An Australian pilgrimage trail in honour of St Mary MacKillop and her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods.
An Australian pilgrimage trail in honour of St Mary MacKillop and her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods.
I slept better last night. I woke only at 4am, and this time because of the sound of roaring traffic. I didn’t realise that just the other side of the Yea River next to which I had pitched my tent was the Melba Highway, and 4am seemed to be the start of peak hour. In fact, I noticed today while walking, a very large number of trucks (including logging trucks) on both the Melba and the Goulburn Valley Highway. The other factor was that I was cold. I didn’t bring a lot of warm clothes on this trip – mainly due to the weight, but I also didn’t think it would get that cold over night. I believe the temperature dropped to under 10 degrees, and my light weight sleeping bag is clearly not up to scratch at those lower temperatures. I think next time I will just include thermals and a beanie. My shoulders were also sore after sleeping solidly in one position on my back on the the Mountain Designs sleeping mat that I bought especially for this trip (after my old mat displayed a leak during testing overnight in my back yard). So I tossed and turned for the next hour and a half, and finally decided to get out of bed at 5:45 and have a hot shower to warm up. The first thing I noticed was that the tent’s fly cover had lots of condensation inside. Outside there was a very heavy dew, so that my feet got wet and cold walking across the lawn in my thongs. After the shower, I made myself a mug of tea, and listened to the Office of Readings while the sun came up.
I considered my day ahead: my one task was to get to Molesworth in time to catch the 2:05 bus. While this was my only fixed point in the day, it rather locked everything else into a schedule. It struck me that this had happened yesterday too (with the need to be in range for my 2pm zoom meeting) and even the day before (the need to find a camp site in time before it got dark. So while one would think that carrying a tent on one’s back would free one from the tyranny of the clock, this has certainly not been my experience thus far on this journey.
Anyway, the issue now was what to do with my wet tent. I considered that things would be worse if it was raining, and a lot worse if I needed to sleep in the tent again tonight. So I unpacked all my gear out of the tent and then wiped it down with paper towelling from the bathrooms, and hung it on the clothes line while I had my breakfast. As the sun had not yet come up above the tree line, this wasn’t really very effective. As I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise high enough to dry it out, I just had to pack it away damp with the intention of unpacking it at home to dry out.
The packing routine again took an hour or so, with the result that it was 8:30am before I was on the trail again. As I was setting off, I thought of a riddle: Q. What has the outside inside when moving but the inside outside when it stops? A. A backpacker with a tent. The process of setting up and pulling up camp is a process of turning everting inside out like some kind of clever child’s toy.
The trail heads out of Yea along the side of the busy Melba Highway. I have often seen it in the past as I rode my motorcycle up to Yea for meetings of the Victorian chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association but I had never realised it was part of the GVRT. A couple of kilometres outside of town, the trail veers left towards the East, and, for the first time the GVRT gives up its love affair with the highway. Until the last kilometre or two from Molesworth, the trail is in open countryside, with only very small country roads or vehicle tracks alongside. The elevation gradually rises as well, going up about 100m half way to Molesworth and then descending again, but the rise is so gradual that you hardly notice it, even with a full pack.
A long bridge spans over the Yea River as the trail turns away from the Melba Highway. All the old timber railway bridges have been replaced with solid concrete structures along the GVRT. They are very safe, and the signs say that they can take a vehicle up to the weight of 5 tonnes, but they are also very dull and uninteresting. The countryside becomes more hilly as you progress, and there are many cuttings through the hills for the railway. The debris from these cuttings was clearly used to fill in the valleys between the hills, so that the trail is level, while if you were just walking across country you would be climbing up and down all the time.
At the top of the rise, about half way to Molesworth, you come to the most remarkable and well known feature of the Great Victorian Rail Trail: the Cheviot Tunnel. Cheviot is the name of an old railway station that you pass a couple of kilometres before getting to the tunnel (a large galvanised iron shed is still there from the days of the operating railway). The tunnel is just over 200 metres long, and is built of red bricks. It was made between 1887 and 1889 and was in use right up to the close of the railway in 1978. My daughter, looking at the photos later, said that it looked just like a tunnel as you would see in a Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon. I was personally just a little disappointed – as I had expected a 200 metre tunnel to be darker and a little more “liminal” – but light streamed in from both ends illuminating all the way to the centre. Nevertheless, it was like stepping back through history for a short moment. It must have been exciting being a passenger on a steam train going through. It was built exactly at the highest point of the trail – as if the engineers had said to themselves “We can do a cutting here at this hill, and a cutting here at this one, and a cutting here too, and…nah, we’re just going to have to go through this last one.”
Not far on the other side of the tunnel, I realised that the niggling feeling on my right heel was probably a blister forming, and I needed to stop and take a look at it. Sure enough a little bubble was on the side of my heel. In times past, this would have spooked me, but after the incredibly gruelling final leg to St Mary’s tomb in 2019 (when I did several hundred kilometres on a leg that should have been in bed for all that time) I have realised that worse things can happen, and even that won’t stop me. So it was out with the sewing kit and bandages (for the squeamish, do not look at this footnote*). After a retread on the tyres, I set off again, feeling much more comfortable. I will need to think about getting new shoes for the next leg of the MWW at Easter, but that’s quite an investment. I bought my pair of Brooks Ghost 11 two years ago before walking from Ulladulla to Sydney, and they have also done Melbourne to Skipton, plus a lot of the walking I did last year during lockdown, so it no wonder they might be wearing out. I noticed that I can feel the stones of the path through the soles and that isn’t really very good.
After crossing over a fairly high bridge – which would have been beautiful back in the days when it was made of timber – the trail connects back up with the Goulburn Valley Highway, but is fairly high up above it. Along this section you can see old brick drains from back when the trail was a working railroad. The route takes a wide sweep around the little valley in which Molesworth nestles. One of the first buildings you see is a little white weatherboard Anglican Church, set apart from the rest of the Molesworth hamlet, and built in 1869. I don’t know if it is still in use. The rail trail goes South behind Molesworth, and there is not direct path as far as I can see down to the town from the old Molesworth rail siding (where there is now one of the standard drop toilets that you see right along the trail – go now if you need too, because I didn’t see any public facilities in Molesworth itself). If you keep on walking, the trail leads down to the level of the highway just past Molesworth and just before the bridge over the Goulburn River. There are two bridges – one for the highway and one for the Rail Trail. Again it is the standard concrete job. I’ve managed to find a picture online of the original bridge from an old postcard, which I will include in the pictures.
