Select Page

The 2017 Witcher Journal
The daily adventures of just one volunteer

Thursday 25th May.
Left home late in the morning, with the aim of being in Farina a day early to help set up the bakery/cafe marquee and a couple of other jobs. I drove to Hawker to refuel and was going to book into a caravan park on the north of the town. It was closed for the “Summer” season, so instead of retracing my steps into town to another park, I continued on my way.

Parachilna seemed to be congested, so I decided to head further North. About 34km south of Leigh Creek, a kangaroo decided to jump in front of my vehicle (I had slowed down and was only using low beam headlights, as a truck was coming the other way). One side of my “roo bar is now bent slightly back. I decided to enter Leigh Creek and managed to get a powered site to stay the night. Being in phone coverage range, a phone call home was made to say where I was and what had happened.

Friday 26th May.
On the road by 7.30am, I refuelled at Lyndhurst to ensure the maximum amount of fuel for my Farina stay. About 25 km of the road is not bitumised and fairly rough – shook the mirror out of one of my towing rear view mirrors. On arrival I had a number of items to deliver, and when I opened the caravan, a cupboard door had opened and spilled the contents onto the floor via a seat. The main casualty was the coffee jar losing its lid and spilling coffee everywhere. A certain amount of time was spent finding a perfect camp spot and then caravan cleaning, before I joined a work team erecting the marquee.

This also involved time meeting old friends and new members as well as talking to touring visitors. Many disappointed that the bakery wasn’t fully functional and selling product. In fact the fire box and oven interior were being upgraded by the man who had refurbished it in 2015, plus the ceiling was also being replaced and new lighting and an exhaust fan were to be installed.

We had our usual campfire session, after which I did my own evening meal and had an early night.

Saturday 27th.
During the night I awoke and decided to try to take a long exposure of the night sky and stars, not very good. At a bit after 6am I again set the camera on the tripod and took a pre sun up photo.

The bright dot at the top is a star, not a blemish. The morning task was to correct a mistake in assembling some brackets, then completing the erection of the marquee and its annexe. We are to build a replica of an old house for use as the bakery sales area, museum and information centre. One of our members brought his earthmoving equipment up and drilled a number of holes for concrete foundations. A ready mixture of concrete was ordered from Hawker (250km south), and on delivery had to be poured with great speed as it was about to set, this had been done before my arrival. I helped an electrician laying a conduit with electrical cable for the house, water pipe has also been laid.

Camp oven roast tonight, cooked in the baker’s oven which had been fired up earlier in the day. We have had lots of tourists not impressed that the bakery is not yet in operation. The plan is to start baking bread on Sunday and be in full production on Monday.

Sunday 28th.
For a time I was in the bakery cafe area talking to visitors. The bakery was in limited operation, bread, pies, sausage rolls jam and apple tarts were selling like hot cakes. (No pun intended – ed.) Tom planned a town site tour for newer members, I thought to not do it, but a couple (Susan and Kevin) doing research asked if I would drive them in my car (CB radio fitted). I cleaned out the car so there were enough seats, but when I went to the assembly point they were going with Tom, which I did also. Tom’s narrative was interesting and informative.

Tonight’s campfire meeting included the 2017 AGM, plus the usual debriefing on the day’s performance and progress and allocation of people for jobs for the next couple of days. After the formalities were over, a number of our group played music and sang, as well as sing-along, some told jokes or read poetry they had written. The small portable PA system performed well and could probably be heard by those closest to us in the general camping area.

I am a baker’s assistant tomorrow, which entails an early start.

Monday 29th.
5am at the bakery with Laurie our baker for this period, and “Nifty” helping to prepare pull-aparts, vegetarian pasties, pasties, bread, hi-top style both white and wholemeal. These were left in the underground bakery to rise, before being committed to the oven. The oven temperature was a bit lower than desired, so the cooking took longer.

Other delights, custard tarts, jam tarts, cream buns, and more were also prepared for cooking in the oven in the catering van. I worked in the bakery and also talking to visitors until midday, then had a lunch break before returning to be visitor host until 4pm.

The next two photos are the morning’s products in the underground bakery prior to being baked. The plastic is to retain generated heat to “prove the bread”. The second is the view from the oven, out the door to above ground. The ceiling is incomplete at this stage and tools and materials are on the left hand bench. The door with bars and deadlock is to prevent people taking “souvenirs” such as the oven door, or our precious fire wood. Hanging on the wall behind the ladder are camel registration discs.

