|Is that a Bakery I see before me? Farina, Outback South Australia|
The sign shimmered through the haze of dust and heat like a mirage. Or the product of too much wishful thinking. Or the BEST kind of fantasy ...
|Old bottles, Farina Ruins, South Australia|
Because over 600km (370+ miles) north of Adelaide, the last stretch of continuous bitumen for several hundred kilometres had receded into the middle distance behind us to the south.
We'd already passed the beginning of the tyre-shredding Strzelecki track, a notorious stretch of dirt through the Strzelecki desert connecting tiny Lyndhurst with Innamincka, 469 km (291 miles) to the north east.
|The Underground Bakery, the Marquee and a random ruined fireplace! Farina, South Australia|
And now, we were travelling north towards Marree, a remote outpost at the southern edge of the Lake Eyre basin and home of legendary Outback mailman Tom Kruse. Yes, that's his real name.
|Farina Bakery Marquee from General Store Ruins, Farina, South Australia|
Yes, we were on the outskirts of Australia's Boys Own Adventureland – a 4WD and/or motorcyclists' heaven traversed by groups of three (WHY ALWAYS THREE???) blokes – and we would, for the first time, visit the start of each of these iconic tracks in one day.
Now, en route to Marree, Farina was a ghost town full of ruins.
The white marquee rising incongruously above the partially restored stonework of the Farina ruins in the distance suggested otherwise.
|Bron and Syd, Farina Bakery Volunteers, Farina|
Clearly, further investigation was required, so I turned to Pilchard – but the car had already swerved towards the turn-off. No bakery-seeking-sensor required in THIS car!!
As we drew closer to the knot of vehicles gathered around the cluster of old buildings surrounding the marquee, the smell of freshly baking bread gave the game away.
Yes, there really WAS a fully functional bakery in this remote ruin. And judging by the roaring trade being done with the constant arrival of incredulous visitors from both north and south, a Back-of-Beyond Bakery was just what the doctor ordered.
|Martin, Farina Bakery Baker extraordinaire!|
Ironic, given that Farina is, of course, the Latin word for flour. And the town was so named in expectation of it becoming the 'Granary of the North'. Sadly, the unpredictable climate, remote location and lack of water ultimately meant its decline, despite its one-time position as the railway head for all northern lines.
But in one of those undeniably symmetric coincidences, Farina is finally living up to its name, with the Bakery now a focus for fund-raising, publicity and – of course – a completely unexpected opportunity for an excellent Back-of-Beyond Bakery pig-out.
|Bakery Props, Farina, South Australia|
Bron and Syd, volunteers from FRG that keeps the Bakery operational for 6 weeks in May and June, expertly fielded queries, served customers and – in my case – mopped up the coffee I overturned in the excitement of finding this bizarre bakery.
All while posing for photos!
The FRG, now about 5 years old, was founded by Tom Harding who with current station owners Kevin and Anne Dawes, saw Farina's potential as an historic site and set about restoring it as a tourist attraction.
Apart from partnerships with various organisations and professional stonemasonry, all work is done by volunteers.
Those who are planning a similar venture should not underestimate the effectiveness of the Bakery drawcard … word of mouth is already working its magic as winter's onset signals the start of the Outback Adventure season and all sensible travellers head north for warmth.
|Farina Campground, Outback South Australia|
|Farina Railway Bridge - part of the old Ghan Railway, South Australia|
The Group's volunteers stay on site in the campground for the annual restoration activities in May and June – some are reportedly the bakery's best customers – and work on a roster system to ensure the bakery stays open.
I almost joined up on the spot!
|Bron with the Goods, Farina Bakery|
Martin, the baker du jour, dexterously whipped trays of superbly baked goods out of the oven while telling us he'd co-opted a few of his baker buddies to volunteer for a stint at Farina.
'Well, they USED to be my friends,' he laughed, while proving – at least to MY satisfaction – that 80 years of disuse didn't seem to have affected the oven's effectiveness.
Its underground location probably also helped to preserve it – one of the many storyboards produced by the FRG and dotted around the ruins mentions the destruction of outside dunnies in violent storms … which means no Scenic Public Toilet pic from the Farina ruins.
But I digress ...
|A Portal to Paradise? About to descend into the Farina Bakery depths ...|
After a particularly dry summer and autumn, driving to and from Farina across the arid lands of the South Australian Outback – driest part of the driest state in the driest continent on earth – there's no mistaking the hardships faced by the early settlers in towns like Farina where today's green and fertile pastoral country could be tomorrow's dust bowl.
But the FRG's hardy bunch of volunteers are putting Farina back on the map by offering their unique Bakery at the Back-of-Beyond experience!
And that puts it well and truly on the map for THIS Aussie traveller!
- Farina Restoration Official Website
- South Australian Outback
- Strzelecki Track
- Oodnadatta Track
- Birdsville Track
* Oscar Wilde said it first, and best