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Wes and Vi Field ~ 1931

Wes and Vi Field ~ 1931

Some memories of Farina 1936-1939 (from Neil Field, 18/09/2015)

Just recently I had the opportunity to speak with my cousin Elaine Hancock (nee Field) about some of her childhood memories of Farina.

Elaine at age 9 years went with her parents Wesley and Vi Field to live in Farina in about 1936. Her father Wes, a policeman, had been transferred from Adelaide to take on duties in the one person Police Station at Farina. Elaine has told me that they travelled in her parent’s car to Farina and that the South Australian Police gave her father an allowance for the use of the vehicle and petrol and presumably maintenance were reimbursed. She cannot remember the make of the vehicle but she does remember that it was replaced with “a car with a Dicky Seat” and I suspect the new vehicle had an improved ability to withstand the terrain and sand encountered in those parts of the Far North.


I would have thought that the move to Farina from the city, where Elaine had attended a ‘busy’ Goodwood Primary School, would have been ‘dramatic’, (if not traumatic), for one so young but Elaine said she took it in her stride. She recalls that the day that her family arrived the hotel at Farina closed for business and this was probably reflective of the steady decline in the population of the town and perhaps to some extent the economic times (as Australia was at that time in the grip of the ‘Great Depression’).

The Police house was a solid stone dwelling with a single prisoner cell in the back yard and ‘the beat’ had to service not only the town, (which Elaine thought must have had a population of perhaps about 100 people in the mid to late 1930’s), but also the outlying pastoral properties all of which covered considerable territory.

Policing such an isolated town and surrounding area required a person who could get on well within such a community as a sole policeman would need local help from time to time to quell disturbances and to help when serious accidents and death occurred. Wes Field was apparently able to calmly deal with each situation and never seemingly getting ‘rattled’. Elaine recalls that on the odd occasion there would be prisoner held in the police cell usually as the result of an alcohol induced ‘night out’ or ‘a long day’. Wes would let the chap sleep off the effects of intoxication and afterwards get him to chop up a bit of firewood before sending him on his way without charge.

Attending school at Farina was very different to what Elaine had experienced at Goodwood Primary. The ‘Class’ at Farina comprised of all the school children ranging through ages from infant years to the ‘big’ kids. Mr A D Lum, (apparently of part Chinese descent), was appointed by the Education Department to become Head Teacher in Farina on December 1936 and so he took on the daunting task of becoming the teacher of a class of children of different ages.

Another teacher during the time Elaine attended the school was a chap called Jack Selth. Elaine said that most of the children were from the town but there were a few attending who were from the outlying stations and so we would have to expect that they boarded with people in the town. Gwenda Zbierski, a classmate at the school would become Elaine’s lifetime friend and she is pictured in the photographs on the following page. School holidays would likely see children such as Elaine return to the city, or as it was in her case, stay with her grandparents at Gawler.

However, for the children of those people who lived permanently in Farina, or thereabouts, the Australian Inland Mission provided a camp in Adelaide for children of the outback areas of the State to attend. On one such occasion, at a camp at Anzac Highway, Glenelg in January 1937, Brian Zbierski of Farina “presented to His Excellency and Governor and Lady Dugan a message and expression of loyalty to His Majesty the King”.

Farina in the mid to late 1930’s was suffering the effects of massive economic downturn known as the ‘Great Depression’, as was the rest of Australia. The township was located along the original 3 foot 6 inch ‘Ghan railway line and it had in earlier times been an important rail head for moving cattle to markets. Cattle were brought in from distant inland areas and indeed Sidney Kidman once owned the nearby Witchelina Station which must have been of strategic importance for holding cattle in these times.

Also there was an important Afghan cameleer presence in earlier times for these men and their camels provided an important role for the moving of goods inland and to the northern regions. Farina continued to be a location through which cattle and stock from outlying stations would be brought in and sent to market but the ‘heady’ days had gone and there were only a couple of Afghan families continuing a semblance of the old camel transport by the mid to late 1930’s.

There was a store, (Bell’s store) and Post Office run by the Postmaster ‘Chip” Chapman, a hospital run by a nursing sister (with some local help also employed to assist in the running of the facility), the school, and the police station, just to mention a few of the services of the town, and no doubt some railway workers. However, there were those who lived in the town and who existed by cobbling together a living by doing a range of work either in the town or out on the outlying properties.

