Farina – The forgotten Town of the Outback

Sunday, Jun 26, 2011 at 18:04

Stephen L (Clare) SA

The next time you are passing the old Farina ruins, either heading north or south from Marree, drop in on this little piece of South Australian history and take the time to explore the area and see first-hand the remains of a once very proud small town, which in its heyday had a population of more than four hundred people. A very short distance past the old ruins there is a very quaint camping area, complete with donkey shower and toilets. Overlooking the camping area, there is a memorial to the local men from Farina, who like thousands of patriotic Australians, served their country in all theatres of warfare during World Wars 1 and 2. Like many outback travellers, I have been guilty in the past of just driving straight past, with the attitude that I will stop there on the way home or the next time that we are passing. These days and knowing a little more about the history of the area, we drop in when passing, even if it is just to have a cuppa or lunch break. I would like to now share some of the history that I have discovered and make you appreciate your next visit to these important ruins.

A brief overview of the History of Farina
On the 2nd October 1877, Lieutenant General Sir William F.D. Jervois on advice from Premier John Colton was appointed South Australia’s 12th Governor General by Queen Victoria. Sir Henry Ayers told a friend in Adelaide that Governor Jervois had told him that he had the word ‘Farina’ on his list of names for South Australia and was going to apply the name at his first opportunity. Farina was the cut down word of ‘farinaceous’, derived from the Latin word, Farina which meals flour, and a word which was truly descriptive of the character of South Australia’s grain production generally, but which scarcely fitted the then many uncharted outback areas of South Australia.

Like many locations in Outback Australia, small settlements were set up where there was a permanent and reliable water source, where passing explorers would call in as they ventured out into the unknown, or where stock could be watered on the way to the southern markets, coming down from the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks with one such small waterhole in Northern South Australia known as Government Gums or Gums Waterhole. During the 1870’s, many of the remote places in South Australia received heavy rainfall, to the extent that many small properties planted crops of wheat that flourished in what they thought were normal years, lulling everyone into a false sense of security.

In 1876 the reserve “Government Gums” or as it was known, Gums Waterhole was surveyed by surveyors W.H Cornish and R. Peachey on the pattern as first used by Colonel William Light. 432 quarter acre blocks were surveyed, along with 88 suburban blocks ranging in size from 5 to 11 acres. On the 21st March 1878 Government Gums was proclaimed as a new town in the Colony of South Australia. Without knowledge of the surrounding country and the hope of a new district for growing wheat, Governor Jervois renamed Government Gums to its new name, Farina.

As the town grew, so did the services and by the 22nd May 1882 Farina was the terminus of the then Great Northern Railway narrow gauge railway, until 1884 when the railway was extended to Marree and then eventually all the way to Alice Springs. Even though 1882 was a drought year, optimists still hoped that the town would become the centre of a rich and vast agricultural empire and they wanted it to become as big as Hawker. Within a short time of the railway reaching Farina, it became the railhead for the loading of cattle from as far away as Innamincka and Queensland. Farina was also to become a meeting place for the Afghan cameleers, who with their camel trains provided a reliable transport service to the area for over seventy years.

To cope with the increasing number of steam trains that were coming to Farina and on to Marree, an eight million litre reservoir was built, but the lack of water and the underground water supply being too salty, better water was located at Marree and Marree was then to become the railhead. By 1888 the population was around 100 people with over 30 houses having been built. Even in these early days, there were two hotels, the Transcontinental and the Exchange Hotel, a Post Office, and the National Bank of Australasia. As the town’s population grew to over four hundred people, so did the services which included a Hospital, School, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, Telegraph Station, Police Station, Bakery, Brewery, Butcher, Blacksmith and General Stores.

By The early 1930 the population at Farina had dwindled greatly from its once glory and over the succeeding year the population reach almost that of a ghost town. The cemetery, located west of the town buried its last resident in 1960 as well as the Post Office closed its doors in the 1960’s as well. With an ever falling population and service, Farina was deserted by the 1980’s. The town may not be like its former glory, by the owners of Farina Station, Kevin and Anne Dawes keep its memories alive today and offer a great little camping ground west of the old town centre.

Smile like a Crocodile
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