I walked out into the middle of the bridge, and decided that this will be a good spot to call the end of my journey for now. I intend to come back some time and, over four days, walk from Alexandra to Mansfield. The Alexandra section of the trail is a branch off the main trail, and I was not intending to do it originally when I was planning to walk from Mansfield to Tallarook. However, there is a short section between Molesworth and where the track from Alexandra meets the main trail which will be a gap in my journey. But I didn’t have time to walk to the extra 4.3km and back from the Goulburn bridge to the Cathkin connection with the trail from Alexandra on this trip and still catch the 2:05 bus, so I just had to let it go.
I walked back into Molesworth to have a look around. There is a “general store” – very important for hikers – but it actually is little more than a tuck shop. They do hamburgers and fish and chips and steak sandwiches and dim sims and so on, and you can get cold drinks, and coffee, and milkshakes, but there are no groceries or other supplies for sale. Next door is the public hall. This has been recently restored. The side door was open and I had a look in, but I could hear a meeting going on in the back rooms so I didn’t go in. I figured the toilets must be inside as well, as there were not public toilets in the street. Further down the road is the Molesworth Food & Wine Co., which sounds really promising, but it is only open on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 3:30pm to 10pm and then on the Weekend from 11am to 10pm. It is mainly a restaurant but I think they sell some other local produce. Of course, being a Wednesday, it was shut so I couldn’t check it out. Walking back towards the Store, I saw that there is a caravan park in Molesworth. It is located down a 400 metre driveway along the Goulburn River, so a fair distance from the Road. I walked down to have a look and it looks very nice – non powered sites are $10, but “swags” are $10 per person. I guess you could call what I was toting about a “swag”? I definitely felt like I was “camped by a billabong” on Monday night!
I walked back to the store and ordered a hamburger with the lot. They were out of hamburgers, so I accepted a steak sandwich. When it came out to me on the front porch, I found it very large (between two pieces of toast rather than a bun) and difficult to eat, but very tasty. I got my plastic knife and fork out of my bag to help chop up the steak. This was $12.50. I asked if they would be able to do sandwiches for lunch (if, for e.g., you were staying at the caravan park overnight and needed food for the next day). She said yes, but you would need to order what you wanted the night before (they close at 7pm) so she could buy what was necessary to make the sandwiches. I asked what time they open in the morning, and she said 10am, but that she would happily open earlier to deliver the sandwiches to walkers leaving at the start of the day. Little details like this are important to know when you are planning to hike the GVRT with a tent!
I ate my steak sandwich and then waited for the V-Line bus to come. I had precooked this by calling V-Line last week and paying over the phone. So all I had to do was get on, as the driver was expecting me. The backpack when under the bus, and I went inside, and soon I was whizzing back to Yea. We passed through Yea in no time, and headed on down towards Yarra Glen. I asked to be dropped off in Ringwood as there was a set down stop there (just outside Eastland shopping centre on the Eastern side – not at the Railway station). This would save a trip all the way into Southern Cross only to have to train all the way back again. I tried writing up this account on the bus, but promptly fell asleep and was only woken when the driver called out “Ringwood!”. After disembarking, I just had to go up the station and catch the train back to Boronia.
And that was it. Today I walked 17.53km on the trail, which took me 3 hours and 58 minutes. I ascended 105m and descended 107m.
Until next time.
* Blisters must be dealt with early and not allowed to develop. The sewing kit is because you need to drain the blister of fluid and keep it draining and not allow it to build up. You disinfect a threaded needle with antiseptic cream, and then push it through from one side of the blister to the other just under the skin. Then cut off the thread so that there is a little bit hanging out both sides. This makes sure the little holes don’t close up and allows any additional fluid to flow out. Then bandage the area with gauze and tape (or very high grade bandaids depending on the size). I recommend changing your socks after this, because it often happens that you get a blister in the first place because your socks are damp from perspiration.
I slept very badly last night. About midnight I woke up after a particularly bad dream, and, already in agitation, I was not comforted to realise I was alone in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I began to have a panic attack as I recalled every horror movie about vulnerable campers and every news story about missing backpackers… it was difficult getting back to sleep and I tossed and turned till dawn. It’s amazing how relevant some passages in the psalms become when you are on the trail, such as: “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (Psalm 91:5).
I got up at first light, around 6:30, breakfasted and packed up the tent. I could have killed for a cup of tea or coffee. It was a fresh morning but the sun was shining brightly and I was back on the trail by 8:40am. I knew the trail would be a bit shorter today, and I had lightened my pack considerably by eating food and drinking water. I had one litre of water left, so I didn’t resort to purifying the creek water (I had brought AquaPura tablets just in case). I decided to put on the play list of my favourite songs, and I was soon skipping along and singing to the lyrics.
Today’s landscape was composed of pastures, steep sided hills with rounded tops, dams and billabongs, gum trees, occasional glimpses of the river, and the hilly range in the distance on the other side of the river valley. The trail was wide and mainly in the same black stone that the bitumen roads were made of. I was passed by three or four cyclists around 10am, but otherwise saw no one else on the trail. I haven’t come across any other walkers.
I stopped at the old Homewood Station for morning “tea” (sans tea), a lovely spot which would make a great campsite (but I’m guessing camping isn’t allowed). There’s a drop toilet and nice stone picnic tables under shady trees and pleasant grassy areas (and an artistic installation of frogs on rocks…). There’s a bit of a memorial to the old station and the original settlers.
Thereafter I just pushed on into Yea. What I didn’t realise till later is that when the trail reconnected with the river, it wasn’t the Goulburn anymore but the much smaller Yea River which flows into it. I won’t reconnect with the Goulburn until tomorrow at Molesworth. The first sign of civilisation is the golf course and horse racing course. Finally the town comes into sight, and by 1:30 I was at the end of today’s walk. The trail leads directly to the old train statio and well maintained, built in elegant Victorian era red brick. I was anxious to check into the Yea Riverside Caravan Park as I had a 2pm Zoom meeting for ACU. I got stuck in the sliding door at reception and joked with the attendant that I should eat less – “Or pack lighter!” She responded. Although I had made my booking online on Friday, she couldn’t find it on the system. After some frustration, I realised I had booked for Tuesday March 23 instead of Tuesday February 23! Once the formalities were over, I headed down to the non-powered sites where I had a full choice of anywhere I liked on a broad green lawn dotted with shady trees next to the creek. The caravan park has excellent facilities, including individual shower/toilet rooms and a camp kitchen with bbq, toaster, kettle, fridge, microwave etc. It is situated on a kind of island, where the river splits into two, with the main stream running under a bridge st the entrance and a smaller creek on the other side where I had pitched my tent. I immediately set to charging my backup battery, and dialed in to my zoom meeting while eating my lunch (the last pork pie and piece of Camembert) and setting up my tent. The meeting went for an hour and a half, but then I was free to enjoy a hot shower and a shave.
