Few places share the warmth and charm of Farina, a historic railway township in outback South Australia on the Old Ghan Railway line north of Lyndhurst. Accessible via the Oodnadatta Track and within the Eyre Basin, it makes an interesting stopover for those travelling north. Stop overnight or stay for a week and get involved in the restoration activities.
Back in the late 1800’s, Farina was quite a bustling town, with two hotels, a bakery, post office, school, police station, blacksmiths, saddlers, teamsters, churches, storekeepers, train station, cemetery and various other buildings. By 1948, the population had moved to other railway locations and services gradually declined, led by the school closure in 1957.
A restoration project began back in 2008 to restore the decaying ruins. As the story goes, Tom Harding regularly camped at Farina as part of his Caravan Tag-along Tours and became friends with Kevin Dawes, the land owner. As a result, Kevin often visited the camping groups, sharing the history of Farina. Tom became so engaged by the town’s history and how it survived such a remote and tough climate, he committed some of his own money to kick-start a restoration project, working closely with the Dawes family and the South Australian Outback Development Trust.
Twelve years on, the project has grown legs with grants, donations and generated income contributing to the ongoing work.
A restoration party is progressively working to restore the town. Each year, an army of volunteers descend onto the area as part of a working group over an 8-week intensive period, with new volunteers arriving each week. It’s a great place to network and meet people with like interests. Split into groups, they work through their allotted tasks.
An underground bakery kicks into gear within the wee hours of each morning to get the day’s baked goods ready for the passing tourist trade. Income helps with the restoration works.
A well-serviced bush campground with some shade caters for campers. A basic facilities block provides flushing toilets and donkey fired showers to wash off the dust which is a rare treat in these parts. There’s rubbish collection and some fire rings, although you need to bring your own wood. Five dollars per person per day is your camping donation.
We took the opportunity to visit a few years ago to coincide with the annual restoration activities. We camped a couple of nights in the campground and indulged in freshly baked tucker as a daily ritual. Egg and bacon pies were the order of the day, but there were plenty of other goodies to choose from.
You can get involved in the volunteer activities for a week or so each year. Volunteers are matched with their skill areas and work with others for one or two weeks. An onsite outback bakery operates between 23 May to 19 July.
We also ventured out to Witchelina Station, a further 26km west of Farina via an unsealed track. Owned by the Nature Foundation of South Australia, the once large 4,200 square kilometre pastoral property is now managed for conservation. Unfortunately, the station had a school group in at the time, so we couldn’t explore the property. Although the staff are welcoming and the track and wildlife engaging, it’s best to ring ahead if you’re planning to camp here.
Back at Farina, you can register as a Friend to be kept in the loop with periodic email updates. There’s plenty of information on the website covering the history of the town and the work completed and planned. Plus an invitation to participate as a volunteer. http://www.farinarestoration.com