reading some of the stories on the website. When I started thing about people’s names, I was surprised how many people I remember, and frustrated that I could not remember others. Some of the names came back as I went on. Others were already given to me via the website. There were still so many that I have not mentioned. Quite a few would have been with Government jobs and spent the 2 or 3 years there before moving on.
I still have a Bill Fullwood’s painting in my home. It has graced walls in Adelaide SA, Port Hedland WA, Bunbury WA, Hobart Tas., Perth WA, and now in Mackay Qld. So something of Tennant Creek has always been with me.
I would love to get to Brisbane some time when you have a reunion. I seem to spend all my holidays in Hobart, Adelaide or Perth, as my family is now quite spread out.
For those who do remember us, I was Anne Winger and my husband was Arthur. Arthur worked at the PMG (Later Telecom) Line Yards. Arthur and I had another child, Louise, when we were living in Port Hedland from 1978 to 1982, so along with Sarah and Adam we had 3 children. All are now married. Sarah is in Perth, married to Danny and they have 3 children. Adam is married to Erica, living in Hobart with their 4 children, and Louise is married to Luke, and living in Perth with their 3 children. Quite a family now. Arthur and I parted ways nearly 20 years ago. I married George Fam sometime later, but unfortunately we had a very short time as he passed away from a heart attack after only 2 years together. I now have a partner who I met in Perth. However he grew up in Mackay in Queensland, so we are now living there. Unfortunately Arthur is quite ill with the dreaded prostate cancer. He sold the house in Bunbury and has moved in with our oldest, Sarah, in Perth. He has his good and bad days. He never remarried.
I have now written far too much, but I still feel that I did a lot of my growing up in Tennant Creek. I had my 21st birthday there. Two of my children were born when we were living there, though I flew home to Mum in Adelaide for my first, and was sent to Alice Springs for my second, due to a staff shortage at the old Tennant Creek Hospital. We spent some time in Elliott when Arthur was sent up there to allow the resident Telecom Officer, Rolley Woods, to go on holidays. We stayed a couple of weekends with Margaret and Mick Clarke at Newcastle Waters – also Telstra people. I ran into them again in Perth when they were living in Meekatharra, about 10 years ago. We went to Meeka for their farewell. I think they went to Qld. But not sure where. We spent time in Katherine and Darwin as well. We came to know the Territory pretty well we thought. I have never been back to Tennant Creek, but was in Darwin for a couple of weeks in 2008. It was basically the same, just bigger.
I hope that I haven’t written too much, but the memories kept coming back as I wrote. Please be aware – these are my recollections and may not be as accurate as I remember.
Best Wishes to all