As I was hanging up my clothes and towel to dry, a chap named Jerry came over and introduced himself. He had just relocated with his wife from Gembrook, and was yet to purchase a home (hence living in the caravan park). He had family members in town (one runs the “middle pub” which he recommended me to visit for dinner – Yea is a three town pub but only has a smallish grocery shop). He also claimed that Cardinal James Knox was his mother’s cousin. The veracity of this claim was strengthened when I said I had edited Knox’s correspondence with Mother Teresa, and he said, “I bet you don’t have all the letters!” He was quite right. We only have +Knox’s business letters – although we know from St Teresa’s replies that there was another more personal correspondence.
I shopped at the local FoodWorks for teabags and fruit and milk for tomorrow. Back at camp I chatted to my neighbours for the night, who are staying for three nights in their small mobile home before heading on to a Daylesford. They were lucky that their planned trip did not clash with the lockdown.
I then headed off in search of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. I had seen it at the top of the hill, but climbed the wrong hill. Instead I found a black stray cat, which regarded me with great suspicion but responded to my coaxing and gradually came toward me – growling all the way as if she was going to attack me with all claws and teeth. Contrary to her posturing, she rubbed herself against my hand, purr growling all the time. I’ve never experienced such mixed messages from a cat. Sadly I had no food on me to feed her.
Finally I found the Church a few blocks away, and noticed that there were cars in the car park. The door was open, so I went inside to find Fr Vincent saying mass for a congregation of about 10 people. They were up to communion, so, although I was woefully unprepared, I was able to receive the sacrament. After mass, they announced that they would be playing a newly produced video of the stations of the cross produced by the archdiocese. As I have not been very devotional thus far this lent, I decided to stay for that too.
Next I headed down to the middle pub as instructed by Jerry, only to find it almost empty and no food on offer. “Haven’t seen Jerry in a while,” the publican said, “try the next pub down.” So I did and I was fed a stir fry chicken billed as “butter chicken”. It was nice, but wasn’t butter chicken. There was only Carlton Draught and Great Northern on tap but they had some bottled beers. The Mansfield Pale Ale was nothing to write home about but they had Hargreaves Hill IPA, which is excellent.
It was cold outside as I walked home in the gathering darkness. I made a cup of tea (luxury!) and crawled into bed. I hope I have a better night tonight!
I walked 18.69km on the trail today, with an elevation of 71m and descent of 54m. It took me 4 hours and 42 minutes all up.
The train ride to Tallarook took 90mins. The first half of this was just getting to Broadmeadows. The train went very slowly through the city. But thereafter it gathered speed, slicing through the countryside. On the northern outskirts of Melbourne I noticed exactly the same phenomenon that we saw in October 2019 walking from Caroline Springs to Melton: new housing estates going up everywhere. The train appears to be an important part of this expansion: quick, cheap travel to the city centre. However, one wonders what the effect of Covid will be on this. There was only one other passenger from Southern Cross station with me in my car. Even on the 7am train to the city this morning, the number of passengers was just a fraction of the pre-covid numbers. Maybe travel to the city centre won’t be everyone’s priority in the future.
Arriving at Tallarook, I walked down to the General Store in the Main Street for a cup of coffee – although the coffee was just an excuse to sit at a table near a power point to recharge my phone to 100% before setting off. I’ve brought three batteries with me to ensure that over the next couple of days I do not run out of juice for my iPhone (variously my maps, communicator, writing pad, books, Fitbit, and entertainment). I wasn’t even sure if I’d have a mobile connection all the way (answer: yes – except at the spot where I am currently camping). While I waited for it to charge, I read a book from the little community library outside the shop: Robert Morely’s Book of Worries! Why not? For instance, here’s the entry under “Torniquets”: “Can you tie one? Consider the circumstances in which you might have to.” Great inspiration for anxiety when heading out for a three day camping hike! My mother rang for IT advice, which used up a bit of the slowly accumulating power on my phone. “Where are you?” “I’m in Tallarook – you know, as in ‘Things are crook in Tallarook!”* No, she didn’t know. “What are you doing there?” “I’m walking the Great Victorian Rail Trail as far as Molesworth over the next three days.” “What do you expect to see?” That was an odd question, I thought. I reflected on it more afterwards. I’m not doing this walk to “see” anything as such. It got me thinking about a research subject I’m doing this Semester, about Pilgrimage and the Philosophy of Place. I know that pilgrimage is related to sacred places as destinations or goals (the ideas of telos and eschaton are closely related), but I’ve been wondering whether the pilgrimage route itself (e.g. the Camino de Santiago) is a “place” as such – a very long thin place. I’m more inclined to think that a pilgrim travels *through* a succession of places in order to arrive at a desired place. My mother travelled extensivelywith my father in their four-wheel drive mobile home all over Australia. I guess when they drove somewhere they were usually going to some place to “see” what was there. Being a long distance walker is a bit different. You actually want to experience the places you pass through, not just the place you are going to. I think this might be a difference between ancient and modern pilgrimage too.
Anyway, back to the story. With 90% on my battery I decided it was time to head off. I found the trail heading north out of town alongside the road. In general the trail stays pretty close to the road, sometimes veering off closer to the Goulburn River. Sometimes all three come together. At times it passes very close to working cattle farms. In fact at one point, the cattle yards are directly on the old train track, and the trail goes around them. Today I twice passed farmers herding cattle in their pens. The trail is also popular with horse riders, evidenced by horse corrals along the way, and souvenirs left on the trail! There are toilets on the trail, and sheltered picnic tables. I stopped at one near the river for lunch around 12 noon, taking the pause to say the Angelus as well. Too this point I had been just taking in the surroundings, but I had set myself the task of listening to a book for my MTh minor thesis along the way, so I put that on (about the “Nouvelle Theologie”…).
The trail appears to be fairly flat, as you would expect from a rail Trail, but in fact it slowly climbs up about 60 metres. After about 10 km, I noticed ahead a distinctive high double hill topped with a telecommunications tower. On the map, it was called Bald Cone and it rose 200m above the level of the trail. It marks the start of a high range called the Cherry Tree Range, running toward the East. But the Goulburn River turns South here, and the trail hits the Goulburn Highway which runs along it. The river has carved a wide valley, and the hills on the other side sport a series of windmill electricity generators. This place is called Trawool, and the remnants of the old Trawool station platform can still be seen. It isn’t exactly a town, but a collection of houses including a major resort hotel. And, I discovered, the Schoolhouse Gallery, which doubles as a cafe. There was a sign out on the trail advertising “Devonshire teas, cakes, coffee and cold drinks”. Lucy, who runs the show, showed me round to the garden tables, and offered me a choice of scones or fruitcake with my tea. I chose the fruitcake, and before long four large pieces of cake and a four cup pot of tea was delivered. It cost $10 but was well worth it, as the afternoon was warming up and the garden was cool and the tea refreshing. She said for $15 she could do me sandwiches as well. Had I known about this, I may not have packed so much food.
