Call us crazy, but we drove 640km for a sausage roll and sticky bun. It’s the sort of wild thing us four girls do in search of great food destinations.
‘We’, comprises me — a food/travel journalist — along with a food stylist/consultant, a food chemist, and a chef/food educator. Interesting food (and wine and gin) and their stories are always the pull.
We usually build getaways around award-winning regional restaurants, farmgates and quirky food outlets, with some swish accommodation, or head off on an annual trip over the border for a mad Murtoa Melbourne Cup lunch, plus shopping and noshing around Central Victoria.
This South Australian-centric trip was something different.
The food chemist in our midst had long been intrigued by the discovery of an underground Scotch oven and baker’s room during the uncommon resurrection of the far north ghost town, Farina.
It’s uncommon because the work to revive this remote outpost is being carried out by volunteers who come from all corners of Australia to lend their skills and energy.
They camp and work for a few days or weeks at a time to rebuild the ruins or run the winter-only fund-raising bakery that piqued our interest.
Leaving urban zones, we looked it up. By remote and natural-land definition we were heading outback, well into the far north of South Australia, which is described as all land above an imaginary line you might draw from Ceduna to Broken Hill — exciting stuff for a group of city dwellers.
There were food stops galore plus a lot more gob-smacking experiences than we ever bargained for.
Chris Stephen and Dianne Mattsson at Farina’s underground Scotch
The road is well sealed but nature can make it treacherous, so pay attention. We managed to have two car accidents in three days, one an altercation with a very large emu. But they are tales for another time.
Our trip from Adelaide, via Parachilna, which is just short of Maree and Lake Eyre, might sound like a desert drive, yet there was never a dull moment.
Along the way, there were quandong tarts, vanilla slices, jolly good meat pies and a platter of ‘feral’ meats — these were the main aims and expectations, but we got so much more.
Of course, not everything was positive, but nonetheless interesting as a view unfolded of the Australian bush, and the hard life early settlers endured.
There was the eye-opening spectacle of a long stretch of shimmering road where the crusty verge seemed like an unending coat-of-arms graveyard; an old cemetery reminding us that those not of the church, even babies, had to be segregated; and towns once thriving, now either lost or just hanging on, because of changing railways and mines. Our admiration blossomed for those who kept — and keep — these places together.
We planned, and recommend, a pretty straight northern line from Adelaide through Tarlee and Seven Hill on the rim of the Barossa, to Orroroo (with a detour to Quorn on the way back), Parachilna, the spookily now-quiet Leigh Creek, Copley, and our final destination, Farina.
TASTE OF THE OUTBACK
After an early morning start on day one, we did some organic grain shopping at Four Leaf Milling in Tarlee, before the first food at Seven Hill’s bakery/cellar door The Little Red Grape. There were real honey logs, and chunky pies are the go, but this day’s vanilla slice is no winner.
Above Jamestown, and even more so Orroroo, the road constantly changes. Flanked by the Flinders Ranges, the outlook is far from flat. Those ranges change from craggy to green, from blue to grey according to where the sun is peeking through the multiple high points.
The road swings between barren and beautiful, the earth gradually becomes red dust with the towns further and further apart, and the sense of roller coaster dealings with nature is palpable.
Food girls will be food girls, though. We found good reasons to stop, taste and learn about local foods.
The Jamestown bakery by Belalie Creek is in modern clean-cut digs these days, but it dates back to 1880 and has never missed a bakery beat. Everything is made in-house and the flaky pastries have rave reviews. There are a few pictorial nods on the walls to the local history, but now it’s rather cafeteria-like so it was takeaway coffee for us. If you have time, there are historic spots through town including the RM Williams Centre, a range of good walks, or stroll along the green banks of that pretty creek.
We’re taken by a giant entrance hailing our arrival in the next notable town of Orroroo, as well as the quaint Maggie’s Rendezvous Cafe, which shows a big heart in generous meals. Plan for this, as it’s only open Wednesday to Sunday and includes lots of goodies for knick-knack browsers.
The resurrected underground Scotch oven and baker’s room in Farina
We arrived well in time for a magnificent sunset over drinks on Parachilna’s celebrated Prairie Hotel porch.