As mentioned previously Elaine had a good friend Gwenda Zbierski. Elaine remembers the family struggled a bit financially but she said that they were quite self sufficient when it came to food as they kept a house cow, chickens, and Mrs Zbierski who had previously worked on outlying stations was an adept cook and bread maker. Elaine used to long for some of Mrs Zbrieski’s bread “as all we got was knotty old bread delivered by the train from Port Augusta”. Another family who Elaine was involved with as a child was that of Gool Mahomet, who had been one of the early Afghan cameleers in Farina. (See item on a following page). Elaine described the Mahomet’s as “good, proud and fine looking people” and she stayed over with them on an occasion or two.

One of the following photographs shows Elaine riding on one of the Mahomet’s camels as Sali Mahomet, (a son of Gool), looks on:

Elaine also said that there was another family of Afghan heritage who lived in Farina during her years there and it seems that this was the Mustan family, earlier generations of whom shifted provisions and wool clips to and from the areas north of Farina, and including areas as far north as Queensland.

Elaine did have some little anecdotes to tell including a story about the ferocity of the sand and dust storms that would sweep into the township of Farina from the surrounding countryside from time to time and would pile up sand so high on buildings that some considerable time had to be spent shovelling the sand away from the garage/shed doors in order for her father to get his vehicle out and mobile again. Some other anecdotes involved the post office and the first of these was when Elaine, who was about to enter the premises, spotted a snake, (which were a constant threat), slither inside.

She yelled out to ‘Chip’ and the snake was next seen leaving the store at a ‘frantic rate of knots’ followed by a broom. On another occasion Elaine was accompanied by the family dog for her visit to the Post Office. As she neared the premises there was a chap sitting leaning up against a veranda post and, as she walked past the chap, the pooch lifted his leg and pee’d on the shirt sleeve of the chap. Without even hesitating he exclaimed “Well isn’t that a coincidence, I was just thinking that my shirt was in need of a wash”! Nevertheless, Elaine has said she was ‘mortified’ when out of the corner of her eye she had seen the little rascal of a dog lift a hind leg.

The small population of Farina meant that there were restrictions as to just how much sporting facilities could be provided. There wasn’t a football team and besides if they could cobble a team together just who would they play against? And even if you did play you would be destined to have a hard landing if tackled. No, other than not having the chance to play a game of football, there was the opportunity to play a bit of tennis, go to a dance, (and that was probably only when it rained), and play cards, (bridge tournaments and other games were organised by Vi Field and proceeds went to charity).

The major event that seems to have taken place in Farina was horse races (albeit on a track that would not resemble anything like the usual race courses that we have been accustomed to seeing). One such event that took place when Elaine and her parents lived at Farina was a Race Meeting, Gymkhana and Ball on the 15 July 1937 in order to raise funds for the Farina Hospital. In conjunction with the Ball a queen of sports competition was held with Miss Margan Mahomet winning from Miss Joan Newland and Phyllis Gourlay. Apart from horse racing several events such as sprinting, egg and spoon races etc were held.

Several families from surrounding stations including Murnpeowie, Mount Lyndhurst, Witchelina, Wilpoorina, Avondale, Depot Springs, Beltana, Burr Well, Lyndhurst and Myrtle Springs also attended. It seems that another annual function was a Sports Day on each New Year’s Day attended by people from stations “far and near” in order to take part in displays of horsemanship, military sports and tent pegging (the latter of which the local Afghans excelled at).

Wes and Vi and Elaine were only at Farina for about 3 to 4 years but it seems those years were memorable. I often used to see my Uncle Wes (who had by then retired) and Aunt Vi throughout my younger years and I can recall how they would ‘wax lyrical’ about the good times that they had in Farina.

In addition to the above I have also added some thoughts/comments that Elaine provided me with some years ago relating to her father’s policeman days at Farina. They read as follows:

“He started in Adelaide and then transferred to Farina, a small town in the Far North. To take up his posting he purchased his first car to tackle the rough, rocky and hard roads and sand dunes and life was certainly different. The one teacher school, with about 25 attending, a hospital run by a nursing sister, and the one General Store was far removed from Goodwood Primary School where I had started. However, we had lots of fun and I learned to swear in about the first week! The men celebrated Test Matches against England in a very ‘wet’ manner, likewise the race meetings, and in fact there were a lot of good times. Even the dogs had ‘surnames’! We left Farina in 1939 when the war broke out and Dad was transferred to Sedan”

A little bit of background on the Mahomet family of Farina

Gool Mahomet came to Australia around 1895/6 and earned his living carting with camels on the goldfields of Western Australia. There he met Adrienne Lesire, a French woman said to be from Paris, and they married in 1907. Later they travelled across country by camel to South Australia where initially he joined Moosha Balooch’s camel train, and later was in charge of camel men at Maree. Gool was later employed on Wilgena Station for seven years in which time he earned enough money to buy his own string of camels. Their first born and eldest son Sherali (Sher Ali) was born on the journey that they had made from Western Australia.

