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Mike Witcher reports…

Mike’s report gives us an insight into the activities of a group member whilst in Farina for his volunteered 2 weeks.

Before departure on Sat 11th June, I had a delay while I tried to fix a door window problem. No joy so a temporary measure was employed and I managed to leave home about 10.30am, half an hour later than planned. I refuelled at a roadhouse near Port Pirie and continued towards Quorn, in a creek crossing I saw a man on a railway bridge taking photos, could not have been as interesting as if he’d been there in Oct 1978 when we were trapped on an island in flood water, but that’s another story. I spent the night in a caravan park in Hawker at a powered site, so I could run a heater and the electric blanket.

Sunday 12th, I refuelled at a friend’s service station then continued north, I topped up the fuel tanks at Leigh Creek, and drove past Lyndhurst and onto dirt roads. The road was dry, with obvious wheel tracks where the dirt had been compacted by traffic. The less used road into Farina had a bit of mud, but easily avoidable, I went to the bakery/info centre to announce my arrival and have a cup of coffee, then to our new huge “shed” to meet some more people before driving to the camp site and setting myself up for the stay.

The shed has been named “Tom’s shed”, for Tom Harding from the caravan industry in Victoria. He was leading a tag along caravan safari in 2008 or 2009, and it was decided to inaugurate a restoration programme at the ghost town of Farina with an annual 6 week long working party. The 1888 underground bakery was re-commissioned and soon, bakery delights were being produced for the restoration group and passing traffic.

Two hotels, a Post Office, one dwelling, a railway cottage and Police stations (2 off, one closed in 1925 and the other remained until the town was abandoned in around 1960) are now having brick and stone walls partially restored, the cemetery is being cleaned and some crosses placed on graves.

An ANZAC Hill memorial has been built, as in WW1 over 30 men from a Farina population of 350 enlisted and in WW2 again over 30 men from a population of 150 enlisted.

I saw a lot of familiar faces from last year, plus a number of new faces, these were either first timers or people who were present during different weeks to me last year. At the 5pm Camp fire session we introduced ourselves and the work programme was discussed and people asked what they would like to do.

I volunteered to work with our Stone Mason Ron, who I worked with last year restoring some walls in the Exchange Hotel.

Monday 13th June, There was ice on the windscreen today, so used a paint scraper to clear it. I went to the Post Office, which I was told was to be worked on, but it turned out the railway cottage was decided to be a more urgent project.

Between the windows, the original stone masonry is intact and the mortar between stones has lines engraved into it. To the right of the right window the masonry had been cement rendered in 1958 to stabilise the wall. This has been done on most walls. We cut a groove just below window height and removed all the crumbling cement mortar ready to replace it with lime mortar. The cement rendering had been done by the father of two brothers who worked on this project, but over the years has actually held in rain water and caused more deterioration to the original walls.

Just to the left of the door some mortar has been applied, and this is what was done all around the outside and inside of the building.
Morning teas were provided in Tom’s shed, tea coffee and delicacies from the bakery or biscuits each day. Lunch is self catering, some buy from the bakery and others of us return to camp and prepare our own.

After the day’s work I helped tow a fallen tree trunk to the vicinity of the camp fire to be sawn up. I used a jaffle iron to do a toasted bread sandwich, but the bread was too small and the edges weren’t properly sealed, so it was a knife and fork meal and not hand held.

Tuesday 14th June. No ice on the vehicle and my digital thermometer showed 13.7 degrees at 7am. The morning was spent at the railway cottage.

The afternoon, until a 3pm group AGM was at the railway cottage and after the AGM I was asked to help try to align a satellite dish so credit cards could be used in the bakery. The satellite is in a group and we had trouble trying to aim at the exact one.

Images below… Kevin Graham doing pointing, Ron Johnson stone mason and his dog, Joe and Mario, (whose father had rendered the walls in 1958 and a new volunteer. My generator and 15 Amp power board running the mixer and charging a tool battery.

Wednesday 15th June. During my very early morning constitutional it became obvious there was a problem, the pyjama cord in my trackie pants broke. I remembered a couple of lengths of synthetic twine in the caravan, twice as long as needed. I looped one through a pair of tweezers and threaded it through the cord pocket, a lovely job at 4am by torch light, but it did the job for the remainder of my time.

Another warm morning, about 18 degrees, up to the bakery to leave a note in case a friend visited, then out to the railway cottage where I was put to work mixing Lime, Cement and Sand for mortar and pointing bricks and stone in the walls.

At lunch time I went to the bakery and ordered a pepper pie to eat there, in case the friend showed up. Afternoon was spent back at the railway cottage. The bakery had an early start preparing foodstuffs for the Variety Club Bash, which passed through here this morning. The main street was awash with cars as they had a brief break, then left via their check point. It was a financially rewarding experience for our group.