Dinner seemed incongruous after our day of spotting roadkill, and watching out in case roaming animals crossed our path. We grazed the Prairie’s legendary and irreverently monikered ‘feral’ platters, with miniature black and yellow road-like signs labelling the roo, emu, camel and goat, plus cheese, bush-tomato chilli jam and ciabatta. It’s a bit of fun reflected again in the main courses, for us, hearty steaks, a goat curry and one ‘feral’ mixed grill.
The updated accommodation is comfier than you might expect. Our ‘Lodge’ rooms, in the main building are spacious and comfortable, circling a comfy, club sort of lounge area where we relaxed over last drinks.
The Prairie Hotel has been operated by Jane Fargher for 30 years. You can feel her care, everywhere from the bar to the kitchen and in a hallway filled with stylish keepsakes and souvenirs for sale.
Jane offers country hospitality finesse, and the hotel is one you cannot ignore on any trek to northern SA.
It made a great base before setting out on day two after a hearty country-style breakfast, for the remaining 130km to Farina.
The Prairie Hotel’s Feral Platter
Copley, at the 90km point, also drew us in, mainly for the caravan park store which stepped up long ago after the town’s bakery closed, to continue making its famous enticement — native quandong tarts.
We stretched our legs and quick-picnicked around the bonnet of the car, set with decent coffees, juice and bags split open to reveal buttery crumble-topped tarts paying tribute to bush-food riches. These days, the jammy fruit is set in a commercial pastry base. Nonetheless, the tarts are a must-do food tradition on this trek, before the last 40km to Farina and its classic winter-only bakery.
An ‘early’ loo at Farina campground
Farina has a small spread of beautiful old stone buildings established in the late-1800s.
A group of ambitious surveyors initially set up the town rather like Adelaide, square and planned, with inarguably misguided ideas of a park belt around the perimeter.
Settlers followed. Why, we ask? Perhaps they were encouraged by the promise of a railway stop which came about a decade later.
Farina Town was re-named Farina, which means flour, because the settlers planned to grow wheat and barley crops — it obviously didn’t work.
Farina is beautiful, in an inimitable outback way. It is generally hot, surrounded by red dirt and scant spindly scrub, barren, harsh, and certainly not a place where you would expect to see healthy wheat swaying in the breeze.
However, nearby copper and silver mines lured more settlers and somehow Farina’s demise was a long process. The town ruins and well-documented history show it had two hotels, a post office, bank, brewery, school and the recently discovered underground bakery.
It also suffered regular dust storms and killer droughts, foiling those early wheat-belt plans.
The last permanent residents stayed until the 1980s, their departure coinciding with the railway post being moved. Only one pastoralist family from the outlying Farina Station remains, maintaining the campgrounds and offering stays in shearer’s quarters.
It was those passionate pastoralists and one Victorian outback tour operator, who have driven the Farina phenomenon of today, complete with signs narrating the area’s past.
The trio formed the Farina Restoration Group which kicked off with 30 volunteers in 2009. Those numbers have swelled into the hundreds, only stymied recently by COVID-19.
Parachilna’s Prairie Hotel
THEY’LL BE BACK
Next year, they — including volunteer bakers — hope to be back. For six to eight weeks midyear, when the place is at its coolest, the visiting bakers lend experienced hands, working the underground wood-fired Scotch oven to supply an adjacent tented cafe with all manner of classic breads, buns, pies and pastries.
It attracts the likes of us, feeling good that all funds spent on those traditional goodies aid the restoration project. It’s not about fancy tarts, but seriously old-school bakery items, made fresh from scratch and filled with real cream.
You can eat at the tent cafe, away from the flies. Instead, we sat with sausage rolls, cream-filled kitcheners and Aussie honey sticks on a sunny park bench with striking remains of buildings being restored by the volunteer architects, stone masons, builders, carpenters and labourers all around us.
We explored the buildings a little, walked the scrub some and visited the local campground where minimal facilities and stubby natural scrub is surely a scene only an Aussie camper can love.
The hot and dusty ghost town of Farina in SA’s Far North
Tags: CMCA Campervan Motorhome Caravan Campervan RV Camper Outback Travel Food Food Trail Sausage Roll Bakery Murtoa Melbourne Cup Orroroo Jamestown Bakery Pastries Parachilna Prairie Hotel SA South Australia Winter Seasonal Seasonal Bakery Farina Stone Buildings Bakers Bake Treats Wildlife Cream Filled Buns Aussie Honey Sticks Finger Buns Journey
Written: Sun 01 Nov 2020
Printed: November, 2020