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Farina 2018, Week 8 With Carol and Russell Monson

Our reporting for week 8 is from husband and wife team Russell and Carol. Russell produces and edits the photographs while Carol chats to the volunteers, produces these reports and also shoots many of the images.

The Bakers of Farina

She is a ‘bakers’ delight’. Marion Gray, wife of baker, Laurie Gray, was recently described by a visitor to Farina as just that: a baker’s delight. She is a delight, racing from one job to another; morning tea, packing biscuits for sale, managing the mountain of washing created by the flour covered bakers, general rouseabout. Marion says she and husband, Laurie are not coastal people, dislike large crowds and have camped at Farina over a number of decades. Marion enjoys the company of the volunteers, loves the environment and finds that no two years are the same.

Laurie and Marion have been coming to Farina to work as volunteers for the last five years. Laurie’s work as the lead baker starts well before the actual volunteer period when he places orders for all ingredients. Throughout June and July the bakery sells cream buns, vanilla slices, doughnuts, sausage rolls, pies, pasties and a selection of breads from whole grain through to white. This is only the short list and Laurie has to continue to order throughout the volunteer period. Just a month shy of 80, Laurie seems to have endless energy and exudes a quiet calm in a bakery space that could have people tripping over each other. Like Marion he loves outback travel and can combine his skills as a professional baker with being able to travel rough roads.

Just as Laurie has been content for the present to leave behind his games of bowls and replace them with baking at Farina imagine leaving behind a business that turns out 110,000 vanilla slices per annum to help in the wood fired bakery at Farina for a week or more. That is what baker, Adam Bourke, recently did when he took leave from his Woodend, Victoria bakery, ‘Bourkie’s Bakehouse’.

Adam has had his bakery for 29 years but maintains that the opportunity to work with Laurie Gray, use a wood fired oven and contribute to the Farina Restoration Project was too good an opportunity to miss. Adam comes from a practise of baking that today includes a 360 square metre pastry plant as part of an operation employing 30 staff. Learning to bake in the confined space of the Farina Bakery, which Adam compared to operating in a submarine, has taught him a range of new skills such as passing materials and equipment to each other rather than getting it yourself.

Following his work at Farina Adam was off to Dalhousie, Oodnadatta and Wiliam Creek. It is his love of the outback that brought him to Farina and having just finished this first stint of working for the restoration project and experienced the wonderful hospitality of other volunteers he is keen to come back in 2019.

While Adam has recently headed north, Bob Wishart is yet to do that. Bob sometimes works with Laurie and has been coming for the past 3 years since he learned of the Farina Restoration Project. The work is a far cry from his profession as maintenance fitter when he worked in places as different as abattoirs and smelters.

However his preparedness to get up early, sometimes at 3.30am, and being able to follow a routine are valuable skills but also what drives him to ‘keep going’. Bob and his wife Judy are happy to return in 2019 but before then head north and ‘chuck a leftie’ to travel down the west coast and on to Perth.

Patterson House Team (or some of – Tuesday 17th)

Every project at Farina has many amazingly creative, committed workers trying to fulfil the vision of the ‘Farina Restoration Project’ but there is really only space for a few personalities to contribute to the record.

Those working on the restoration of Patterson House are hard to catch because the jobs are many and varied. Former Electronics Engineer, Peter Davis, from Adelaide, seems to spend time dashing from Patterson House to various wiring jobs around the project at Farina. Peter originally trained as an electrician and worked for GMH who later supported his training as an engineer. He is now using his experience and skills to install a 3G connection to a mast outside the bakery as well as designing and installing wiring and an alarm system in Patterson House.

This extraordinary man, in his mid seventies, has only just discovered camping but has taken to it like a duck to water (not that there is much water at Farina this year). 2018 is Peter’s second year at Farina and he is determined to keep coming back now that he is committed to retirement, a stage he says is about ‘giving up the things you don’t like doing.’

