Farina 2018, Weeks 1 and 2 – The Witcher Journals
“All my own ramblings and not the official FRG press release”…. Mike Witcher
The drive to Farina is a time for contemplation, reflection and memories for me, as my family has come to the Flinders Ranges for holidays since the 1970s and for work between 2000 and 2004.
Driving through the Pichi Richi Pass, one notices lots of signs warning of flooding and depth markers to show how deep the water is. For most of the time not a drop of water is to be seen.
This is the Saltai Creek crossing closest to Quorn, with a build up of mud, ironically caused by water swirling and slowing due to a depth indicator post, just visible behind a bush on the right of the car. Around the corner was a culvert, which had been washed out leaving a huge cauldron of swirling raging water. Now a causeway has replaced it. This trip and most before this has been a serene spot and the creek bed next to the road a camping spot.
Not long after this photo was taken, flood remediation work has been carried out so this is generally not an issue Trapped at the time was a brand new Suzuki Ute, and some people thought to cross using a railway bridge, there were Police at one end collecting a “toll”.
The Suziki’s engine bay, cabin and tray were full of rocks and mud. Sometime later when it was recovered the owners talking to Police mentioned claiming on their insurance policy, his answer, sorry, ”No” the road was officially closed.
Stories are many of people camping in a lovely spot, a creek bed with gum trees. They go on a hike and return to find the camp and vehicle washed away.
Before about 1980, the road from a few Km north of Hawker was a dirt road, and a VERY interesting drive if you happened to be caught in Old Leigh Creek with camper trailer or caravan after rain.
North of Hawker there are signs to indicate Edeowie and Commodore swamps. Lush vegetation is in evidence beside the road. In flood condition the road is under water.
The next photo is of the road below Leigh Creek after flooding, the bitumen was intact, but the mud had flowed down the usually dry creek bed.
2018 – 24th and 25th May, (Thursday and Friday), the road trip was without incident, although toward the end a few problems beset my 28 year old caravan.
Arriving in Farina I was met by quite a number of people from my previous volunteering times and they were all busy at work setting up the Bakery sales area, Patterson House and a myriad of other things needing to be done to get this season up and running.
At home, I had done some soldering towards a radio installation, and decided that I didn’t need to bring the gas torch, WRONG. The crimping tool is probably right where I left it with the intention of packing it in the vehicle. Oh well, I guess it will all work out in the end.
26th May, Saturday, I was rostered on at the Patterson house, but after morning tea I was released to have another go at the Laundry CB. I reasoned that a heat gun in addition to the soldering iron melted the solder and allowed a connection to be made. The laundry now has an operational CB for our ever expanding comms network, already hints have been made of a unit in the Patterson House. During the afternoon I was an odd jobs man.
The water tank which supplies the laundry, showers and toilets is filled by a solar powered pump on a bore, unfortunately the sun has not made its presence felt and the water is very scarce, showers are locked, but hopes are that the position will improve or alternative arrangements will need to be made. There has been no real rain up here for the last year. As in previous years I can survive on what is in the caravan water tank and some bottles of spring water I brought up.
A far cry from the previous bit about flooding!! There has been a select crew up here for a week prior to the opening of our season and they have been busy erecting the Marquee and setting up the retail side of things, plus other pre commissioning necessities.
Unfortunately the delivery / transport schedules have been altered from weekly to fortnightly, so no supplies for pies and pasties. A couple will head off early on Monday, to drive to Pt Augusta(320Km), load up and drive back.
Laundry CB, instructions and emergency contact (phone) numbers to the right. The whole unit and shelf just lifts out at the end of our season.
27th May, Sunday, I was assigned to Patterson House and did a few odd jobs, but just after 11am the air was moist, then a few rain spots. I returned to my caravan, by which time there was light rain. Rain has been forecast for Sunday – Monday, so only time will tell how it will affect us.
The photos below show the rock Gambions which are along the front and sides of the house. The plan, I think, is to fill the space between them, then lay slate capping under the veranda.
The second photo is the rear of the house. The horizontal steel girders were installed by the pre commissioning team, a section of Hebel flooring is installed for where the wet area will be. Pallets of Hebel are positioned ready to be lifted onto the girders for laying.
A back breaking manual job made so much easier by Tim and his equipment, a small portion of which is visible in the first photo..
28th May, Monday.
I am workshop Maintenance man (one of several), this entails any number of tasks, such as stocktaking what power tools we have on site, attend to problems with communications, some fetch and carry etc etc. I was tasked to move a small load, but as the back of my vehicle was chock-a-block, I used the only nearby trailer – a large 4 wheeled one! I used it again to fetch a ladder from one place to another.