At the night meeting we were informed that tomorrow night would be camp oven dinner – my camp oven is in the vehicle for delivery to the bakery.

Basically a number of personal camp ovens are taken to the bakery, then used to cook sliced lamb and assorted vegetables in the underground bakery oven. We all then partake of a delicious meal!

Images below…The ablution block erected by Kevin Dawes. Square object to the left with fire under it is the donkey boiler, fed from the tank behind the building.

The gentleman is standing in front of the laundry, hand basin, wash basin and a twin tub washing machine. The next two doors are showers and the right hand 2 doors are toilets. There are clear roof panels to let in light during the day and solar powered rechargeable light for night. Behind the building is the generator in its enclosure and the washing lines. The ridge in the background is high enough to have line of sight to a Telstra tower some 50 – 60km to the South. A fun walk on a cold night with torch and phone!

Thursday 16th June. Another warm morning, and after dropping off the camp oven, I drove to the railway cottage and set up the generator for cement mixing. I started pointing some rocks in the wall, and then graduated to pointing bricks. At about 10.20am it started raining, so we de camped to Tom’s shed for smoko. At about 11.30am drove back to the cottage on muddy tracks, but it was still raining.

I checked the phone for messages (I have an external phone aerial on the car), back to the shed, but rain continued. I gave a lady a lift back to camp, she (Jenny) is up with her son David. Her family lived in Farina in the old days and a number of her siblings were delivered by the midwife “Granny Moffatt”. She had an interesting catch up with another of our volunteers, Bob Moffatt who is the grandson of “Granny Moffatt”. I returned to the cottage after lunch, but the stone mason had gone home and the tracks were turning into pools of water/mud, so the afternoon’s activities were sitting in the caravan.

The nightly meeting was thought to be 5pm in Tom’s shed, but when I went to meet someone I was told by their neighbours it was 6pm.

The neighbour offered me a couple of glasses of port, in payment for letting him use my phone. Helped to fill in the hour! The neighbours, Joe and Mario were children at Farina, their father had migrated from Sicily in the 1920’s, his much younger bride then married him by proxy and then came to Australia. We had a great dinner of lamb, potatoes, pumpkin and onions all done in camp ovens, followed by a dessert of vanilla slices (rich deep yellow, not the light yellow of shop bought ones). During the evening it bucketed down with rain and Kevin the station owner said we had 24mm. When I went to collect my camp oven there was a thick layer of sliced lamb in the bottom, Kevin didn’t want it for the dogs, so I took it – some used cold in sandwiches and the rest heated with sliced canned mushroom as a scratch meal one night.

I drove back to the camp, with a passenger, through a LOT of water and mud on the road, ground under water on roads seems to be compacted and much safer than going off road. The car had been locked in 4wd all day, and 4wd was used fairly often until the time I left. As usual I parked nose to the caravan, as I plug an inverter into a socket under the bonnet and power the mains LED lights in the caravan. I have some interesting dash camera footage of day and night drives in mud and water, but being High Definition, the files are very large.

Images below…The view straight ahead is the entrance to the camp grounds, the river (oops road) to the left leads to the Farina Group camp ground and to the right is the road to the visitors camp ground. This area is usually bone dry, with this significant rain, the country-side throughout the Flinders Ranges is as green as I’ve ever seen it. Roy, this is the area where we sat in my car and the little honey eater bird sat on the rear vision mirrors, radio aerial, and the windscreen wipers last year.

Friday 17th June. No overnight rain, but the ground was very soggy, so I decided to stay put in my caravan. I took the opportunity to do some washing in the camp washing machine. It is used by the group to wash tea towels, aprons, table cloths from the bakery, marquee cafe as well as personal items. I hung my clothing on a line rigged in the caravan, but the sun came out so I hung it outside. I went to Tom’s shed and met a radio ham who had been installing a CB radio in the shed; he told me what he had been doing before he departed in his 2WD car.

Before making it to the dirt highway, he became bogged, though a couple of tourists got him out of it, just before Lyndhurst he became bogged again and one of our team who was in the vicinity saved him that time. His wife, travelling with him had medical conditions, and they didn’t have all of her medications with them, it had been left in their hotel room at Lyndhurst. (If travelling and dependent of medication, carry sufficient or more medication with you at all times!)

Saturday 18th June. No stone mason today, so I went to the shed to do some work on the CB radio installation. Tonight is an annual service for a Farina man John Napier Bell, who was a pilot with 10 Squadron when he was sent to England just before WW2 to bring Sunderland flying boats back to Australia. When war broke out he and his Squadron were told to stay and help the RAF. He went on a mission on 18th June 1940 to rescue the wife and family of General De Gaulle, who had gone to England to organise the Resistance Movement.