The government of the day decided to charge one pound per camel per year as registration. Bearing in mind that this is in the early 1900’s and a cameleer might have a string of up to 89 beasts it is an enormous financial drain. No registration disc and the Police were empowered to shoot the camel, the cameleers could not often bring themselves to shoot their faithful beasts, so many were turned loose. Hanging from the ceiling are the Peels, these are what many would call pizza paddles, but these have very long handles and are for inserting or removing baking tins or trays into the depths of the oven.

I had a side job to repair a joint in a connector for Tom’s shed CB, and a visit to Ron Johnson and his crew working at the old Police Station.

Work on the Patterson house is progressing.

When I arrived the site had been levelled and holes drilled and filled with cement for the footings, by tonight a number of metal “Stumps” had been fabricated and installed and the first long beam is in place. This is the first new house in over 100 years.

The Laser level, is on a tripod in the middle of the concrete foundations. The silver grey object in front of the vehicles is the first floor beam.

The Pattersons were butchers in the town, and when the bakery closed they had an iron rail installed in it for use with hooks to hang meat in the cooler building (due to being half underground). The descendants of those Pattersons were tracked down and contacted and agreed to give the Farina Restoration Group the property, although conveyancing and other government charges were incurred. The house will be a replica externally, but internally will be our bakery training area, bakery and souvenir sales, plus information centre and museum for the artefacts we keep finding.

At the evening meeting I told the group that the repair to a joint in the CB speaker cable I would consider a warranty job and therefore no charge. In fact we are all volunteers who give our time and donate items for the furtherance of this massive project.

Tuesday 30th May.
An 8am start in the visitor information centre. I first went to Tom’s shed where I met Kevin Dawes and showed him photos from a Navy friend, whose family rented a house in Farina. Kevin looked at the photos and took me behind the shed to the exact location of the house ruins. My visitor centre job morphed into helping paint linseed oil on to one of our information sign shelters.

After lunch I spent some time in the visitor centre, but went and chatted with friend Ron Johnson for a while, and also spent a bit of time helping the crew putting new floor bearers on the Patterson House foundations.

The left image below shows the bearer installed yesterday, the next closest bearer is sitting on its stumps and the closest is ready to be placed onto the stumps with the middle bearer and be bolted in position.

Wednesday 31st May.
Another 5am start in the bakery, helping the baker prepare bread etc. for baking, then putting them on a shelf in the underground bakery to prove for an hour while we prepared other delicacies. Then the products for the underground oven were inserted into the oven. Other delicacies were put in a proving oven in the catering van, before being cooked in the van’s oven. By 8am we had most of the selection ready for sale.

I continued to help the baker, as well as talking to visitors until midday, then went to my caravan for lunch. I had some emails to send, so drove some 5km south to a hilltop to send emails, and receive 18. I then did some hand washing of shirts before using the spin dryer of the camp washing machine and hanging them out in the caravan.

The next photo shows, that now 3 beams are in place as well as 11 cross pieces.

Tonight was a roast meal done in the baker’s oven and transported to Tom’s shed for serving to the whole crew.

Plans for the weekend were announced. A 110km each way trip to Parachilna to collect fire wood, a picnic day on Saturday. Sunday night, a dinner at a hotel in Lyndhurst 30km to the south. There is also a trip a bit to the west for a sunset viewing. This whole area is a small section of the country I spent 4 years working in, so nothing new for me – I will work in the Bakery on Saturday morning and maybe potter around here for the rest of the weekend, giving others the opportunity to explore the area.

Thursday 1st June.
I was told by Tom the leader, to have a look at what the crew achieved at the cemetery, cleaning and weeding. This fitted in with plans, as there is a spot on the road where mobile phone and internet is available – (part one of this journal was sent from there). In 2015 a friend Roy and I were in a crew working on the Exchange hotel, and I had noticed that the passageway and rooms need a bit of a tidy up.

I spent some hours with a shovel and rake chopping out a large amount of various weeds that were taking over. During this time a number of visitors dropped in, so I was visitor hosting as well as doing room service! There had been a problem with our PA system at the dinner last night, transpired it was a switch on the microphone, but I have now resolved that.

