from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Farina – travelling to an Outback ghost town

September 13.

Farina township, established in 1876, is now 7 hours due north of Adelaide, 630 kms on good roads. You can leave home at 8am, stop for tea in Port Wakefield, a lamb pie in Port Augusta, coffee and a Quandong pie in Hawker and arrive into the ghost town around 4pm. Without speeding.

But pause. Farina was once a month’s ride away or two months if you were on a wagon. Farina, for me, stands as an example of the struggles endured by Australia’s early settlers. You cannot but admire their tenacity at the same time you acknowledge their ignorance of this country.

It would have been a harsh lesson in an unforgiving land.

On our recently trip to Witchelina Nature Reserve, 30 kms west of Farina, we travelled this route north, taking in the landscape as it changed, as the green became brown, as the trees shrunk and disappeared, as the towns became smaller, as the wedge-tailed eagles (Australia’s vultures) became more numerous lifting from the roadside off dead kangaroos. Heartbreak land. Hard to love, hard to survive.

Kanyaka Station – half way to Farina – was established in 1851. Early on, there were 41,000 sheep on the property. In 1867, 20,000 sheep died in the drought.

We did not want to be depressed. This was our keenly anticipated holiday after 6 months of being home-bound thinking of little more than family and the issues of the daily news: how many new cases of Covid-19? How were our children doing in the USA? In Australia? In South Africa?

We were escaping to look at the landscape and geologyof the Adelaide Superbasin. We would have experts: geology professors and practitioners, biologists and bird watchers in our group. We would be beyond the reaches of WiFi. No TV, no shops. We were looking forward to evening discussions, communal meals and shearers’ quarters for 8 nights.

Farina landscape

Farina lasted for many years after the dreams of wheat and barley farming faded with the rain decreasing to the normal levels of 6.5 inches a year. The town, at its maximum had 600 people: Aboriginal people, Afghan cameleers and European immigrants. Once there was water at Farina but it did not last. The town only struggled on after the 1890s due to the railway line – closed in 1980.

The empty rooms of Farina

Over the years, it has become a ruin and a tourist attraction for Outback travellers in their A-Vans and sleek Ultimate Caravans. A café is being established there with an underground bakery. Winter is the time for the Outback when the days are warm and sunny and nights cold. In summer the temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

There is something that draws us in awe to these golden stone ruins, stark in the gibber plains. No roofs remain. The walls impress all who stand before them: the massive rectangular rocks that form the lintels last the longest, holding up the doorways and chimney places. You have to admire the workmanship that went into the stonework. There is confidence in these buildings as well as a warning for the hubris of those who ignore nature.

Arriving at Witchelina Nature Reserve

Our group passed through Farina in our 4-WDs, complete with spare tyres, Air-Con, Satellite phones, 2-way radios, GPs, cameras the size of a pack of cards, binoculars and bottles of spring water. If those early settlers could have seen us what would they think?

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.