Peter’s visits to Farina are staggered so that he can set things in place, leave for others to work on and return to another stage so he did the first fix of wiring on Patterson House in June and came back in July. Peter had three trips in 2017 and is ably supported by experienced electrician, David Morrison. (More about David later)

Just as valuable as Peter’s work, is that of Raymond Orr. Ray previously worked repairing equipment for gas company, Rinnai. He has been a tourist to Farina for the last 7 or 8 years but the work he completed in Queensland with ‘Blaze Aid’ after major floods reinforced his love of contributing to a range of community projects. While in Queensland for five weeks he spent his time rebuilding fences on farmland. He brings to Patterson House a love of fine detail and so is ideal for the rather irksome but meticulous task of filling every single nail hole on the exterior of Patterson House.

As a restorer of antique furniture in Fitzroy, Victoria, Doug McNaughton’s path to Farina was quite different from Ray’s. His dog died. The 18-year old Collie left something of a hole so Doug decided to do a bit of outback travel; always easier without an animal to look after, and his first stop was the Maree Camel Cup. Quite by chance he heard the story of Farina and decided to spend four weeks there in 2017 and another three in 2018. Doug’s skills have been used in a range of ways from repairing a somewhat eccentric nail gun to restoring and fitting a beautiful, early 1800s, cedar fire surround which begs people to stroke it for its smoothness.

Rob Power, a former management expert in the automotive industry, retired early from his profession, took up casual bus driving that has enabled him to spend 16 days in Farina working on, and in, Patterson House. He loves this and enjoys the handyman aspect of the work before travelling to cover more of outback Australia with his wife Jane who shares his enthusiasm for Farina.

This is not the last of the current team in Patterson House for the last week of work in 2018.

More from Patterson House (Wednesday 18th)

Many of the volunteers to the restoration project become ‘Jacks and Jills of all trades’. One such talented tradesman, David Morrison, has become just that. David is an electrician at the Latrobe Regional Hospital and came across Farina by chance. Five years ago, on his way back from the Simpson Desert, he saw a sign to the township of Farina. It was bitterly cold, blowing a ‘howling gale’ but this did not deter him from taking a detour the following year from the end of the Strzelecki Track with a group of fellow travellers. When he later watched a programme on the ABC’s Landline on Farina he was hooked and determined to become involved.

In 2016, a very wet year for Farina, he came with his wife, Helen, to work in whatever they were given which turned out to be the police station.. However more recently his electrical skills have stood him in good stead when the wiring for Patterson House was being installed.

David has a strong sense of community and a vision that stimulated him to organise the delivery of firewood to the volunteers in Farina. His group of drivers with their loaded trailers travelled three and a half thousand kilometres to Farina and back to the Latrobe valley, Victoria. This year David has been most content meeting and greeting people as they arrive at Farina with a host of questions about the restoration. He has also turned his hand to making souvenir bottle openers from railway spikes to raise money for the restoration project.

He is determined to return whenever he can.

Peter Davis, currently working on wiring for Patterson House and calling on the skills David has, also has a sense of vision and dreams one day of a sound and light show that could retell the history of Farina and its inhabitants. He is also mulling over a way he might harness the cooler night time temperatures to provide cooling to Patterson House when it is up and running as a museum and café. Such visions are what keep people working on the restoration project.

Hotel Transcontinental

For many, the thought of spending an entire day lugging chunks of stone through heat and dust would send them heading for the nearest swimming pool, or maybe pub. Work on the Hotel Transcontinental at Farina however inspires volunteers who elect to do this sometimes backbreaking, but always meticulous, reconstruction work.

Stonemason, Ron Johnson, from Copley is currently supervising the work of restoring the hotel to a little of its former glory. His skills are to be envied, and while quietly replacing stones and filling enormous gaps with mortar he passes on some of his knowledge to volunteers under his supervision.

Ron has had an eclectic career from his training in architecture in Melbourne to working tirelessly with and for young, disadvantaged people who have become disengaged from mainstream society. This has often involved programmes using drama and performance as a means of re-engaging youth in society. His diversification to stonework occurred about 15 years ago and covers restoration work, repair of farm and station stone buildings and sometimes, new constructions.

Continually working alongside Ron in this last period of reconstruction in 2018, is TAFE teacher, Allen. After 20 or more years of travelling in the outback, Allen has developed a love of inland Australia and in 2017 when he was heading home from the Simpson Desert he visited Farina with a group of friends. He was inspired by the work being done and realised his experience in professional landscape construction would be useful in the restoration project.

