Place names can tell a story all of their own, often alluding to a person or event that was pivotal in the town’s establishment. Farina’s name tells a story of optimism and hope, the word meaning flour in latin was given as a prediction that the future town would be centre of a vast wheat growing area that added life to central South Australia.
History now informs us that the location of Farina was chosen during a good season when a surveyor found an area green after recent rain. However when settlers arrived in a normal season the area was surrounded by the parched stony ground that most most of us see today. Despite the lack of crop farming the town grew thanks to it strategic location as rail head on the Great Central Railway during the late 1800s and early 1900s, long before it was known as the Ghan. The main northern railway was upgraded to standard gauge and relocated to the west of Farina in the 1950s, leading to a slow decline and eventually abandonment of the town in the 1960s.
Its always interesting to wake after setting up camp in the dark, you never quite know what the place will look like in light of day. This morning we awoke as the only campers in sight, beside the well that served this historic and starkly beautiful old town.
We took our time to wander from ruin to ruin, reading the sad history of each building and the town itself. The old cemetery was testimony to the hardships endured by the pioneering families who came here, with many of the buried under the age of 10 and few elderly people.
Unfortunately the town’s famous bakery was closed for the off-peak season otherwise we would have stocked up on goodies, instead we headed to Maree and start of today’s run along length of the Oodnadatta Track.
I was keen to see Marree, after reading about exploits of Tom Kruse the Birdsville Postie, who was based there. From the books and old movie of Tom’s exploits I had painted a picture of the town in my mind which was close to what we found. The town’s park is an outdoor museum, or mausoleum, containing the artefacts for which the town was formed and existed. Firstly as a cross roads where camel trains met and exchanged loads, then the railhead of the Ghan, and of course central dispatch point for distribution of the Royal Mail by Tom and others.
It was shaping up to be a grey day with low clouds and a cool breeze that we hoped wouldn’t turn into rain. For now all roads were open but we knew the forecast low pressure system would change that very quickly, so rather than breaking our trip we again decided forego any overnight stops along the track and run straight through to Oodnadatta.
We would still take the time to check in on the weird, wacky and wonderful sites that make the Oodnadatta Track a destination as much as a road. The sights you find while driving length of the track is like flicking through pages of an old Australasian Post magazine, and none more than the sculptures of Mutonia…
The road was in good shape so far and we saw few other vehicles, which always makes for an easier drive on dusty gravel tracks. The scenery changed continuously and after crossing some flinty stone ridges we dropped into the wide flat basin that leads to southern end of Lake Eyre South with its endless expanse of white crusted surface.
Further along we turned off to inspect the largest old Ghan siding we had found so far, the Beresford ruins together with large dam and huge overhead storage tank for refilling steam locos. It was an eerie place, complete with occasional banging sounds as some corrugated iron flapped in the breeze.
The track continued its wandering course northward and we were soon in William Creek. I refuelled while the barman made us ham and cheese toasties for lunch then we sat down to eat them while absorbing the atmosphere of this iconic roadhouse. We had booked to camp here the night but elected to keep going while we had good daylight and the road was open, and a run all the way to Mt Dare was now looking to be the best plan.
I’m a sucker for old car wrecks and machinery and couldn’t drive past this old girl. Once somebody’s polished pride and joy, now abandoned and bullet holed in the middle of South Australia’s central desert country. These old wrecks each have a story that is long lost, but a part of this one’s story caught our attention. Painted on the door was a fish and “THE CARP” in faded writing, perhaps the name somebody had given to their jallopy.
We continued following the dusty wandering track through stony hills and then dipped down to the River Neale which is straddled by the mighty Algebuckina Bridge, the longest bridge ever built in SA. The red and rusty wrought iron masterpiece has stood here since the late 1800s and was used until the newer standard gauge railway line made it redundant. We paused to look from afar, but by now we were more concerned about the rain clouds we could see dumping their load to the west of us. Deja vu from yesterday, we were once again on a dirt track racing against rain clouds…
Half an hour later found us pulling into Oodnadatta’s famous Pink Roadhouse. Until this moment we were still thinking that a dash to Mt Dare would be our best option, so I topped up with fuel at $2.10/litre where it would be cheaper than our more isolated destination. We then got to talking with the roadhouse staff who said that the prediction was 100mm of rain to fall during the coming night and anybody still in Oodnadatta or Mt Dare would be stuck there for a fortnight!!
Just as I was finished filling with fuel large drops of rain started to splash on the dust coating the Landcruiser and taking heed of the local’s advice we made a new plan. I rang and booked a hotel room at Marla, on safety of the Stuart Highway’s bitumen road. At least if we got there we had options to travel north or south, and a hotel room would save us setting up the camper in the rain.
Scuds of rain had already crossed the track to Marla, leaving sections of slick soft red mud, but not so sodden that they were boggy. This would be followed by lengths of dry and dusty track that had not yet been dampened, but the rain became more frequent and heavier the further we went.
We arrived at Marla just on dusk and checked into the motel. The staff were great and gave us a room beside others that were being renovated so that we could park the rig along front of our room and half under the overhanging roof, giving us access into the camper without getting wet.
Our scurrying efforts to stay ahead of the tropical low had worked, we were two days ahead of schedule to meet the Moon Tours group for our crossing of the Simpson Desert. The problem however is that our meeting point is meant to be Mt Dare, which by all accounts will be unreachable in the morning, and anyone there is likely to be stranded. Messages in the WhatsApp group for the trip members said that several where holed up at Kulgera, just north of us across the NT border. Joining them seemed to be the best plan, so tomorrow we’ll head northward and see where next leg of our outback adventure takes us…