The crew of 4 (including another Australian) set out in an old Walrus flying boat and crash landed near Ploudaniel in France (killing all on board). The French buried them and have tended their graves since. Annual services are held by the French Services at the gravesite. They were the first Australian airman killed in WW2. We have an ANZAC Hill at Farina to remember 60+ men from Farina who fought in WW1 and WW2. Over the last 2 years 10 Squadron have sent a number of crew up to assist us for a day or two and hold a service.

Images below…Our team leader and baker extraordinaire Martin McLennan and Wing Commander Anna, standing in front of the wall of remembrance which the restoration group erected last year.

Anna did a fine job of the service. She worked with a group I was in next day. An Orion aircraft was expected to do a fly over, but again this year it didn’t happen. I bought a book “4 Men and a Walrus” about the mission and was surprised to learn that John Napier Bell had been on HMAS Voyager (1) for a period of 4 days, possibly in transit between places. That caused a tingle in my spine as I had spent 2 years on HMAS Voyager (2) between 1961 and late 1963, posted off about 2 ½ months before the tragic collision with HMAS Melbourne and the loss of 82 lives.

Sunday 19th June. This morning I went to Tom’s shed to finish installing a remote speaker for the CB, it works, but sounds tinny, a cheap unit more suited to alarm siren use.

After morning smoko I went to the Old Police Station, closed in 1925 when the “New” station was opened. This building is unique in Farina in that it is the only one constructed of local stone (plus some bricks), all the other buildings have been constructed of stone brought up by the trains. The job was to remove sand and rubble (collapsed walls) in a number of rooms, the wing commander came to help, so I loaned her a pair of my work gloves. During the morning Ron the stone mason and I unearthed the top of a wood stove. The top plate or ¾ of it was in situ and we later unearthed the remainder in 3 complete pieces. The big curved bit on the door is a spring to position the latch passing through the centre of it.

Images below……The room where the stove was, in front of the fire place. To the left of the fire place is a rusted drum, probably the ash bucket and a couple of rusted rods in it were probably pokers. The front wall and doorway can be seen as well as part of the wall to the next room, then behind the wheelbarrow is one room not yet excavated and out of frame on either side are two other rooms. Top left is part of the back wall still standing and attached to a side wall. Although originally mortar was between the rocks, the ravages of nature have removed it and they are virtually dry stone walls.

In the very foreground is part of one of about 5 piles of rocks we removed, plus there are 3 or 4 piles of sand plus some of old corrugated iron and a few artefacts. Under the lintel bar in the fireplace, the first rocks either side are faded and they were above the sand level, the next two were under sand and the same discolouration on the rear wall shows the sand level before we started.

During the afternoon we removed sand from the top, front and both sides and will continue tomorrow. The front casting includes the name A Simpson and Son Adelaide.

Apart from a light mist near lunch time, the day has been sunny with some wind which has helped dry out the country-side. After each day’s trade, bakery overruns are taken to the visitor’s campground and offered for sale at reduced prices. Any left after that are brought to our camp ground for first in best dressed service. A lovely cheese and bacon roll to compliment my dinner tonight. Some of the visitors are getting smart, by not buying during the day and waiting for the after hours cheaper delivery service!

Monday 20th June. After breakfast I drove to the bakery/sales marquee and bought 12 bottles of wine and a book on the John Napier Bell story. Last year we had a special wine bottling with John Bell labels, this year we had Shiraz, Cabernet/Sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc, labelled Farina Restoration Group. I then went back to the Police station where we finished digging the old stove out, we also came across a couple of baby brown snakes and a couple of centipedes, plus a few lizards, skinks and a gecko!

The second stone mason who was due on site has this as his pet project and the most urgent thing is to stabilise and re-mortar the standing walls.

After morning smoko I was trying to resolve a microphone problem on team leader Martin’s CB, it seemed ok and we tried another microphone on the radio, conclusion – the radio is faulty. The afternoon was spent back at the Police station. After the 5pm meeting I did a small amount of washing and made dinner. I spent my longest evening talking to a new found mate (Norm Gale), Irene’s maternal grandmother’s sister married a Gale in England, so I have given Norm that part of our family tree – his sister is doing genealogy and the name Frank Gale appears in his family tree and ours – you never know there might be a family connection.

Tuesday 21st June. It was 10.5 degrees at 7.30am. I noticed that the donkey boiler was alight, so had a lovely hot shower before breakfast. I went to Tom’s shed to see if Martin or the station owner Kevin had left me an old radio to scavenge the loudspeaker for an extension on the CB, no sign of it. I swept the workshop and went back to the Police station. About 2.10pm light rain started, so we decided on an early lunch, rain continued so I stayed in the caravan on the computer, putting all this year’s photos and some video from the dash camera onto an SD card for Martin to send to the webmaster and others for information. Rain eased a bit around 3.30pm, all roads around us are again closed. I spent some time in my sleeping bags (one inside the other) to keep warm.

