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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
- Farina Restoration Group Official Website
- Copley things to see and do, Outback South Australia
- Lyndhurst things to see and do, Outback South Australia
- 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