During tea breaks, lunch time, or after work I’m often to be found in one of a couple of spots where 3G mobile phone and internet access is possible, this is when I phone home, email a number of people or send a general email of an episode of “The Witcher Journal” to a wide contact list and our webmaster extraordinaire to put this on the web page.
I started making 50 brackets to be used in Patterson House for securing he walls to the floor structure. Work on the house has continued at quite a pace and the photos show the extent of Hebel flooring laid for the rear section and the earth filling between the Gambion (caged rocks) under the verandah.
29th May, Tuesday. Back in the workshop and I finished the 50 brackets, I now have 45 of a different bracket to make starting tomorrow. The photos (below) were actually taken before commencing this morning (with the early morning light), and I aim to do the same tomorrow.
A crew has started work with our stone Masons, Ron and Peter, to repair and stabilise the walls of the Transcontinental Hotel, an ongoing project. Each season the stone masons decide which building has priority.
With the arrival of key ingredients, the result of a couple doing a 320km trip each way to Port Augusta – (think about that when you go a short walk to the local shops), the bakery operation is now in full swing and producing our range of products. For us, morning tea has gone from biscuits to the likes finger buns and donuts, served up by the ladies on kitchen duty in Tom’s Shed.
The first aid room is having a larger than normal external door fitted (major job as new frame work has to be made and the existing hole in the wall modified) the carpentry experts are earning their keep.
Each night we have a gathering around a pair of camp fires, initially for socialising, then the business of who is doing what the next day, reports on the day’s activities, then one or two will entertain us with jokes, or a poetry reading of his own work. Some remain around the fires and cook their meals and continue socialising, others cook their meals in their vans and go back, (and this one cooks his meal, does the dishes, then writes a journal, which gets sent once it reaches a certain file size).
I put a sticker on the cafe door today. It struck me that it can never be replicated – the chimney to the left is on one side of Patterson House and the other is behind the house.
(Ed) – Note the pair of new antennas visible behind the brick chimney – this is our new link to Telstra and the internet while we’re on-site.
30th May Wednesday.
Yesterday evening in an attempt to meet someone who had been looking for me I went to the general camping area. One lady told me how they went to another town ruins “Wilson” as, in the book she was reading mention was made of the Hotel and a large mural. A great disappointment as the town was rubble. She expressed amazement at what we are doing in Farina and started telling me of Bebe Miriam Mahomet (I pointed out she was buried here) Mention was made of Gool Mahomet, who I said was buried in Adelaide. Her reaction to what we are doing is part of what makes it a rewarding experience for us volunteers.
My day was spent in the workshop, as it will be for the next few days, and to install a temporary CB unit in Patterson House, so Peter, your donated CB is temporarily in what I envisage as it’s new home. Work has continued at Patterson House, but I will wait a bit so the next batch of photos is visibly different from the last ones.
Tim, with his equipment has dug a rock out of a section of the main through road of Farina. At present it is sitting beside the road, I suspect awaiting a decision as to where a rock to rival Ayers Rock, the Olgas or Wave Rock should be used or displayed. The side of the rock facing my Land Cruiser was the bottom of it.
As usual, the camp roast night was a huge success thanks to Laurie and the team of ladies who cooked served and cleaned up the utensils afterward. Back to the caravan to do my dishes, write this and other emails before turning in, with a couple of extra blankets on the bed.
31st May Thursday. It got down to 1.5 degrees overnight, so before driving the vehicle, a layer of ice had to be scraped off the windshield, at lunch time it is in the low 20 degree range.
This morning at 9am we had our home delivery, Outback Australian style, it helps if you have a forklift, but failing that a bob cat works a treat. The driver of the “B Double” truck, after making his delivery here heads north, stopping at towns, station homesteads as well as the Mungerannie Hotel and arrives in Birdsville mid morning tomorrow.
I finished making my second set of brackets, then was asked If I could acid wash the floor of the laundry, and to finish the day I moved rocks that were no longer needed on Patterson House veranda.
1st June Friday.
Some time was spent giving the laundry floor a second acid wash to get rid of some staining. I also spent time maintaining some tools donated to us – chisels that had burred over heads due to hammering, helping put orange bunting around an excavation of the cellar of the Angels (Angles) rest to replace some that had been out in the weather.
Thanks to Barista Bev, I had an excellent cappuccino for afternoon tea, after which I went to Patterson House and helped lift and hold a wall frame while it was secured in place. The slate veranda pavers and stone wall are looking a treat. A few new folk have arrived and one or two departed.
