The Bizarre Back-of-Beyond Bakery – Farina, South Australia

Last Updated on June 12, 2020 by Red Nomad OZ

Farina, Outback South Australia
Is that a Bakery I see before me?  Farina, Outback South Australia
Old bottles, Farina Ruins, South Australia
Old bottles, Farina Ruins, South Australia

STOP PRESS!  2020 Farina Bakery Update:  Due to COVID-19 the Farina Bakery South Australia will NOT be operating in 2020.  However, the Farina historic township and Farina campground will be open and can be visited in line with South Australian state government border closures and travel restrictions. 

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 turn-off to the Farina Historic Township in the middle of the South Australian Outback just HAD to be too good to be true.

Where is Farina?

Because over 600 km (370+ miles) north of Adelaide, we were on the last stretch of continuous bitumen for several hundred kilometres.  Which kind of put us in the middle of nowhere!

We’d already passed Lyndhurst, a roadhouse and small settlement at the beginning of the tyre-shredding Strzelecki track.  That notorious stretch of dirt through the Strzelecki desert connects Lyndhurst with Innamincka, 469 km (291 miles) to the north east.  We’d driven a short distance along the track, but pulled out before all four tyres became punctured.

The Underground Bakery, the Marquee and a random ruined fireplace!  Farina, South Australia
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.  It’s also the southern gateway to Lake Eyre, and home of legendary Outback mailman Tom Kruse.
Yes, that’s his real name.
Farina, South Australia
Farina Bakery Marquee from General Store Ruins, Farina, South Australia

From Marree, there were only two ways out.  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’ paradise traversed by groups of three (WHY ALWAYS THREE???) blokes.  And on this day, we would, for the first time, visit the start of each of these iconic tracks.

Now, en route to Marree, we’d heard about Farina, a ghost town full of ruins.

Wasn’t it??

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.

Bron and Syd, Farina Bakery Volunteers, Farina
Bron and Syd, Farina Bakery Volunteers, Farina

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!

Farina Bakery Oven, South Australia
Martin, Farina Bakery Baker extraordinaire!

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.

Bakery Props, Farina, South Australia
Bakery Props, Farina, South Australia

But in one of those undeniably symmetric coincidences, Farina is finally living up to its name.  Now the Underground Bakery opens for a few weeks every year in the Australian winter months.  It’s become 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 five years old, was founded by Tom Harding.  Along with current station owners Kevin and Anne Dawes,he 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 on site is done by volunteers – to volunteer in 2021, use the online registration form HERE.

Those who are planning a similar venture should not underestimate the effectiveness of having a Bakery drawcard!  Word of mouth has already worked its magic at Farina – as winter’s onset signals the start of the Outback Adventure season and all sensible travellers head north for warmth.

Judging by the number of vehicles out the front, most of them stop at the bakery, spending up big on baked goods and souvenirs.

Farina Campground, Outback South Australia
Farina Campground, Outback South Australia

Stay at Farina Station Campground

Of course it helps that Farina station has also set up the excellent Farina campground with barbecues, fire pits, toilets (look out for one of them in MY BOOK!) and hot showers.  All this luxury can be yours for just $AUD5 per person per night. It’s an excellent staging post en route to the rough stuff of the tracks further north. But it’s a destination in its own right with walks along the river and along the disused railway tracks.  The story boards along the way detail the history of the town’s rise, fall and restoration.

Farina Railway Bridge - part of the old Ghan Railway, 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 while the bakery is operating.  Some are reportedly the bakery’s best customers, and they work on a roster system to ensure the bakery stays open.

I almost joined up on the spot!

What’s on Offer?

Farina Bakery Goods
Bron with the Goods, Farina Bakery

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 breads and rolls; pies; sausage rolls; and pasties.  Oh, and the best cream buns I’ve ever had the privilege of tasting.

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 around the ruins mentions the destruction of outside dunnies in violent storms.  And that, my friends, means no Scenic Public Toilet pic from the Farina ruins.

However, there IS an awesome dunny in the picnic area down in the campground to be found in my book Aussie Loos with Views!

But I digress …

One of the Driest Places on Earth!

Red and Pilchard at the Farina Bakery
A Portal to Paradise?  About to descend into the Farina Bakery depths …

This arid part of the South Australian Outback is the driest part of the driest state in the driest continent on earth.  As we drove to and from Farina, it was easy to see the hardships faced by the early settlers in these outback towns. After a long, hot and dry summer, 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!