Tonight’s evening session was held in Tom’s shed and included soup and bread rolls, I had gone up a bit earlier in 4WD all the way, the trip back at 7.17pm was in the dark with light rain and 4WD still engaged. I parked the Cruiser on higher and firmer ground, so another night without power. I phoned Irene to let her know the weather conditions, that there was a possibility of a delay to my departure to return home and that I was alive and well.

It has been decided that tomorrow is to be a day of rest, though some will work indoors and on camp duties, there will be another camp oven roast. Spirits and friendships are flourishing, Saturday will be a work day, the original schedule was for a working fortnight to end on the Saturday with the new crew arriving on Sunday.

Wednesday 22nd June. A slightly later start to the day with a breakfast of baked beans with an egg fried in them before going to Tom’s shed via the bakery. A carpenter had made a shelf for the radio set and I tidied up the wiring and installation, a better looking job, but not up to my standard, I want to come back and do a bit of modification and have expressed to Irene that we might come up, stay for 2 nights in a motel 30 or so kilometres away and spend a day for me to show her what I have been up to these last 2 years and make a better job of the radio.

Some of the afternoon was again spent on the station house trying to align the satellite dish.

At the afternoon meeting dinner was the camp oven roast – lamb, potatoes, onions, pumpkins, peas and gravy with sliced bread cob, followed by a dessert of bread and butter pudding.

8.15pm saw me wending my way back to camp, this time I parked near the caravan, plugged in the inverter to the second battery and plugged the caravan 240 Volt into it.
The weather forecast seems to be rain Thursday, fine on Friday and Saturday (maybe morning only), then showers on Sunday.

Thursday 23rd June. Another hot shower this morning, before I departed for work. A Farina Group trailer had a flat tyre, I went to inflate it to test for leaks, but my air compressor had a fault, which I fixed. Discovered the leak was in the air valve on the rim, so put in one of my spare inserts, of all the probabilities for a puncture, this was the easiest to fix.

I was given a speaker from an old sound system, so I wired it to the CB, but it isn’t as good as I’d hoped for. After morning smoko I took some of my containers to the bakery to stock up with 3 pasties and 7 sausage rolls to freeze and bring home.

Back to the police station for more excavation and discovered an old miner’s pick (probably a railway version) another item for the Farina relics box.

There was so much potato and pumpkin left from last night’s roast, we had a soup night with bread and butter pudding again.

Irene wondered why I brought so much food home – 2 camp oven roast nights, two soup nights and a pizza night meant less self catering for me!

Friday 24th June. A fine morning with not a cloud in the sky. I visited the bakery for more pies and sausage rolls etc. then back to the caravan to fit them in the fridge, and try to figure out how to fit more in.

The day was spent at the police station clearing more rubble and sand from the rooms and front veranda. I met Martin the team leader and Ron the stone mason to say my personal goodbyes and thanks. I spent time talking to tourists who visited the site, giving them some of the Farina history.

The first lot of tourists arrived at 8am, soon after the roads were opened and a steady stream arrived during the day.

At the 5pm session, the new team leader was present and advised of a SA Government grant and a possible Federal Government grant (the Govt at the time was in caretaker mode, so we wait till after election results are known to see what happens). I have started getting things organised for an early escape tomorrow morning. The plan is to have breakfast, hook up the van, visit the bakery one last time and drive the 200km to Hawker, then to rest a bit and spend the night. Dinner was a small container of lamb left over from a roast, cooked in the fry pan with a small tin of sliced mushrooms.

Saturday 25th June. During my early morning walk I was pleased to see the stars and moon unobscured by cloud. Windscreen of the Cruiser was once again covered in ice, so needed scraping, after breakfast I hooked up the van and began my escape at 8.30am. After the stop at the bakery I now have a car and caravan fridge and freezer full of meat and vegetarian pies, pasties, sausage rolls, lamingtons, macaroon slice and some cheese and ham rolls.

The trip on dirt to Lyndhurst was without problem, and on the bitumen managed to cruise between 90 and 100 km/h arriving in Hawker for morning tea before setting up in the caravan park. I asked at my friend’s roadhouse about a biro I reckon I’d left there a fortnight before, and lo and behold, Janet found it on the counter near the till.

Sunday 26th I had an early start, had a bit of a hold up between Quorn and the Port Augusta turn off due to a marathon run/walk through the Pichi Richi Pass. Home a bit after lunch time.

The subsequent week has been unpacking, cleaning etc. Now beginning to prepare to return for a day trip to Farina.