The Bizarre Back-of-Beyond Bakery – Farina, South Australia
STOP PRESS! 2017 Farina Bakery Opening Dates: Saturday 27th May to Sunday 23rd July 2017
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 …
Whichever it was, the Bakery Baking Today* sign at the Farina turn-off in the middle of the South Australian Outback just HAD to be too good to be true.
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.
From Marree, the only way out was either east along the Oodnadatta track, a 607 km (377 miles) dirt track through the remote Outback that joined the Stuart Highway at Marla; or the fabled Birdsville track to – you guessed it – Birdsville, 519 km (322 miles) further north.
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.
A Bakery in a Ghost Town
The white marquee rising incongruously above the partially restored stonework of the Farina ruins in the distance suggested otherwise.
As did the banner indicating South Aussie icon Laucke Flour’s personal interest in this little bakery in the middle of nowhere.
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.
A VERY Civilised Restoration!
In a masterstroke so civilised it should be made mandatory, the underground Bakery was the first building to be restored to full working order by the Farina Restoration Group Inc (FRG).
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 (open for a few weeks every year in May/June/July). It’s now a focus for fund-raising, publicity and – of course – a completely unexpected opportunity for an excellent Back-of-Beyond Bakery pig-out.
This was one of those times that sacrificing myself for the sake of my blog became not just a duty, but a pleasure**!
Farina Bakery Volunteers
Bron and Syd, volunteers from FRG that keeps the Bakery operational for a few weeks in May, June and July, 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 – to volunteer in 2017, use the Farina Restoration Group on-line form HERE!
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.
Stay at Farina Station
Of course it helps that Farina station has also set up an excellent campground with barbecues, fire pits, toilets (look out for one of them in MY BOOK!) and hot showers, all for $5 per person per night. It’s an excellent staging post en route to the rough stuff of the tracks further north. But it’s an attraction in its own right with walks along the river and no-longer-used railway tracks, and story boards detailing the history of the town’s rise, fall and restoration.
The Group’s volunteers stay on site in the campground for the annual restoration activities while the bakery opens 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!
What’s on Offer?
Of course it also helps that the Bakery goods are absolutely top shelf. The old Scotch oven in the underground kitchen turns out an astonishing array of sweet, savoury and plain bread rolls, sausage rolls, individual and family sized pasties.
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.
The oven’s underground location probably also helped to preserve it. One of the many storyboards produced by the FRG around the ruins mentions the destruction of outside dunnies in violent storms … which means no Scenic Public Toilet pic from the Farina ruins.
But there IS an awesome one from the picnic ground in my book Aussie Loos with Views!
But I digress …
One of the Driest Places on Earth!
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 for a few weeks every year 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!
STOP PRESS: The bakery will be open in 2017 from Saturday, 27th May to Sunday 23rd July 2017! BE THERE!
- Farina Restoration Official Website
- South Australian Outback
- Strzelecki Track
- Oodnadatta Track
- Birdsville Track
* PLEASE NOTE: The Bakery is only open for a few weeks in May/June/July.
** Oscar Wilde said it first, and best