I’ve never experienced another destination quite like Farina in the far north of South Australia. To a first time visitor it’s hard to imagine just why you might choose to have a holiday in a ghost town of stone ruins, on a dry and dusty sheep station in the outback, but spend a bit of time here and you may just get bitten by the Farina bug, figuratively not literally.
We were part of a convoy of three caravans and 4WDs headed to Farina, a place I had heard of in snippets but never really learned much about it. That is until one of our friends mentioned going to Farina in spring before the weather got too hot. He is one of many volunteers who visit Farina every year to help with the preservation of this unique old town that was founded in the 1870s as a rail head for towns growing wheat, running cattle and sheep in this outback area. When it was founded, the area appeared to have abundant water and with the rail came settlers and the town was declared in 1878. The boom years for Farina were between 1882 and 1884 when more than 500 people lived in the town. It was very multicultural too with Aboriginals, Chinese, Europeans and Afghans all living here at one time. The town had a railway station, a hospital, store, hotels, two churches, a post office, police station, underground bakery and a school. In 1893 Farina had the only doctor between Port Augusta and Darwin. The Farina Station was originally run by the McConville family but drought saw them walk away it was later taken over by Jack Patterson for sheep and cattle.
The town slowly died off as the railway relocated, the school closed in 1957 followed by the post office and the last resident left in the 1960s.
The station is currently owned by Kevin and Anne Dawes who run Merino sheep, dorpers and cattle. They (along with their dog Bundy), welcome a restoration group each year and visitors to the campground all year round.
The restoration group came about after a man by the name of Tom Harding (well known in the Victorian Caravan Industry) stumbled across the ruins of Farina during an outback trek in 2008. Some stabilisation work had been undertaken previously but in 2009 he organised a group of 35 caravanners and volunteers to visit Farina and start a work program to preserve what remained of the town and its history.
The restoration group has grown and continued its work every year since and now for an 8 week period every year, between May and July, they visit to keep up the maintenance and improve the displays of historical information. This is done by way of signboards that visitors can learn from all year round but during the 8 weeks they are on site, volunteers provide a tourist information service and most importantly –the unique bakery is operational! Freshly baked bread is made in the underground ovens, and all monies raised from the sale of goods, goes back into upgrading facilities and the restoration group’s projects.
One new building stands on the site of the original Patterson homestead and this will be the base for the volunteers to run the café, sell bakery items and provide information to visitors and we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek inside thanks to the station owners themselves. The opening of this new building should have been during this season but with the Corona Virus stopping everyone and everything in its tracks, the restoration group weren’t able to visit so next year it will be.
Kevin and Anne Dawes also manage the campground which is around 600 metres from the ruins, towards the creek and it is one of the most comfortable bush camps you could want. There is plenty of room for all size rigs and you can choose where you want to set up, with some shady treed spots available. The cost to stay is $5 per person per night and money is left in a tin at the entrance to the camping area. There are flushing toilets and even warm showers thanks to a donkey heater (wood fired water heater) that you get going when it’s needed.
On a hill above the campground area there is also a war memorial dedicated to the residents of Farina who served in all of the different conflicts, a staggering amount considering the size of the town. Every three years at this memorial, an organised service is held on Anzac Day with the next one planned for 2021.
Further out from the campground is the cemetery a very stark reminder of the harshness of the landscape and the tough lives the first settlers lived out here. This was especially brought home to us on the day we went there with the spring time temperature being about 35 degrees and a hot dry and dusty strong wind blowing every bit of dirt about. As well as the graves for the European men, women and so many children, there is a separate section of the cemetery for the Afghan families.
Now having visited Farina I can well understand how it draws people back to it. There is something about being able to walk around a town of ruins and imagine the lifestyle, having the peaceful and comfortable campground to call home for a while and of course the quiet desert nights to enjoy a campfire and a sky full of stars that make it a journey worth repeating.
I have to say the highlight for us was having the station owners join us for happy hour around the campfire one afternoon. Kevin and Anne are the most welcoming and down to earth folks and it was a pleasure to listen to their stories of life on the land. They also generously showed us around behind the scenes the next day. It couldn’t have been a better introduction to Farina, but next time I’ll be in it for the baked goods!