I had another 8km to go, so I pushed on. It was really feeling warm now the sun was out – but was only about 22 degrees. Thankfully there was also a good cool breeze. I don’t know how I would have coped with last week’s 30 degree plus weather. The valley along here is very pleasant, but I was becoming weary. I was also thinking about campsites. You are not allowed to camp along the trail, nor are you allowed to camp alongside the road or on private property (obviously), so camp site options aren’t des and far between. I had done done research, though, and was heading for the Wyndham Streamside Reserve next to King Parrot Creek at Kerrisdale. When I finally arrived at the bridge over the creek, I realised I would have to double back to reach the reserve from the road, as there was private property between the trail and the reserve.
The reserve is not particularly pretty. The picnic tables have been vandalised and the roads people have dumped heaps of stone at one end. There was a fair bit of rubbish about too. I set about exploring the area and followed a track back along the creek towards the rail trail bridge. There I found a secluded spot near the creek, and decided to set up for the night.
I had wondered how I would fill in my time between a 4pm arrival and dark, but actually I found that pottering around easily passed the time. I spent a bit of time finding the right place to pitch the tent and smoothing the ground. I rinsed my clothes and had a bit of a bathe in the creek. I ate my supper (inc. pork pie and half a Brie cheese) and drank the white wine I brought along. I wandered about trying to get a connection for the phone (there was no service at the spot I was camping in), and when I did, I checked in with Cathy at home. I sat for a bit. I prayed a bit. I sat a bit more and drank more wine. I then started writing this account of the day. The sun went down while I was doing this, and the wind picked up until I was feeling cold, and then I crawled into my one man cocoon and kept writing till I felt tired enough to go to sleep.
My iPhone says I walked 26km today, but the trail section was only 21.54. It took me 5 hours and 8 minutes, with an ascent of 68 metres and a descent of 76 metres.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/TSeiqq5azJkjmnuc8” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Click this link to see the photos for today on my Google Photos.
*I actually heard one of the staff say this to a customer while in the store. The reference is to a Jack O’Hagan song by that name.
Well, I’m off again. Not strictly on pilgrimage, but a sort of prep/trial run for the next leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way at Easter. It is my intention to walk the leg from Skipton to Portland (the 6th Leg of the MWW) over nine days from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday. I will be doing it without my companions (our holidays and plans and borders were too hard to coordinate). And for the first time on the MWW, I will be doing it with a tent as I originally planned six years ago. There are a number of logistical problems, including sparse townships for food and water.
So for the next three days I’m having a trial run in the Great Victorian Rail Trail, walking from Tallarook to Molesworth with just me, my pack and my tent. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a solo trek like this, so I’m excited and anxious at the same time. My original plan had been to walk the entire trail from Mansfield to Tallarook over five days last week, but a snap “circuit breaker” 5-day restriction 4 covid lockdown (limiting us to just 1hr outside each day and no further than 5km from home) put an end to that. Actually, I’m rather thankful to Premier Dan Andrews (another first) for this, because last week was very warm (low-mid 30° days) and sunny, and I had over estimated how far I could walk each day with a full pack.
This stint will see me walking 20km today, and then 17km each other day. I’ll camp overnight on the trail tonight and in the Yea caravan park tomorrow night. I’m carrying food for two days. I’m hoping to be able to get water along the way – I have water purifying tablets. I’ve got a one man tent (very small and snug), and a light weight sleeping bag and mat, but all that still takes up a lot of space/weight in the pack I’ve never had to carry before. Only one change of clothes.
So I’m in the 7am train now into the city where I will change over to the V-Line train to Seymour at Southern Cross Station. I can use my Myki card all the way. The Seymour train runs hourly and there’s no need to book. I’ll get off at Talkarook, the last station before Seymour, as the GVRT starts there. I should be on my way by 10am, and I predict reaching the campsite about 3pm. I’ll get the tent set up and after that I guess I’ll be twiddling my thumbs.
that is actually what scares me most about this trip…the time on my hands at the end of the day…
I’m back home now, but now have yet to complete this journal. So, from the comfort of my armchair, I’m looking back to the last days of the pilgrimage.
We had arranged to catch the 10:21 coach service back to Linton, so we had a few hours to pack up and get ready. Although I was up at 6am, it actually took me all that time to finish writing up the journal, pack up, do a bit of cleaning, have breakfast, sort lunch etc. Sean was ready at least an hour before me, and so he set off and left me in peace to finish doing a bit of marking. Unfortunately the internet connection was not working properly, and so I could not finish the final essay, which was a bit annoying.
It was just on 9:50am when I left Woolmunda Park and headed into Smythesdale. It was very cold and begun drizzling as I was entering into town. The walk from the Cottages to the bus stop took me just over 20 minutes. The bus trip back to Linton was only 15 minutes. It was still drizzling and very cold (but only a light breeze) as we got off the bus and headed up to the Church at the top of Clyde Street. We said prayers kneeling on the stairs of the Church, and then headed off down the Linton-Mortchup Road towards the trail. We passed a little place that was clearly a B&B at 57 Clyde Street called “Linton Retreat”. I knocked on the door to enquire about it, but no-one was at home. An option perhaps for a future pilgrimage?
The road meets the trail about 600 metres from the Church, where it goes under a railway bridge. Coming around this direction, you need to clamber up onto the trail from the road level, but to walk around to the start of the trail on the north side of town would add at least a kilometre over all to the day’s walking. Once on the trail things are very simple of course. You just stay on it until you get to Skipton!
Of course, I have to say a bit more of the day’s journey than that, so here’s a brief description. The first distance marker you come to says “Skipton 19km; Pittong 7.5km” (Pittong, as we found out later, is just a locality where there was once a station on the railway). The trail goes through forest on both sides for the first couple of kilometres, after which there are farms on the south side and forest on the north side. After 4km on the trail, you come to Jacks Road. Here there is a sign pointing south saying that there is a lookout 2.2km away. Looking on the map, this lookout is on the top of Flagstaff Hill/Mount Bute south of the Glenelg Highway. We didn’t want to add 4.4km to our trip, and had no idea what there was to be seen from such a lookout, so of course we kept going. After another couple of kilometres, the countryside opens up on both sides of the trail.