Some washing was done by hand in the afternoon and spun dry in the camp washing machine, so I now have a few days worth of clean clothing.

Friday 2nd June.
The morning has been spent in consultation about, and then beginning to run cabling from the office in Tom’s shed to where a number of loudspeakers are to be mounted.

We have seen various birds, sparrows (of course), a breed of finch, many willie wagtails and around and in the town a few groups of emus. Birds must be nesting in trees around the camping area, as we often hear them calling, even as I type this at lunch time on Friday.

The “New” Police Station, the cells to the right and one of the two emus grazing (image 3 below).

Many of us bring tools, equipment and donation items. Tim, wife Leanne and son Simon came with the tip truck, bob cat and excavator (shown in one of the photos below). The ring of rocks, are in the middle of a car park that Tim and Simon levelled out for us and also removed a number of boulders.

The equipment has been in constant use, track clearing, rock removing and dirt collection so a road crew could remake and grade the main road through Farina, their task was to grade the road west of Farina and the Lyndhurst to Marree Road. Food from the bakery and Tim’s offer to do the work mentioned above, convinced them it would be a good idea to help us.

The beginning of the laying of the Hebelcrete panels for the flooring in the Patterson house. Farina volunteers are now instantly recognisable while wearing orange (leaders) or yellow (the rest of us) Hi Visability vests.

The volunteering experience sees many of us work in different types of jobs as our normal lives, working with tradesmen and women, learning new skills, in my case bakery assistant, stone mason assistant, visitor information. The evenings are taken with a campfire session, where the day’s work is discussed, as well as up-coming work.

After the formalities there is usually some-one with a joke or three, a music and sing a long, a story or a poem, before people gradually drift away to cook dinner, or cook it on the campfire. All in all, a rewarding experience for us, both in what we achieve, and the social interaction with like minded folk.

Saturday 3rd June.
A busy morning in the bakery, assisting in the preparation, carting goodies underground for baking, sweeping floors, washing utensils for re-use or storage, trips to Tom’s shed for supplies from the cool room or freezer.

After lunch I went to Afghan Hill to take bearings from objects I found back to 3 known (on Google Earth) items, Fettler’s cottage, water-tank and sheep railway carriage. I also found a few new things and recorded their location and the bearings as above.

Sunday 4th June.
I had another busy day in the bakery, similar to yesterday. After an early lunch I went to Afghan Hill to photograph an old cart I had found yesterday, from what remains of the wheels I surmise they were old wooden spoked car wheels, as they are not the old wooden wagon wheels that had metal “Tyres”.

I called into the bakery cafe, enroute to camp to do my laundry, when Steve Harding showed me a box of equipment to provide communication with the homestead, internet, and an EFTPOS machine. This was supposed to be right up my alley, but had Steve and me bewildered.

A young couple, Matt and Jenny, who had come up to camp the night and visit the site, heard our discussions and asked if we would like some help. They are computer Information Technology gurus and spent several hours with the connection of a unit at the homestead and one in the bakery.

Elliott, who is young and nimble, was due to leave this afternoon, was asked to climb the tower to attach one unit for us. Just before 5 pm, and with the actual EFTPOS machine not operable we called it quits and Jenny and Matt offered to come back on Monday morning, speak with the supplier, and sort it out for us. They also fixed a problem the homestead had with their internet.

An informal gathering around the campfire tonight, as a number of folks had gone to the west to sit on a hill and watch the sunset, too much cloud cover. I retired early.

Monday 5th June.
Normal bakery duties this morning, until Jenny and Matt arrived to do battle with the EFTPOS machine again. A phone call was made to the people who supplied it and we were told the machine had to connect to a Telstra service. Not too much of a problem as there is a nearby hill, to which Matt and I headed while Jenny started writing an instruction sheet for us.

When given the instruction by the supplier to link the EFTPOS machine to the base station, he was informed that we were in the Outback and we had driven several km from the base to get Telstra coverage. Back to the bakery, and just before 1pm all was finished and one of our group had made the first ever EFTPOS transaction from our bakery.

I have decided that the rest of the afternoon will be time off for me.

In the afternoon I went back to the bakery, where the EFTPOS was being tried. Unfortunately the machine did not seem to perform the steps as listed in the instruction book!

