Tuesday, May 21, 2013

it's the journey not the destination

BTW for anyone who doesn't know me well I've rarely taken a decent photo in my life. None of these are mine and if I ever do show a decent photo that's mine I'll crow about it!

As a teen I heard a chap talking about his recent trip to Europe. He was particularly excited about how he'd felt standing on a meadow in Runnymede, England, in the spot where it’s believed King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

For the first time in his life he had finally stood somewhere and felt an overwhelming sense of history – something no one could experience in a country as young as Australia.


A few years later I was driving through the Northern Territory and saw, in the distance, a bloody big pile of rocks.
A few miles further, the bloody big pile of rocks turned into a pile of bloody big rocks, more commonly know as the Devil’s Marbles.

[No photos can do justice to the experience, but for visitors to Australia, some hints about location, proportion and just what the heck I’m going on about:]

There was something quite surreal about the experience of approaching these – something I’ve never experienced anywhere since. Certainly, no natural feature anywhere has caused me to collapse with hysterical laughter like the Marbles did. It struck me that I had encountered something which was at once awe-inspiring and a great cosmic joke. 

Australia is one of the oldest places on earth, and the greatest portion of it is still timeless. As Crocodile Dundee himself might have put it… “1215? That’s not history – this is history.”


I’m moved to mention this sense of time for two reasons, and we can credit Red Nomad Oz for both of them.

Firstly, courtesy of one of her Amazing Australian Adventures competitions I acquired a copy of Explore Australia’s National Parks. [Next post, I’ll tell you about the Park at Point Nepean].

Secondly and more recently, Red showed us the ruins of Farina

If there is any intrepid Australian Explorer who deserves first prize for her ability to sniff out a bakery, it is Red. But the story about Farina’s working bakery left me feeling a bit sad.

If experiencing the Marbles was magic, so too was experiencing Farina in its pre-21st Century-bakery days.

Australia does not have a monopoly on ghost towns, but Farina is a ripper. The development of parts of South Australia and of towns like Farina in particular is a story of … well, hubris is too harsh a word. Let’s just call it unbridled vision and misplaced optimism.

Check out Red’s report on Farina and you’ll see what I mean – this is the landscape that was supposed to provide bumper grain crops. The crops, in turn, were supposed to support a town bigger than New York City.

The old train line from civilisation reached Farina around 1880. Further travel north involved camels. This section of railway [yellow on the map] was never finished and what had been finished had long been abandoned, so the landscape is littered with sleepers and sidings.

When my companion and I reached Farina about ten years ago, we were the only people there. It was deserted, and we were free to feel the buzz of the place; to try and sense the excitement and disappointment it must have been host to.

Now if you need proof that I love a good bakery as much as anyone you need look no further than my waistline. But there’s something intrusive about the idea of a big white tent and a bakery in the middle of such a sacred site. A little like selling gelati inside the Duomo instead of just outside in the square.

There is a line somewhere: I don’t know where the line should be, but I think it’s too often crossed.

Late Edit - 
thanks Andrew, for introducing me to something called Goyder's Line. In 1865 George Goyder mapped a line beyond which rainfall would be too unreliable for agriculture. "Here be drought" rather than "here be dragons...".

the line is a tad faint but the background is a map of the whole state and reveals just how much of the state is dry

The line certainly corresponds to the contrasts I've seen between the south of South Australia and its northern portions.


  1. Those kinds of places can be very sad to visit with a sense of heartbreak hanging over the decay. Note, it is well outside the Goyder Line.

    1. Never heard of the line before, but glad I now have. Thank you.
      And the isolated, fenced graves in the middle of nowhere help highlight the heartbreak some must have felt.

  2. Red Nomad, of course, does a lot of climbing that uses up the calories of all those gorgeous country baked goods.

    pipes - bloody great pipes is what I always think of when we have simultaneous Victorian bushfires and floods Queensland.
    The deserts 'bloom' when wet. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Red is amazing on many levels, Ann. The only positive I can offer about the relationship between my waistline and bakeries is that if I got off my btm more I'd be able to visit more bakeries.
      One time I hitched a ride from Port Lincoln to Katherine with a German chap. It was not yet the wet or blooming season, but he could not stop expressing his wonder at how many shades of green there were.

  3. I don't let exercise stand in the way of visiting a good bakery - which I count the one at Farina as, your excellent blog post notwithstanding. I'm sure this raises a whole raft of questions about ends and means - but the restoration of the actual underground bakery in order to raise money to restore the actual town struck me as a good thing. And the temporary marquee is a way of 'treading lightly' and keeps those (like me!) with their snouts in the trough away from the real treasures that are still being restored ...

    1. The idea of treading lightly had not occurred to me, so now the marquee makes sense. It just clashes so with the landscape in one of your photos.
      Apart from the pastoral station, the question is where do all those volunteers come from?

  4. From wherever they live - some SA, some interstate! They stay in the campground for as long as they are able - anything from a few days to the whole of the annual 6 weeks or so spent baking/restoring.