Just before we came into this area, we could see through the trees on the south side of the road that there was indeed a “view”. In fact, it became apparent that we were walking on the top of a high ridge, about 400m or more above a plain that runs down toward Cressy in the south down to 200/150m below. As we came out of the forest, the trail snaked around on the north side of the ridge. The peak of the ridge was on private ground in a broad open paddock which (by the visible evidence) was a sheep paddock but did not appear to have any stock in it currently. I’m always attracted by high points on the landscape, and as Sean continued on the trail, I climbed over the fence and up the hill “to see what I could see”. And at the top, I was rewarded with 360 degree views of the countryside all around. It was simply stunning. The wind was blowing fairly cold at the top, and there was a slight drizzly shower, but I felt I was on the top of the world. Coincidentally, I was listening to Kate Bush’s song Cloudbursting at that very moment with the lyrics “On top of the world / Looking over the edge” – and I really felt that I was! The playlist ended at that point, and I shifted instead to a playlist of film music which included Michael Nyman’s soundtrack of The Piano, and that complimented the atmosphere entirely. I now felt as if I was a character in a version of Wuthering Heights wandering the moors on the edge of sanity… Sorry, I’m getting a little dramatic here, but it was just thrilling to be in that environment.
At the top of the ridge, there was an old mine with mining equipment and ruins still very visible. Down below to the south, at Pittong, was the very real and very current Imerys Mineral Mine. According to this site, the main mineral mined at Pittong is Kaolin, https://bih.federation.edu.au/index.php/Imery%27s_Minerals a kind of clay with a wide range of uses.
I came back down the hill and back onto the trail, just in front of Sean. As we came around the corner, we found ourselves in Pittong itself. The trail does a bit of a detour off the old railway line, as the old Pittong Siding appears to be on the property of the mine. But around the back on the south side of this detour is the Pittong Station Sleepover, a shelter with toilets, showers, kitchen, bbq and sleeping accommodation for bike riders and walkers on the trail. It looked very disused and was, of course, locked. If you wanted to use it you had to prearrange for the key. There were some major design flaws. For instance, parts appeared to have been built out of asbestos (warning signs abounded). And it was right next to the entrance of the mine, which meant that everything was covered in dust. And it was only a couple of hours walk out of Skipton (so why would anyone stay there rather than in town?). In any case, Sean and I pulled the plastic cover off the outdoor table and had our lunch there. We had packed quite a feast: every bit of food that was left over from our big shop at the IGA on Monday, plus a couple of hard boiled eggs each from the eggs that Cheryl gave us at Woolmunda a few days earlier. I even had a cup of wine in one of my drink bottles from what was left of our dinner the night before.
Then it was off on the trail again, now into open paddocks on a slight decline towards Skipton. This section is not in the best repair, and is clearly the least popular section of the whole trail. There are gates across the trail in places, indicating that the local stock owners run their animals on it from time to time. The trail passes by wind farm windmills to the north. On the northern horizon is Mount Emu, a volcanic crater, and, much further to the north, the 1000m high silhouette of Mount Langi Ghiran near Ararat can be seen. Joshua had commented numerous times on how green the countryside was, and this was certainly the case here. There was great contrast with the golden yellow flowers of dandelions and wattles, and the white newly shorn sheep in the paddocks.
There is about 11km between Pittong and Skipton, so to pass the time, I asked Sean about his planned route for the rest of the pilgrimage between Skipton and Portland. He had mapped out this area years ago on his bicycle tour from Penola to Melbourne and with his paper maps. His route zig-zagged along country roads via Derinallum, Camperdown and Terang down to Warrnambool to take in a rail trail and many other sights, including a whiskey distillery! All wonderful if you are on a bike or in a car and slight detour doesn’t matter much, but the result was to add two days and about 70 kms to the overall trip. I reminded him that St Mary did *not* say “We are but tourists here”…
The trail passed through pine glades and gum glades (I gather you can have a “gum glade”?) and alongside dams and creeks before leading out into the open countryside about 3km from Skipton. Here I was surprised to find an old mile stone with “110” marked on it. A bit of calculation put that at 177km – a little under the 189km that I had figured our entire walk would take on this leg. Clearly this was a marker for the railways, giving the distance from Melbourne. In the distance, Skipton was clearly visible. This was not the ultimate destination of our pilgrimage, but nevertheless we did fall on our knees (mainly to get a good selfie shot with the town in the distance and the milestone in the foreground). Approaching the town, we had a choice of taking the direct route in, or continuing to follow the trail to “end of the line”. This happens just outside the local silo – the railway never extended beyond Skipton. We took this route. There are signs of the old railways: a circular pit which used to house the turntable for the engines is still quite recognisable, and the wooden buffers that marked the end of the rail. The final distance marker on the trail reads “Welcome to Skipton” on one side and “Ballarat 55km/Pittong 11.5km” on the other.
Some what precipitously, I announced on Twitter that we had completed the 5th Leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way – then Sean reminded me that in fact our real endpoint should be at the local Catholic Church, St John’s. So we headed along down Anderson Street to the corner of Wright Street where the church (built in a vaguely Spanish style) is located. From this direction we were approaching from the back of the church, and we could see a car parked outside the open vestry door and hear voices coming from inside.
We entered the doorway and found four people hard at work tearing up the old carpet of the church and loading it onto a ute at the front door: John and Cath Cavanagh, a bloke called Sam and a younger lad named Patrick. We introduced ourselves and told them what we were up too. They warmly welcomed us and told us about the church and parish and township. All agreed that Cath was the one who “ran the church” at Skipton. She was doing a good job of organising the blokes at their work! In the absence of a church stamp, they all signed our pilgrim passports – using the altar as a table (which seemed to me not inappropriate). The Blessed Sacrament was reserved there, so I was able to say the final prayers of this leg of our pilgrimage to Our Lord present there, thanking him for a safe arrival and praying again for our intentions along the way: for my daughter Mad, for Sean’s mum Pam, for young baby Joseph needing an operation, for the repose of my father’s soul, and for the future of the Archdiocese in Melbourne.
I made a joke, saying that we should take a piece of the old carpet with us as a souvenir of our visit to the church and, like the scallop shells gathered on the Spanish shore, proof of the completion of our pilgrimage. Young Patrick instantly responded with tearing off a couple of small pieces from a piece he had in his hand and giving them to us. John joked that he might just keep the ute load of old carpet and cut it up to supply relics to future pilgrims! These were good people and very welcoming – my only regret is that I didn’t get John and Cath’s number from them to contact them for our return in October 2020. However, they are well known to Fr Justin, so I will get their details from him.
