From ‘Boom Town’ to ‘Ghost Town’
Farina- The forgotten town in Outback South Australia
On our recent travels from Oodnadatta to The Flinders Ranges we were surrounded by so much history. The whole Oodnadatta Track was peppered with old ruins of homesteads and farmhouses of the past. A notable feature of this section of outback South Australia is the rich history of the Ghan Railway where in a lot of sections of the Oodnadatta track, follows the Old Ghan line with some really interesting areas to explore- in particular the old bridges and trestles. I could only imagine the difficulties the labourers who were a part of its construction must have struggled with. The heat is one thing but the flies would have been another.
So as we successfully made it back to the tar roads and passed through the town of Maree we turned off the main road and into the historic township of Farina, roughly 26kms north of Lyndhusrt. We had been told about this place as was recommended that we visit.
The town of Farina (originally a pastoral lease known as ‘Government Gums’) was established in the late 1870’s by a few optimistic farmers hoping that the area would provide great conditions for growing wheat and grains with hope they could establish a major granary (hence the name new, ‘Farina’ meaning ‘flour’ in Latin). BUT- the rains just didn’t come! At least not in the quantity that was required to support a prosperous yield of grains. The wheat and barley crops soon failed.
Despite the failing crops, the town of Farina flourished as the railhead of The Great Northern Railway until the railway was extended north to Maree and then on to Alice Springs. Stockman would bring cattle down from Oodnadatta, Birdsville and Innamincka to load onto the trains for transport including stock from the famous Anna Creek Station- the world’s largest cattle station. It was this need for major rail infrastructure that brought about the railways construction. Farina was a popular stop for The Afghan Express (now just called The Ghan). Passengers would patronise the Transcontinental Hotel for a few beers and a night’s accommodation.
Standing in the main street, it’s very easy to imagine a thriving little town and just as easy to find yourself immersing in its history. One thing that caught my eye as we turned off was a sign saying “Bakery- Now Baking”. I thought to myself that can’t be right- here we are in the middle of nowhere and apparently there was a bakery??? In fact, the existing towns bakery has recently been restored (2010) and is used each year as a working bakery during April and May whilst the Farina Restoration Group works on site. The bakery is located underground with basically only a staircase indicating its presence alongside a chimney for the bakery’s wood fire oven.
The Farina Restoration Group is a dedicated group volunteers from all over the country who put aside their time and are dedicated to restoring the old ghost town for the sake of history and for the many tourists that enjoy visiting. When operating, the bakery will sell products like fresh bread, sausage rolls, muffins and pasties, all cooked in the wood fire. The best thing is that profits from the bakery sales go back into the restoration group to purchase materials used for restoring the homesteads, buildings, historic cemetery and erecting new information billboards.
A mud map is available from the bakery (when it operates) and guides you to places of interest around the town. Such buildings as: the stables, post office, the Exchange Hotel, Moffott’s House, Bells Store, Church, Police Station and that’s just to name a few.
The cemetery has 244 names registered as being buried in the area and are recorded on the cemetery’s story boards. Very few graves are marked and many unnamed burial sites are identified by quartz surrounds and memorial crosses. The cemetery also has a section where many Afghan graves are located- a sign to the prominence of Afghan people that were here during towns hay day.
Access to Farina can be by a standard vehicle as its tar road to the turn off and then a gravel road through the town and the onsite campground. Farina would make a great day trip out from your stay at the Flinders Ranges or located not too far away are the towns of Leigh Creek or Lyndhurst where there are caravan park facilities.
So if you enjoy a bit of history or your kids are junior explorers- Farina is great little place to find yourself stepping back in time leaving you with an appreciation of another era.