For one of Australia’s most famous ghost towns, Farina – deep in the South Australian Outback – can be a surprisingly ‘busy’ place.
Back in 1967, after a devasting drought and the re-routing of the Ghan railway line, the last inhabitants moved out … and the future looked bleak. However, since 2008, the Farina Restoration Group and hundreds of volunteers have been busily restoring the town to its former glory.
And what a glory it was.
Sitting on the edge of the desert, the town is about 26 kilometres north of Lyndhurst and 55 kilometres south of Marree at the end of both the Oodnadatta Track and the Birdsville Track. Farina was settled in 1878 by farmers hoping to grow wheat and barley and it served as the railhead for a while until 1884 when the line was extended to Marree.
In the late 1800s, booming Farina had a population of around 600 with two hotels (the Transcontinental and the Exchange), an underground bakery, a bank, a school, two breweries, a general store, a church, five blacksmiths, a school and a brothel.
Nothing lasts forever though and, as the tough times came, the school closed in 1957, the post office in 1960, and the store in 1967. While the pastoralists at nearby Farina Station stayed on, the town itself was basically dead and, by the early 2000s, it was marked as a ‘ruin’ on maps.
The buildings crumbled and the red dust took over … but still curious travellers kept visiting. And that was what gave Farina a second chance at life. Every winter, a small army of volunteers from across Australia descends on the town for an eight-week working bee. They are restoring nine buildings including the hotels, the post office, the police station, and the underground bakery.
After nearly a century of inaction, the bakery has risen from the ashes and seeing the woodfired Scotch oven operational again – as well as perhaps enjoying a pie or a slice of freshly baked bread – is a huge highlight for many visitors.
Another highlight for grey nomads, of course, is the fabulous low-cost ‘bush camp’ adjacent to the creek, which is run by the owners of Farina station and offers hot showers and toilets.
For a real insight into the harsh history of this most resilient of towns, a visit to the cemetery is a must. A read of the headstone inscriptions indicates that life was incredibly hard ‘back in the day’… and often very short.
There are also a couple of short loop walking tracks nearby with a series of interpretive signs offering information about the local history, the birdlife, and they go past the wells that once serviced the town. It’s also well worth a walk to the Anzac Memorial which sits on a hill near the campground offering great views over the surrounding landscape.
Decades after its supposed demise, Farina then is ‘thriving’ again, thanks in part to both the many grey nomads who visit, and those who volunteer in the restoration effort.
Long may it continue.