After saying farewell to the Skipton parishioners, and getting to the Post Office just before closing time to get a stamp in our passports, Sean and I had a bit of time to look around at the other sights of the town. There was a bust commemorating Sir Henry Bolte, the longest serving Premier of Victoria, who spent 26 years of his youth living in this town. There was the old pub – built in 1856 – sadly closed due to flood damage but currently under repair by a Melbourne buyer who plans to turn the old Cobb and Co stables at the back and the empty shopfront next door into a craft brewery. I hope his plans are a success because restoring that landmark pub is a very worthwhile endeavour.
We then headed up the hill to the Roadhouse where we were to catch the bus back to Ballarat. Just beyond the Roadhouse is the old Presbyterian Church, a large stone building built in 1871 and sporting a very unusual feature: kangaroo gargoyles! At the Roadhouse, while having a cup of coffee and waiting for the bus to arrive, I announced that I was going to revise the route that Sean had proposed. I got out my ipad with the Gaia GPS app on it and began exploring a more direct route with the help of the electronic gadgetry. Gaia has a wonderful feature which is called “snap to trail”. You specify a starting point and an end point and what kind of transport you are taking (walking, in this case), and the machine automatically finds the easiest route for you. Doing this a few times (and with a bit of fiddling) quickly established a more direct route towards Koroit via Streatham and Lake Bolac. It is definitely a less “interesting” route, but it cut off that additional fat of two days and 70km to make a route that we could manage in a fortnight in the next leg, leaving a final leg of a similar fortnight to go to Penola. We will be very reliant on locals for this section of our journey for hospitality and assistance, as it will be what Josh has called the “Meseta” of the MacKillop-Woods Way (referring to the long and sometimes monotonous section of the Camino between Burgos to Leon which pilgrims often skip, taking the bus instead). The landscape from Skipton to Koroit is a wide open plain of farmland with no major towns and sometimes no towns at all where we will need to stop for the night. Luckily there are a couple of well placed B&Bs that we can use if no other opportunity presents itself.
We continued to discuss the route on the bus that took us back to Ballarat and as we were walking in the light drizzling rain from the station to St Alipius’. It was so cold and we were so tired that I happily accepted Sean’s suggestion of stopping at the Munster Hotel for a glass of the Cubby Haus Witch’s Brew. Somewhat warmed up and now with no rain, we walked the rest of the way to the Presbytery, and arrived just as Fr Justin was pulling up. He had been shopping for our dinner that evening, which he prepared as we had our showers and got settled back into our rooms. It was quite late when we started dinner – after 8pm – and the meal lasted until the other side of 10pm, as we thoroughly enjoyed Justin’s company and his cooking. Several bottles of Peter Lehman wines met their destiny on the table, and, possibly as a result, I slept very well that night! Not, however, before finishing marking the final essay. That may also may have been the reason for a good night’s rest. Essays, done. Pilgrimage, done (for now). Time to head home.
The final day’s journey was 20.5km and took us 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete.
Here is a map:
There is not much to say about the next day. We attended mass at St Alipius at 9:30am and caught the 1:18pm train back to Melbourne after breakfast in L’Espresso. It was amazing how quickly the train covered the distance that had taken us five days to walk. Sean and I sat separately on the train, as it was already quite full and there were no double seats vacant. His neighbour was a lady from Fitzroy who was happy to talk about public transport all the way home. I enjoyed just taking in the sights and viewing, from the train, the same territory we had viewed from the path. We arrived at Southern Cross station and transferred to the Belgrave line around the City Loop, where we parted at Parliament station. On the way home on the train, I dealt with some double marking for my marking buddy and uploaded all the grades online before tonight’s deadline. And then I was home. Cathy and Mia had to head out almost immediately after they welcomed me to go to a dentist’s appointment (Mia is having her wisdom teeth out), and instantly I was back into daily life again.
This is always a difficult transition to make – coming home from the great adventure back into the roller coaster of life. In truth, the pilgrimage does not end. Not only because we keep returning to the trail and finding new destinations, but because, to use a cliche, life is a pilgrimage. Every day is a pilgrimage. You get up in the morning and you have one job: to make it to Your appointed goal at the end of the day. Just one goal is enough, and you just need to have moved forward enough to reach it by bedtime. Then you can sleep until the next day begins. It is a cliche, I know, but it is a lesson that is hard to learn. The next few days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – had so many demands on me in so many directions, that I had to consciously focus on the goals to get through each day. The same today as I returned to work at the Archdiocese to pick up where I left off three weeks ago and face all the new possible futures that are ahead of us in the Mission agencies.
As in the Leunig cartoon, I sat down and had a little rest every now and then, but I just keep on going. We all do. That is, after all, “how you get there.”
On practically every section of the MacKillop-Woods Way that I have walked so far, there has been a day (or at least a part of a day) in which I have walked alone.
Back in Passiontide 2014, when walking the first Aussie Camino with Luke Mills from Portland to Penola, I was the last to leave the hotel in Mount Gambier the day we were headed for the little township of Kalangadoo (yes, truly, that is what it is called). Back then, that was almost a 40km day; Luke has split it now into a two day walk stopping at Bush Haven Cottages in Wandillo Forest. Anyway, I headed off all bushy eyed and bright tailed, and walked straight past the rest of the group having hobbit second breakfast in the MacDonalds. The result is that I walked the whole way to Kalangadoo that day on my own, for the most part thinking that the rest of the group was ahead of me, when really they were an hour or two behind.
In Easter 2016, the day that Josh left to go back to Launceston for the start of the new teaching term, Sean had such bad blisters he needed to take a day off. The priest we were staying with in Moe took him to the hospital and then transported him to the next parish in Traralgon, while I walked all the way via Yallourn North on my own.
In Easter 2017, Sean was not feeling well on the second day in the bushy end of Victoria, so I walked from somewhere in the middle of the forest to Goongerah while Sean and Paul went ahead to set up camp at the Jill Redfern’s Tin Hut.
I didn’t have a full day on my own on the third leg, but because Josh had gone ahead and Sean was lagging behind, I walked most of the third day to Murrah Hall on my own, and next morning I was the only one to walk from the Hall back to our hosts, south of Bermagui. I remember that morning well – walking in the fresh early sunrise with no pack on my back, literally dancing in the middle of the deserted road…
Finally, on the fourth leg, there was the half day walk at Milton where I injured my leg, and the day my father died, Good Friday, when I walked alone 31km from Nowra to Gerringong. A day of weeping.