Somewhat like Ron, Allen’s career trajectory has been an interesting one from his early days in the electrical trade, police rescue, landscaping, to his current role in teaching landscape construction in the TAFE sector. Allen Tuck has a passion for the calming effect of using stone and other materials in garden structures that can provide solace for young people disengaged from society. He cites an example of his work on a garden path spiralling around itself in a snail like formation to a circular pergola where young people could receive counselling to help them re-engage with the world.

Allen enjoys and appreciates the calming effect using stone can have, and finds that at the end of each day an individual can look with satisfaction on what has been achieved physically. He also has a strong sense of the need to be involved in community activities, and the restoration project at Farina is one way of fulfilling this.

Bricklayer Kez, from Perth, didn’t ever imagine he would spend a holiday filling gaps in stonework with mortar but that is just what he chose to do this year. Kez is happy to work quietly by himself putting his long term skills to use but thinks he will go back to fishing in his future holidays. What he has brought to the project however, apart from his bricklaying expertise, is an appreciation and enthusiasm for old structures. He has an intense interest in European castles and the work that needs to be done to maintain such buildings to preserve the heritage of different countries.

There must really be something calming in stonework because Carol Grantham (CJ), Barbara Orr and Mabel Mitchel all testify to this.

CJ, from Kangaroo Island, has been coming to Farina to work on the restoration project for three years since she spoke to Tom Harding and now brings friends to share the experience. Her work has ranged from washing, baking, stonework and other essential, but perhaps less glamorous, jobs. For her the experience entails getting away from the phone and meeting new people. More recently she has discovered the joys of stonework under the tutelage of Ron Johnson and finds the work therapeutic and often less stressful than her professional work in aged care.

Barbara Orr who has been travelling in the area since 2009 (or thereabouts) collected a ‘Friends of Farina’ pamphlet and through mutual friends met Steve Harding in Adelaide where they talked olive growing. Farina is a long way from this discussion but it triggered Barbara and Ray’s interest enough to commit to volunteering in 2018. Her own feelings are best put in the verse she was moved to write:


The wind, the dust, the stone,
I work here all alone
In a landscape harsh and vast,
To help preserve the past.

I gently stroke the stone
That was once someone’s home.
Its memories now I share.
I am here because I care.

The wind, the dust, the stone,
I work here all alone.

Barbara Orr, July, 2018

Mabel will testify to similar feelings even though this is her first time on the restoration project. This former nurse who worked in palliative care for a number of years finds the stonework calming even though exacting because it requires the meticulous attention to detail that is part of the work of any nurse. This work has been her favourite despite having made coffee for visitors, washed bakers’ laundry….

Ken Hovenden, an experienced ceramicist, has spent much of his time at Farina shovelling the sand to make mortar. Ken has a long history of working with clay from the time he was a 17 year old working for Bendigo Potteries where he later became a technician and also met his wife, Sally. It stimulated his interest to the point where he established his own pottery with its unique gum leaf design on individually thrown work. A chance meeting between Ron Johnson and a mutual friend in Castlemaine resulted in Ken being invited to Copley to run a ceramic workshop in the community centre that had been gifted kilns and slip cast moulds.

At Farina Ken has been engaged in a range of stone related tasks from expertly mixing the essential mortar to assisting people in completing the exacting point work required when repairing and restoring severely damaged stone surfaces.

2007 was the first time Ken went to Copley to conduct ceramic workshops and has been returning ever since as a result of his friendship with Ron and a love of pottery and ceramics. One day he hopes the ceramic aspect of the Copley Community Centre will be self sustaining. In the meantime he continues to help Ron lead the restoration work at Farina.

Let’s hope that Ken’s dream of the Copley ceramic workshops will be self sustaining and will be realised.

Jacks and Jills of all Trades – (Friday 21st)
(The many talents needed at Farina)

When focussing on leading personalities of any project it is easy to place less importance on the jobs that must be done and are often completed in a quiet, unassuming way by volunteers. The jobs are those that possibly have little glamour or romance attached to them but without which no community can function. There is always rubbish to collect, toilets, showers and washbasins to clean, laundry to be washed, merchandise to be sold, ongoing bakery sales, bakery assistants who have to get up at 4.00am, planning the next stage in the background.