Gool Mahomet was living in Farina in the 1930’s and in conjunction with his sons used camel teams for sinking dams in the district. In a newspaper article, published in The News (Adelaide) Thursday 25 November 1937, he related how there were once “30 Afghans living in Farina. Now he is the only one. There are only 100 camels there now, compared with the 400 to 600 before. In those days it was a common sight to see caravans of 40 camels, attended by four men, setting out from town.

The Afghan camel drivers helped open up Australia but now they don’t want us”, he said sadly. Gool and Adrienne had 6 children (thought to be 3 boys and three girls). Among the jobs and tasks that his camels were used for was the carting of wire netting, posts and supplies for the rabbit proof fence in the Lake Torrens West district. His carting business fell off when motor transport began plying the roads and he bought up a property of 378 square miles in virgin country which he developed with his two sons Sherali and Salloy. This property near Farina was called Mulgaria Station.

His apparently very attractive daughters Marjan and Sayira both married and later lived in Whyalla. He died at age 85 in May 1950 while attending the Adelaide Mosque in Little Gilbert Street and he was survived by two sons and 2 married daughters. His wife Adrienne had died at Farina on 16/1/1939 age 57, and their youngest daughter also died that same year on the 16 June at the Royal Adelaide Hospital-‘A patient sufferer at rest’. Gool was regarded as one of the best known members of the Australian Afghan community and during the war he offered as part of his contribution towards the war effort 20 camels free to be used in the special Northern Territory camel corps.

Some students who were known to have attended the Farina School in the years 1933 and 1934:

1933: Brian Zbierski and Bruce Bell Grade 3, Jack Butler and Kathryn Rowland Grade 4 and 5, Muriel ‘Muzzy’ Chapman and Lorna Moffat Grades 6 & 7, Harold Moffat, Miriam Mustan, and Edna Singer Grades (?)

1934: M Mustan Grade 2, E Mustan and Lorna Johnston Grade 3, Evelyn Paterson Grade 4, Michael Johnston Grade (?),

Compiled by Neil Field 18/9/2015

Some of the newspaper articles I have located on TROVE (National Library of Australia) that have references useful for compiling the above articles are as follows:

‘Great Northern Juvenile Athletics and Exhibition-Quorn June 6’- The Advertiser Wednesday 7 June 1933, Page 7
‘Schools Exhibition at Quorn-Dust storm Affects Attendances’-The Advertiser Wednesday 26 September 1934, Page 8
‘The Country-Farina’- The Advertiser Monday 4 October 1909, Page 8
‘Governor at Inland Children’s Camp’ The Advertiser Thursday 14 January 1937, Page 16
‘Port Augusta Sport-Farina’ The Advertiser Wednesday 6 April 1938, Page 16
‘Teacher Appointments’- The Advertiser Saturday 26 December 1936, Page 12
‘Passing By-Mr Pym’- News (Adelaide) Tuesday 21 September 1937, Page 4
‘Races and Ball for Farina Hospital’- The Advertiser Thursday 22 July 1937, Page 9
‘Died Before Pilgrimage’ –News (Adelaide) Tuesday 23 May 1950, Page 2
‘Death of Gool Mahomet’- Chronicle (Adelaide) Thursday 1 June 1950, Page 6
‘Followers of Mahomet-Few now left in Adelaide’-News (Adelaide) Thursday 25 November 1937, Page 6
‘Did Well in the Far North’- The Mail (Adelaide) 3 May 1941, Page 19
‘The Vast, Fantastic, Rich Heart of Australia.-Experiences of Year’s Travel in a Land of Contradictions’ by Lex Noonan-Southern Cross, (Adelaide) Friday 7 April 1939, Page 13
‘Where Australians Bow to Allah-White Wives of Desert Sheiks’ by Ernestine Hill –Northern Standard (Darwin) Friday 7 October 1932, Page 10
‘Aunt Dorothy’s Letter’-Chronicle (Adelaide) Thursday 14 September 1933, Page 63
‘Aunt Dorothy’s Letter-My Letter Bag-Marjan Mahomet, Witchelina, Farina’-Chronicle (Adelaide) Thursday 5 September 1929, page 70