By Jack McGuire
“Where the heck is Farina?” asks interstate tourist Dianne Hickey.
Dianne and her husband Bryan, from the Sunshine Coast, are about to discover one of South Australia’s regional gems.
Established in 1878 and situated 55 km south of Maree, Farina – meaning wheat or flour in Latin – was once the hub of a thriving farming community on the old Ghan Railway route.
Drought and the closure of local copper and silver mines eventually saw the abandonment of the town.
Hammered by time and nature, the town that once boasted two hotels, a bank, two breweries, general store, Anglican church, cemetery, blacksmiths, school, a house of ill repute and an underground bakery; crumbled into ruins.
Farina was destined for permanent ghost town status until Tom Hardy and his band of caravanning Victorians came across the ruins of Farina.
Tom immediately saw Farina’s historical significance and tourist potential.
The group’s first working bee a year later attracted 30 people – it has now morphed into 35,000 hours of restoration by an eclectic mix of 163 South Australian and Victorian volunteers.
Each person brings a lifetime of skills to restoring and preserving a unique part of South Australia’s rich heritage.
“What we have here is a masterpiece of skills,” Tom says.
“Five different trade groups are working in the control centre.
“It demonstrates what motivated volunteers can do.
“They all identify with what’s going on here; it is a real team effort.”
The restored underground bakery with scotch oven and dedicated bakers knocking out fresh bread and pastries is an important revenue raiser – a feature Tom says is Farina’s “lighthouse”.
Like a beacon, the “Bakery – Now Baking” sign on the B83 is enough to convince the most sceptical tourist to take a detour and venture into Farina.
“What a gem. Why would you go overseas… Farina is a fantastic place,” Dianne says.
“And the bakery, out here, who would have thought!”
Tom and his volunteers are adamant Farina must tell its own story after the restoration group’s small army of helpers finish their eight week annual pilgrimage.
“The information boards dot pointing each building’s significance along the Farina township walking trail, we hope achieves that,” he says.
“So many towns like Farina are left to disappear into the saltbush, gone forever.
“The Restoration Group wants to preserve Farina for all Australians now and into the future.”