Di and Lex Silva have been coming to Farina as volunteers for the last 6 years from the time when the original programme of restoration ran only for 6 weeks at a time. They come from Bendigo where Di worked as a Social Worker and she has been happy to do anything she is asked. She now has the ability to see things that need to be done because of her long experience with the project. This year Di presented the restoration project with a hand made quilt for the bed in the sick bay. The quilt features images of Farina and a range of traditional outback recipes. Lex has been involved in planning around construction of the shed and most recently the large carport attached to the shed.

Robert Lee and Elizabeth Jones were the first volunteers from Western Australia when they came in 2017 and this year brought friends Carole and Kez Jackson. Elizabeth first found out about Farina on the Landline report in 2016 and is very enthusiastic about everything she has had a chance to try. She and Carole have worked tirelessly behind the bakery counter but have actually been happy to do a bit of everything from counting money, merchandising, chatting to tourists. For Elizabeth there is great satisfaction in meeting different people.

Rubbish! Who would volunteer to collect camp rubbish, particularly when it covers two camp areas, both a public camping area and that in which the volunteers camp. This is just what Kangaroo Island residents, Vicki Gibbs and Rick Pinson, did. Like a number of the volunteers, Vicki was inspired to visit Farina as a result of the Landline report and has painted, made coffee for tourists from the new coffee machine but spent the bulk of her time carting campers’ rubbish. Rick also completed numerous jobs on the restoration site but has enjoyed the routine of driving the camp ute and trailer to empty bins twice daily. The result has been pristine camping grounds.

For some the Farina project has become a family event. John and Dawn Morrison, son David and daughter in law Helen, from Victoria have a strong sense of community involvement where ever they are. Dawn’s own father always holidayed in outback Australia so she thought being involved in the Farina project might help explain this fascination. It did and she finds Farina and the outback draws you in. Her own experience of working with Blaze Aid encouraged her to volunteer at Farina where she has thoroughly enjoyed working behind the bakery counter and making coffee from the new coffee machine on a very regular basis.

Daughter in law, Helen, enjoys the caravanning aspect of coming to Farina but David is more of a 4WD enthusiast. This is the family’s second time at Farina, 2016 and 2018. In 2016 they were involved in digging out the police station, a far cry today from the pile of rubble only a short time ago. John Morrison has been the smiling face that has greeted many visitors to the underground bakery. Although John needs a mobile scooter to carry him around the rough surfaces of the township he is always welcoming, hands out the explanatory leaflets and has a wealth of knowledge about the town that he shares with everyone who asks.

Jane Power is here with husband Rob and they are long time offroad drivers and campers. Jane in her other life is an artisan jeweller but has spread her talents over many things from laundry, serving in the bakery, stonemasonry, meeting and greeting tourists and most recently as baker’s assistant to Laurie. She had come well prepared for this role by bringing a sourdough mix from home that she tried in the woodfired ovens at the end of the bread-baking shift. Jane loves the therapeutic nature of kneading bread and her time on the restoration project was an opportunity to extend her bread-baking experience. Jane and Rob have been coming to Farina to work on the project for the last 5 years after a friend in Arkaroola told them about the project.

Sally Hovenden, like husband Ken is here on the restoration project for the first time and has a history of working in the field of ceramics; first at Bendigo Potteries and later in their own business where she turned, finished and glazed as well as looking after the bookwork. Sally has been happy to do anything she was asked to do including pointing work on the Transcontinental Hotel. From here she and Ken will travel to Copley where they will conduct pottery workshops in the local community centre.

All of these participants have contributed to the ongoing restoration work bringing a multitude of skills but also learning new ones.

Please note:- Our reporters this year were selected from volunteers who responded to our request for capable people who were willing to report our activities during a one or two week period within the eight weeks that restoration operations were in progress.
Their images and text record many of our activities – whether triumphs or disasters – and all are reported from the current reporter’s point of view.