2nd June Saturday. Again I was rostered in the workshop. There are many folk doing a number of tasks, making a trailer for one of our portable toilets, painting street signs – the red lettering has been upgraded to white and the wood needs varnishing, A solid storage bench is being built for the mezzanine floor, There were some half finished brackets from last year which I finished drilling the mounting holes. I spent some time sweeping down work benches and the floor.
When I went for a morning cappuccino, I was asked to bring back some milk from our cold storage room. Prior to starting work, and again at lunch time, I repair to my favourite high ground to check emails, maybe send this as an email to friends and a print only version with separate photos to the webmaster, then again to make a prearranged call to my wife at home in Adelaide.
I also stopped at the Transcontinental Hotel for a few photos. Mortar being mixed prior to being used in the walls and much higher up, two photos, vertically stacked, show the scaffolding in the basement, reaching up to the peak of the front wall, he equivalent of about a 2.5 storey height. Another photo shows a wall being repaired above a door frame.
More volunteers arrived today, some departed, with the number on the books as of tonight 62 – some will be departing as others arrive – this is an overlap, and for me the mid point of my two week sojourn, though I did start a day and a half early. My apologies, the beginning of part one was from some years ago and included to illustrate that the roadside warnings of floodings and depth are indeed an indication as to what can happen in the Flinders Ranges.
3rd June Sunday. I had asked and been granted today as a rostered Day off. Soon after breakfast I started to do my washing by hand, uses less water than the machine and I would have had to run my generator. I had it all ready to spin dry and was about to fire up my generator when Bruce arrived to start the camp generator. Once spun, it was hung on the line to dry.
My next effort was to venture to the Afghan Hill area where I spent an hour and a half exploring, then to a dam on the station near the camp ground. Tim has been busy clearing something like 9 or 10 feet of silt from the bottom. Kevin the station owner was busy with his front end loader moving the piles of dirt to the side of the dam at the top.
That is a full sized front end loader (see image below). As Kevin was involved on this, Anne led the Tag along Farina Springs tour for a group of the volunteers. I did it a few years ago and it is an excellent tour which I would recommend. After the tour a larger number of volunteers drove up to Marree for lunch at the hotel I went back to Afghan Hill for a short stay. This all filled in time while my washing was drying on the line.
4th June Monday. A couple of hours on Afghan Hill, Adrienne, granddaughter of Gool Mahomet has placed 4 plastic star droppers to indicate the Mosque location and I have added about 2 dozen GPS co-ordinates to my spreadsheet. What I originally thought was a concreted base of a rain water tank, and then thought the shape (lower centre than edges) might mean it was a foot washing basin for those entering the Mosque. To me, the fact that it is right next to the markers would indicate that it is so.
At the camp fire session I learned that for Monday and Tuesday, I was a “Ron’s Stony”, an assistant to stone mason Ron, a job I’ve had a couple of times. We are laying the slate veranda at Patterson House and the job involves selecting which slate pieces will fit where (a bit like a 3D jigsaw with a flat upper surface, no regular sized or shaped pieces, and no picture.
Using a long length of square tube and spirit level the edge against the house and at the front edge are positioned then set in mortar so that the slope is away from the house and along the front and house the pieces are level from side to side. I also scoop up shovels of mortar from the wheel barrow to deposit where Ron needs it. More of the same tomorrow. A picture would look the same as in the previous episode, the difference being that more of the slate is now set in mortar.
Because of the drought conditions, there are more kangaroos around. Bird life is prolific ranging from sparrows, finches, honey eaters, willie wag tails and of course inland seagulls (crows). Today on my travels I came across some that I don’t recall seeing here in previous years – a pair of Bustards! There are apparently 4 of them around, this pair were just inside the fence at the general camp ground.
5th June Tuesday. Back at Patterson House and helping in the laying of slate, cutting some pieces to suit and a bit of fetch and carry. The temperatures are in the mid 20’s, so working outside gets a bit warm. Having finished all the bread I bought up and a few rolls I bought up here, this morning I bought a sandwich loaf straight from the underground oven and used it for my lunchtime sandwich. The freezer in the caravan fridge is nearly empty, so I will soon begin stocking up on bakery products to take home, plus, of course, some Farina wine.
Two of the photos below show a sign painted red on varnished timber and this year’s version with white lettering, much easier to read from a distance.
The images above were “stolen” from GeoSmart Asia, who’s website can be accessed by clicking HERE.
The Current view was captured in June 2018 to show the simlarity to the GeoSmart image
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.