FARINA - NOTES FROM A NEWBIE
We’ve followed the Farina story for a few years so the callout for enthusiastic photographers was too tempting a carrot to resist. Timing fitted neatly around our other life commitments and soon enough we were inducted into volunteer registration, supplied with background information and image transfer processes ready for an adventure.
A gentle drive up from Adelaide and overnight dinner and catch up in Quorn delivered a frozen car windscreen next morning and a warning of potential nights to come. A relatively short road trip through Lyndhurst to refuel found us arriving along a stretch of unsealed road at the sign to turn into Farina. Already wide-eyed at the stunning mid-afternoon scene, we wandered, keen as mustard, into a buzz of activity and newly inducted Team Leaders talking us through the safety induction and directions to the volunteer campground.
Well that was the first surprise! Here we are in outback desert country as experienced bush campers, capable of sustaining ourselves with solar power, care with water supplies and occasional composting or hole-digging process to dispose of personal sewage. But lo…the campsite offers ablutions with flushing toilets, hot showers – albeit salty bore water – and adjunct generator power if needed. The site was scattered with caravans, campers and tents along the creek bed, amidst rare low trees and along the fenceline; so we found ourselves a level space to settle for 2 weeks. It didn’t take long for the birdlife to attract our attention chirruping between the saltbush and drying seedpods on the local eremophilia: weebills, grasswrens, and honeyeaters compete with the wagtails and pigeons.
Before we even contemplate getting to work, there is entertainment thrown into the mix. Jessie Budell of the Adelaide Conservatory of Music has spent many months around Farina, working with the volunteers and investigating its history and to compose a score redolent of the life in the town. At sundown music and sounds from various rusted tins and scrap, stones, bark and old bottles created an intriguing effect harking back to a life lived around a rail line, dusty streets, pubs and contrasting quiet of the outback.
We recommend newcomers take a long slow walk, if possible, around the extended town layout and along trails to soak up the feel of the period and get a sense of the scope of the reconstruction project. The walking trail leaves the campground for a 2km saunter through eucalypts, acacia, native apricot, masses of saltbush, grasses and tiny paper daisies if you look carefully. There has only been 15ml of rain this year so the evidence of drought is visible; piles of dried branches, leaves and general brush lay along the route and occasional kangaroo bones remind you the wildlife are also struggling. Volunteers have installed newly painted and oiled signage so it’s easy to follow along the creek and round to the wells and windmill. A must for train enthusiasts is a second side trail that takes you under the historic narrow gauge rail bridge to the cattle loading area and rerouting triangle where the narrow and standard rail trains crossed over and turned.
Wandering the town streets quickly highlights the importance of the reconstruction activity that is successfully shoring up decaying stone structures of the old post office, hotels and significant buildings, although many of the old town general dwellings have disappeared given they were made of wood, canvas or bits of tin etc. Nonetheless the surroundings are scattered with remnants of an earlier time with assorted objects catching your attention – glass, ceramics, tins, fence posts, rail spikes, bed frames, the odd car shell etc - some are so unusual as to leave you pondering what purpose they might have served.
A preponderance of bright yellow Farina vests are a powerful indicator that volunteers are throwing their time and skills into many visible occupations to make mud, point and rebuild the relics of beautiful gold and cream stone buildings; prepare and paint timber paneling; constructing and oiling timber signage; digging, reinstating paving from original slate and grading the streets. There is enormous effort being put into a special project to rebuild “Patterson’s House” with the aim of respecting the timber panel style of the time and that will eventually become the key focus of an historical display, art, educational sessions and a space to relocate the bakery outlet to stable premises with an operational kitchen. This week tradies and labourers have made a huge effort to dig out holes down to rock layers and lay pipes getting an essential septic system in place for the benefit of future users.
Visitors are fascinated by the techniques used in the traditional wood oven underground bakery that is fired up each day before 5am, welcome warmth from the bitterly cold early morning desert. It is apparent that the bakers are the hidden gem starting the old underground wood oven before 5am - welcome warmth on the cold desert mornings - to ensure there are fresh hot loaves, pies and a delicious array of buns to tempt the tastebuds. Luckily these attractive goodies are hard for bush campers to ignore as the funds make a valuable contribution to the rebuild.
It didn’t take long to realise, however, that a diverse range of activities are necessary to keep the volunteer community functioning in the same way that the people of old Farina would, out of necessity, have needed to organise their lives. Like any little town the hidden work goes on: volunteers take turns to collect the garbage; separate bottles and cans; clean and empty the toilets; refuel generators; keep the “donkey” fire going for hot water; launder the bakery linen; staff the bakery shop and offer a friendly smile to the many visitors that stream through.
Week 5 - report 2
Huge cheers and applause vibrated around Tom’s shed as the volunteers celebrated at the Wednesday night roast. Tim, the current team leader, and Steve the project coordinator, announced significant milestones on the Patterson House project.
Volunteers have been putting in a massive effort to excavate down through the softer sandy soil to pretty much hit rock but success as it delivered a hole sufficient for the team to install pipes and septic tank ready for use once the Patterson construction is concluded. Steve also announced that with valuable skills from Shane the plumber, they managed to install the box gutter between the twin roofs of Patterson’s, and so joining 2017 with 2018 project advances. Similarly, the slate paving along the front verandah is progressing sufficiently to appreciate the impressive visual effect. Steve also outlined the important installation of a solar security system to protect the building during the off season.
These stages, along with the jarrah doors and window frames provide a drawcard for visitors to stop and chat about developments in the project. It is surprising how often people indicate that they are repeat visitors and have cause to proclaim admiration for progress over the years. Needless to say the bakery is still described as a serious incentive to stop in for fresh goodies so far along the desert track.
The roast meat and vegetable accompanied by bread and butter pudding went down well after some seriously beneficial efforts on the restoration over recent days.