The flooring for the section of Patterson’s house we are building this year is now laid and tomorrow there is just the joint sealing to be done.

Tuesday 6th June.
Bakery duties again for me this morning, and I bought a number of sausage rolls. I tried to pay by EFTPOS, but again the machine Declined due to a transmission error. Customers started arriving well before the sales from the cafe opened. A steady stream of people, who were amazed at the variety of items for sale, in fact this is a common reaction, and even more amazement when they see where the breads, pull aparts and other yeast products are baked – in the underground wood fired oven.

When I knocked off work at 10.30am and delivered some products for our communal morning tea, I found out that I had been replaced as one of the baker’s assistants and another fellow, (Chris), will have the rewarding experience of working with Laurie and Nifty to create bakery masterpieces.

About 3.40pm I drove a couple of km to where Telstra coverage was available, sent and received emails and had a fairly long phone call to Irene at home. Back to the caravan to organise biscuits, dip, cheese slices and salami onto a plate to share at the campfire session. With food, chair, torch and amplifier, it took two trips to get it all there.

Wednesday 7th June.
No alarm clock, as I’m not bakery assistant today, so I thought to have an easy day today. At 8.30am I was at Tom’s shed doing a load test on a member’s battery which had gone very flat, it had been on charge all night. With my inverter running my soldering iron, it took only 2 hours to go flat again, producing only 20% of its rated capacity.

After a smoko which included delicious products from the bakery, I went back to camp to do a load of laundry. Out of hours for the camp generator, so my own generator was used to power the washing machine for spin drying.

See the images below for “the Office” (where I go to send and receive emails, and make phone calls). To the left of the track are the shearing sheds and quarters, white images in the centre are caravans in the caravan park and about half way between that and my vehicle is the township of Farina. About 60kms in front of my vehicle, on top of a mountain is the Telstra tower and equipment for the mobile coverage. (Dust, not rust on tailgate).

A couple of street views, taken during this afternoon. The underground bakery is just visible behind the 4WD with the front number plate askew.

I have been told the family is a Swiss couple and their two children, apparently they had done a trip in another country using horses, but found out one of the children was allergic to horses.

Another great oven cooked roast dinner tonight, Baker, Laurie did the meat in the underground bakery and a group of ladies prepared and cooked the vegetables – and later served us the meals in Tom’s shed.

Professor Bob (as distinct from Kaniva Bob and Bendigo Bob), had arrived this afternoon after driving from Renmark where they, Bob and Colynette stayed last night. He introduced them both at the dinner. Another arrival was Sparky (electrician) Dave who just called in on the way past and started work on some wiring in the shed – (I will be his assistant tomorrow).

Three more days, before I leave on Sunday morning, to head back home.

The amazement shown by visitors after seeing what has been achieved by a group of older people – retirees or those approaching retirement and who come up here from all over Australia to give time and effort into preserving an interesting part of history is most heart warming to me.

Supplied by Michael Witcher

Thursday 8th June. 
This morning on the way to Tom’s shed, I dropped into the bakery to place the second part of my order. I was assistant to Sparky Dave as we ran cables from a new set of power points at one end of the shed to the other end of the shed and down in a wall cavity to the electrical switchboard. Morning tea was again served in the shed, as I was running low on bread (which I had brought up with me), I visited the bakery to purchase a sandwich loaf. I began clearing sand and some rocks out of two rooms in the old Police station, Deja vu, as I had done this last year, but wind and shifting sand indicated that it will be a regular clearing job.

I understand that the trailer in the photo below belonged to a school and was the camp kitchen before Tom acquired it for the Farina Restoration Group. I remember it from my previous trips, as being a dry storage van for the bakery. This year the old and flaking paint was removed and it was given several coats of spray paint and a good clean out. It is to be used as a laundry equipment storage area, and not as some wag’s paper sign says, a “Mobile Angel’s Rest”.

On my way back to my caravan, I collected my bakery order and fitted it into the fridge – I now have to create more space in the fridge for another bakery order.

After the formalities of the campfire session were over, (who’s doing what tomorrow, notification that a coach load of tourists will arrive for morning tea etc.), Peter Cramm read the last of a trilogy of poems about “Woody the Cattle Dog” and Laurie told a couple of jokes (as he has been doing all along). As always, both entertainers drew a big round of applause.