STOP PRESS:  The Farina Underground bakery will NOT be open in 2020 due to COVID-19.  However the historic township of Farina and the Farina campground will be open in line with South Australian border closures and travel restrictions.

Want MORE?

* PLEASE NOTE:  The Bakery is only open for a few weeks in May/June/July.
** Oscar Wilde said it first, and best

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  1. Awesome work you guys are doing.Met Tom the mailman in the 60s,wonder what happened to
    his old truck.Rusty

    1. Tom’s Leyland Badger is maintained and displayed at the National Motor Museum, Birdwood in the Adelaide Hills.

  2. My Great Grandfather is Edward Taylor Slee, the man who originally started the Farina Bakery in about 1894 so this is amazing to see for me. Sadly it is a little remote so I doubt I will ever get to see it but just reading about it is amazing. Good luck with it all.

    1. It’s so great that the bakery is operating again after all this time, Wayne! Your great grandfather deserves a medal in my humble opinion … I’ve visited a few times since that first time I wrote about, and it gets better every year. The Farina township is so interesting to visit – there’s no way I’d want to live out there, but it’s an amazing place!

  3. hi im a retired baker/pastrycook my wife and my self will be traveling through farina later this year would really like to volunteer our services she has worked in our bakehouse as well as running the shop serving etc if you have any dates available in your opening times this year we will try to work around those we are fairly flexible at this time hoping this post is at the right place if not ,could you please pass it on to right person /place with thanks Wayne & Debra Moxon Townsville qld

  4. This is so cool and totally unexpected. I would not have thought that you can find a bakery in this area. It looks like there are only a few people who go here. However, it is part of the charm. The loaves of bread must be delicious and freshly-baked always. This is really nice to boost tourism in the area.

  5. Despite Pilch and Red abandoning me to face Farina solo this year, I gathered a few Expore SA members and did a day trip from Leigh Creek/Copley Caravan Parks to Farina. We arrived early enough to have a full range of goodies on offer so we tucked into those before exploring. Priorities are most important.

    This time I went out to the isolated cemetery and spent more time in and around the campground and the recently-established ANZAC Memorial Hill precinct.

    Another three of our Explorers camped in the Farina Campground and spent several superb nights and days there and came away enthusing about the whole Farina experience.

    1. I’m SO jealous, Gawain! So glad you enjoyed your 2nd Farina experience – I bet you’re already gearing up for a repeat performance next year?? There are so many aspects of Farina to explore, and it’s good to see South Australians (and others) supporting Leigh Creek and Copley. I know I really enjoyed staying in Copley last year – it makes a great base from which to explore the region. But I thought you were going to camp at Farina???

      1. Absolutely spot on Red! This year I’m gathering our Explore SA members and we’re Farina-bound in June fully intending to camp at the campground so we can be at the doors each morning when the bakery opens. Breakfast at the bakery in The Outback. Heaven in a heat haze……..

  6. @Ciara – It sure was a surprise!! The bakery runs for ~6 weeks each year during May & June depending on volunteer availability. SO glad it filled that gap when WE were there!!
    @Felicity – Thank you so much!! It was SUCH a find I just couldn’t help sharing!!

  7. What a great find Red! Who’d have thought to see a Bakery in the middle of nowhere. Talk about filling a gap in the market! How often is the bakery in operation?

  8. @George – The even stranger thing is that a lot of our finds are coincidental!! Maybe there really IS a built in bakery sensor!
    @Carole – It’s things like these that make travel worthwhile!!!
    @TOB – I take my hat off to the FRG – but it’s a shame that preserving much of our heritage will be left to volunteers.
    @LONDONLULU – Outside the 6 weeks and a bit more of winter, I imagine the climate is pretty fearsome!
    @TMWH – It’s the BEST way to encourage tourism!!!
    @GL – There are walks along the railbeds of BOTH gauges at Farina! Dare I say a train buff’s fantasy???!!!
    @Jill – Thank you, my friend! I’ll be interested to read about your perspective on some of the places I’ve visited!
    @Sallie – Surprise, joy AND extreme outback fantasy!
    @Hilda – ESPECIALLY in the middle of nowhere where it is SO unexpected!!
    @Mary – Hahaha, so I’m NOT a politician then!!! I’m not familiar with Farina, but if it has anything to with bakeries, I’m SO going to find out!