I remember each of these days very well. They were days of great introspection. I remember the music I listened to on my iPhone to keep me travelling along: eg. The entire playlist of Iron & Wine to Kalangadoo, and Preisner’s Requiem for my Friend and Mozart’s Requiem on the way to Gerringong. I can’t remember what I was dancing to on the way to Bermagui that morning, but I suspect that it was my Ukulele playlist (including Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Over the Rainbow and Ingrid Michaelson’s You and I). Each of them were very simple days – little to distract me in terms of sightseeing. I wouldn’t say that when I walk on my own I am “deep” in thought, but the thoughts flow freely and without focus. Recalling what St Bruno said about a bow becoming useless when it is kept taut all the time, these days of walking alone are precisely the kind of days when the taut string in my brain is able to go loose for a bit. And in that lies recreation.
This long introduction is by way of saying that yesterday (October 8) was my “walk alone” day for this leg. It was not planned as such, but turned out that way due to a confluence of the weather, a slightly shorter day’s walk and the pressure for me to get my marking done for my uni class (there should be a rule about taking work with you on pilgrimage, but at the same time, it is better to go on pilgrimage and take your work, if that is the only way you can possibly manage it!). I still had about nine essays to go. The weather had deteriorated: it hardly got over 10 degrees all day, the wind was blowing, and regular showers were coming through, some of them quite heavy. Our weather apps were telling us that most of the precipitation would pass over by 2pm. The other constriction was that we had to get to Linton by about 6pm to catch the 6:12 Mount Gambier to Ballarat coach back to Smythesdale at the end of the day. And we had about 20km to walk (just over 18 on the trail between Smythesdale and Linton, but add on the couple of kms we needed to walk from Woolmunda Park to Smythesdale). I figured I could do that easily in 5 hours, if not less, and so I did not have to leave until 1pm. Sean, on the other hand, was eager to get going, and so he set off into the wind and rain at 9am in the morning.
Which left me on my own safe and warm in front of the fire in our cottage with my ipad and essays and a pot of tea… Perfect marking conditions. Under these circumstances, my progress was rapid, and by 1pm when I finally set off, I had only two more essays to mark. Because I had had lunch already, I made the decision not to carry any pack with me. I stuffed my poncho into the pocket of my pants, my phone/headphones/battery/wallet into the other pocket, my pilgrim passport in my shirt pocket, put my hat on my head, picked up my hiking stocks, and I was off…
…into fresh wind but glorious sunshine! I felt truly unburdened. Well, not quite, life never is; there were still those two essays left to mark, and there were the many cares of my family and friends for whom I am praying along the way, but let us just say that the bow was unstrung. I did not end up needing the poncho at all, as the only rain I experienced was a short sun shower at the end of the day in which the rain drops were practically floating on the wind. The wind was indeed brisk and cold, and, for the first part of the walk, in my face, as it was coming up from the south.
I covered the walk into Smythesdale fairly rapidly (in fact, I kept up a good pace of about 5km/hr all day, and did not stop for a rest at any point). Smythesdale is a pretty little town with a number of historical buildings from its gold-digging past. I popped into the post office store and received a stamp in my pilgrim passport. I had no need to explain what I was doing as Sean had already been along earlier and done that at length.
The track from Smythesdale is in an L-shape: the first section heads south-west to Scarsdale. This section has small holdings backing on to the trail on both sides and is reasonably sheltered. At Scarsdale, I visited the corner store which doubles as a post office, where Belinda was happy to add the Scarsdale stamp into the passport. Again, no need to explain. Sean had stopped here for a cup of coffee, however I fear it was not up to his usual standards (which are, admittedly, fairly high when it comes to coffee). Just on the south side of Scarsdale back on the trail, there is a shelter, a toilet and a water fountain, where I was able to have a drink – but that is the only drink of water I took on the whole trip. I was pretty well hydrated from a number of cups of tea while doing my marking earlier!
After Scarsdale, the track heads directly south into country where the eastern side of the trail is still looking into the backs of homes and small farms, but the western side looks out over open countryside towards the hills over the pine plantations and the Linton Forest Reserve. There are many high mounds of old mining tailings visible in this area, with a few ruins from the mining days as well. The trail turns abruptly west south of Scarsdale, at the point where the old railway bifurcated and the Cressy-Newtown Rail Line headed south (it isn’t there anymore, but you can see the cutting on the east side of the rail trail where it once branded off). The views into the valley towards the south at this point are absolutely breathtaking. In fact, from this point on, my heart was singing with the joy of the countryside. I grew up in a little town in the Mallee on the edge of the South Australian/Victorian border. There were mallee trees, flies and dust for most of my childhood and the only kind of hills were sand hills. So when I see green rolling hills and valleys with dams and gum trees and pine trees and cattle and sheep and creeks and bridges… well.
There is a little – no a BIG – surprise for the walker just a kilometre on after the corner: Nimon’s Bridge, an enormous wooden railway bridge of the sort that we last saw on the MWW in far eastern Gippsland on the Bairnsdale to Orbost rail trail. This spans the valley of the Woady Yaloak River, a site of very busy gold mining in the 19th Century. The Golden Stream, Golden Spur and Galatea mining areas can be seen from the bridge. You can either walk down and cross the River for a good view looking up at the bridge, or you can walk over the bridge for the spectacular views down into the valley. I went down to get a good look and a photo, and then climbed back up the embankment again onto the bridge (something that would have been a challenge with a full pack on my back!).
Soon after this, the trail enters into the Linton Forest. Here now I was fairly sheltered from the wind and the sun was shining through a sky full of white fluffy clouds. There were a couple more bridges along the way, nowhere near as big as Nimon’s, but still interesting. One was an old road bridge that once spanned the railway cutting – only the wooden struts are left now. The trail also goes past a bird sanctuary and lake. Linton Forest looks like the kind of place I’d like to explore a bit more one day. After a while the trail converges with the Linton-Piggoreet Road on the south side coming into Linton. It emerges from the forest about 1km outside Linton. This last kilometre is very beautiful again. South of Linton, the trail goes through a pine glade. At this point, I turned off onto Brooke Street, which leads into a small Avenue of Honour on Denison Street. At the memorial, I turned east up Clyde Street and climbed up to the main street of Linton which runs along a ridge. Here I found Sean wandering about sightseeing and taking photos. He had found the hotel and visited the local shire offices (Linton is in the top North West corner on the very border of the Golden Plains Shire, which has its “capital” at Bannockburn, right down in the southwest corner just a few miles from Geelong!). There are many businesses in Linton that look as if they tried to make a go of making the town into a tourist destination: B&Bs that are closed, antique stores closed, cafes closed etc. That’s a bit sad, because the town is very attractive and has many historical buildings.