Friday 9th June. 
My first job (self imposed) was to remove more sand from the rooms of the old Police station. Morning smoko also coincided with the arrival of some of the week 3 & 4 volunteers, and so I met a few new people and some from previous trips. The morning also involved talking to visitors as I was asked to do visitor information until lunch time.

After lunch, Professor Bob and I, again tried to get the EFTPOS machine working, this time calling the manufacturer’s tech line. By doing several tests, they concluded that the signal path had too many links and distance for it to work successfully. A couple of wifi links here, up to a satellite, down to earth in WA, then optical fibre cable to Melbourne, and back again.

Sadly the unit has been packed away.

Tonight was Hot Dog night, Laurie the baker has been busy making hot dog rolls as well as his usual fare (and some extra) as morning tea for a bus load of tourists. Lex and Di organised the sliced onion and sausages for cooking. I’m beginning to accumulate pasties, sausage rolls and lamingtons for the trip home and will stock up on more until my allocated budget is reached.

A camp sing along took place, with Peter Cramm, who also sang a couple of songs he wrote, read another poem, we were each asked to recite a saying, e.g. “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

Dinner was served and we then spent time around the two fires yarning until – we individually or in pairs departed to go to bed, or in my case, write a bit more to this.

One of the photos below is of a drover’s hut. Last year in week 3 and 4, it was a pile of iron sheeting, lying where it had collapsed. In the remainder of that year’s “season” it was rebuilt. It was a hut used by Sidney Kidman’s drovers once they had driven the mobs of cattle down the Birdsville Stock Route and were awaiting the arrival of the train to take them down to market in Adelaide, (or even Melbourne.)
The telegraph insulators on the posts indicate a walking trail or different coloured insulators indicate the two railway lines, the old 3’6” Narrow Gauge and the wider 4′ 8.5” Standard Gauge.

Which actually cross each other in our railway precinct, one of the few places in Australia where this occurs. There are also triangles of rail (this was once the rail head), the train passes the triangle – reverses into it, the points are reset and when the train drives out the engine is at the front, ready to haul the train back from whence it came. To the left of the hut is one of our pergolas, erected to protect the information boards from weather damage.

Saturday 10th June. 
Visit the bakery to place another order, to Tom’s shed briefly, then to a couple of sites to take GPS co-ordinates to compare with the Google Earth co-ordinates. The generator spare fuel has been transferred to the vehicle tank, and the vehicle air cleaner has had dust removed from the element and catch cup in preparation for driving home.

I’d been packing away some of the stuff I brought up over in the shed, then I collected my bakery order. Packing it in the fridge is like doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle, but dinner tonight will make a bit more room. The afternoon saw me doing some vehicle rearranging of packing and using Gaffa tape to hold the surviving part of the rear view mirror which broke on the way up into the frame. Looks like a few stops on the way south to see if I can buy a replacement mirror head before hitting the big smoke.

The campfire tonight was a mix of out-going crew and the next crew, until the old crew, or many of them headed to Lyndhurst for dinner. A lady, Corrine, from my last two years gave me a fridge magnet on a slice of Mulga wood, the photo was of Martin MacLennan and me standing in front of the Scotch oven in the underground bakery. A treasured gift, as photos of me are a rarity.

The nights have been cold, so I’m sleeping in two sleeping bags, wearing socks, mittens, a beanie and tracksuit.

The characterture of me is by Len Beadell (1984), same tracksuit, beard now grey. Incidentally, the same Chinese made boots are still in use, not spit and polished, but still very comfortable to wear.

Tomorrow (Sunday), I will be leaving in the morning to drive part way home, so when in good communication range this last episode will be sent to Rob (the Webmaster). An overnight stay on the way, then home on Monday afternoon for the exciting job of re stowing equipment, cleaning out the caravan and vehicle, and resuming a conventional suburban life.

The wooden spoon photographs (below):

Front and back views of the roving microphone “repair”, the tie clip had broken, so the silver clamp was substituted and the wooden spoon attached to the radio transmitter to make a hand held microphone – the nearest Jaycar distributor is 350km away in Port Augusta. It has worked well at our campfire sessions!

Personal writings supplied by Michael Witcher. These are his own memories and may not reflect the current Farina Restoration Group status.