  9. @Saucy Kod – Would you believe it was a total coincidence?? We wanted to check out Farina, but had NO IDEA there was an operational bakery there!! Weird, huh?!
    @Andrew – HAhaha, or a skinny bakery aficionado (sp?)! Sorry about your other comment, but this one suits me just fine!!!!
    @SFlaGuy – Haha! This one is a whole bunch of crumbs! Each one worth eating … ah, fantasies, fantasies …
    @TFG – While Red Dog was shot several thousand kilometres away, the Outback is the Outback is the Outback!!!!
    @Dianne – If I wasn’t already wearing glasses AND wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere, I’d have got my eyes tested like a shot!
    @Linley – If I’ve inspired some Aussie travel, then my work is done!! Get to it, girlfriend!!
    @eileeninmd – I wouldn’t kid about anything as serious as a BAKERY!!!!!

  10. At least when you digress you are interesting about it. But now I want that comfort food Mom used to make me: Farina.

  11. Bizarre, indeed. But what a fantastic idea! I will never be able to resist the smell of baking or freshly baked bread even if it was in the middle of nowhere.

  12. you have done it again Red – given me yet another place to add to my list to visit when we tour through SA later this year. Unfortunately though we will not be in time for the bakery! How unique and so delicious sounding! I would have loved to have been there when they were baking.
    Thanks Red for bringing new places to us in your usual informative and hugely readable and enjoyable style.

  13. Well! A delicious treat to follow a long hard drive through the wilderness? That is one way to encourage tourism!

    I loved the picture of the rail bridge!

    1. That’s a sad reminder of the once mighty narrow gauge, original Ghan line when a trip to Alice Springs might take a week or more if the line was flooded, blown away, trains broke down or camels parked themselves on the rails.

  14. What a find! These ‘ghost town’ spots are so fascinating to me, and I’m so impressed (and intrigued) by people who find a way to hunker down there.

  15. I used to stay at the Patterson house as a child growing up in Leigh Creek. It was always a good place to camp as a teenager as well.
    It is good to see Farina’s rich history won’t be forgotten.

  16. Farina’s story is fascinating and it’s good of you to share it with us. The bakery sounds wonderful, and I must say you find some of the most exotic places to visit.

  17. Your photos reminds me of an Australian film we just saw called Big Red Dog. Wonderful movie. Have you seen it? Fresh baked bread is always worth a drive. Thanks for your post.

  18. Fantastic post Red, what an amazing find. I now have another place on my to do list. I am getting itchy feet, I need to start travelling again.

  19. I can imagine your delight Red at finding a working bakery way out there in the sticks ….. a real gem in the desert.

  20. Great blog, having been past Farina and camped in the creek on several trips to Birdsville and beyond I read your report with interest and a taste for a freshly baked bun. Will definitely drop in when passing Farina again.

  21. Seems like a long way to go for a loaf of bread but then how do you put a price on preserving history. Another crumb of brilliance in your rich and over flowing story cupboard.

  22. My most brilliant and challenging comment has gone to god, aka the ethernet. However, never trust a skinny baker, and you didn’t, as per Michael.

  23. I loved this post – Boy, Red, you sure know how to pick em. How is it that you always find the neatest bakeries. Share a hunk of that bread, eh. Great photo of the rail bed bridge, also, nice photo of you n P descending into the depths. Boy, you really do get to the remote stuff – how do you ever find them. Great info.

  24. @Joan E – You can imagine what we thought when we saw the sign then!!! Part of me still can’t believe it …
    @Geoff & Hels – Thank you!! We’ve yet to make it to Birdsville, but when we do, we’ll just have to make sure our route takes us back to Farina!!
    @FruitCake – Hahaha, I thought everyone would think I was making it up! Farina now has a LOT of appeal!!
    @Fun60 – HHHMMMmmm… I’m thinking it looks SO different to NY!!! But I bet the bakery goods are better!!!

  25. Is it really more than 5 years since I saw Farina? Trust you to sniff out a bakery in the middle of nowhere, Red.
    An amazing place and story – thanks for taking me back.

  26. That’s amazing. Having been to Farina when the bakery was not operating I really did think you were pulling my leg with the title of your post.

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