Speaking of which, I arranged to meet Sean back at the pub but first went up to St Peter’s Catholic Church at the western end of Clyde Street. The church was closed, but I knelt on the front steps and said some prayers before going around the back and using the outdoor loo (which was open, thankfully!). Across the road is the old presbytery, which is uninhabited and looks fairly unused by anyone. Sean said that when he first cycled through this area back in 2012, he stayed with an old priest in this house. It is a bit sad to see it neglected. Could it be used as a retreat house, like the presbytery at Cowwar? Or a pilgrim hostel on the MacKillop-Woods Way in the future?
I went back down to find Sean in the local watering hole. Two other people were in the bar – the publican, a native of Mount Gambier named David who bought the pub 14 years ago, and a generously bearded fellow by the name of Garth. Stella Artois was the only beer on tap that I thought I’d like to try, and I had one of those before ordering a small whiskey as well (to warm the innards). We had good conversation about the area, and about other country pubs and tourism around Victoria and South Australia. David used to do Bed and Breakfast at the Hotel, but for various reasons this service is not currently available – otherwise this would have made a great place to stay overnight. But we had to get back to Woolmunda Park, and so we headed out into the now bitting-cold wind to wait for the bus to arrive (outside the closed cafe). The coach came directly on time at 6:12 and we were back in Smythesdale about 15 mins later. While we were walking back to our accommodation, the afore-mentioned sun shower passed over, leaving a full rainbow in the eastern sky over over our path. A promise for finer things tomorrow?
As we passed the spa bath, we noted that it was on and very hot, and so we decided to make use of it. As soon as we arrived at the cottage (and rebuilt the fire), we grabbed towels and the remaining three beers and headed back down. The water felt very hot when we first got in, but then we got used to the temperature. The jets of water were great on our aching backs and our feet and knees felt much better after soaking in the spa for half an hour. We were feeling very relaxed when we got back to the cottage. I could easily have gone to sleep straight away, but first we needed dinner. I cooked up the lamb chops we bought at the IGA the day before, along with mashed potatoes, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, and a fry up of tomatoes, onions and capsicum. After all this I really was tired. I managed to mark just one more essay before heading to bed for the best night’s sleep I have had on our journey so far!
Today’s journey was 20.3km which I walked in just 4 hours.
Here is a map:
After breakfast at St Alipius’, Sean headed off before me to go and find a coffee shop, while I completed marking an essay. Just before I left, Fr Justin was up, so I had the opportunity to say thank you for his hospitality and to make arrangements for our return on Wednesday night. I have left about 1.5kg of stuff behind in the bedroom which I don’t think I will need. After last April’s disaster, I brought along far more medical supplies and ointments than was reasonably necessary, including an ice/heat bag that weighs quite a bit.
St Alipius’ Church was not open as we left, so I still have not had the chance to see inside that. It is almost 2km to the Cathedral, and I found Sean was not far ahead of me as I came up Sturt Street. He must have been taking many photos as he went along. He chose today to go to the Europa Cafe, on Fr Justin’s recommendations. As we had coffee, I marked another paper…
We then headed into St Patrick’s Cathedral, visited the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the statue of St Mary, and the baptismal font. All of these were new(ish) since my last visit. We had hoped to get a Cathedral stamp in our passports but the office was not open yet. With all the visiting, it was 9am before we left the Cathedral to start heading out of town.
The route out of town depends on what you want to see. Originally we had planned to walk up to Lake Wendouree and skirt the Southern and Western sides of the lake up to the start of the Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail up near the Flaxmill Swamp on the other side of the golf-course. But there seemed little point in this, as it is not an objective of the MacKillop-Woods Way to walk the whole trail. That being said, a morning walk along the lake is a lot more pleasant than the walk along Sturt Street, and is only a block to the north of the main road. The other thing to take into consideration is the Avenue of Honour along Sturt Street, which begins with the Arch of Victory just past the Ballarat High School. In the end, I decided to take the route up Drummond Street North, down Mill Street past Nazareth House (which has many happy memories for me an my family as a place of our annual weekend Anima Education retreat), onto the Lake, past the Church of St Therese Little Flower, and back down Gilles Street North onto Sturt Street at the start of the Avenue of Honour.
We also had to buy lunch again, as I had left what I had purchased the previous evening behind in the presbytery fridge. We stopped at a little grocery liquor store on Drummond Street before heading to the Lake, wondering if there were any other shops further on, but I need not have worried. It seemed to take forever to get out of Ballarat, which is experiencing its own suburban sprawl. It was about 9km from the Cathedral to the entrance to the trail, and where there once would have been countryside between Ballarat and Cardigan there is now a new growing suburb called Lucas (after the name of the Textile Company whose female employees planted most of the trees in the Avenue of Honour). Quite soon, there will be no open area at all left between Ballarat and the rail trail trail. In the middle of this new development is an enormous shopping centre, and on the road a new KFC. Future pilgrims may wish to take their time leaving Ballarat and have an early lunch here, as the rest of the way is only another 15km. On the long walk along Sturt Street, Sean and I were playing a game of “spot a cat”, as he remarked that we had seen only dogs thus far on this leg of the pilgrimage. The first one to spot a cat (confirmed sighting) would get a free coffee from other one. It turned out that I bought Sean a coffee at a take away at the end of Sturt Street, as he saw a kitten sleeping in a window of one of the houses we were walking past.
Once on the trail, everything becomes very simple. You just need to walk this gently declining gravel track until you arrive at your destination. For us, that was Woolmunda Park Cottages, about 1.5km out of Smythesdale. It is the only commercial accommodation on the trail that we are aware of, although there is a good camping ground in Smythesdale itself. The surrounding landscape is generally flat and open for the most of the start, but becomes more wooded and occupied as you head south. The trees vary between gums, wattles and pine on the side of the track, and many small farms and large housing blocks back onto the trail.
One feature of the track that takes the guesswork out of how far you have yet to walk are markers telling you how many kilometres you have to go to Skipton, with secondary measurements to the next official settlement. The first marked you meet after joining the trail declares that you are 51km from Skipton and 6.3km from Haddon. After passing through Haddon, the next marker says you are 44km from Skipton and 6.5km from Smythesdale. Also marking the way are signboards for the old stations. The railway was closed in 1977 and, other than raised embankments, there is no visible sign of the old sidings or platforms any more.
We resumed our game of “spot a cat”, this time for a beer. Again, many dogs about (one came bounding up to slobber on me from where his master was working on a fence along the trail), but nothing feline. Towards Smythesdale, there is a large area of bushland on the western side of the trail which is fenced off with security warnings forbidding entry. This turned out to be an enormous land fill area. What is it about these country shires finding perfectly good bushland that could be used for conservation and recreation for waste management? Past this, I could see our destination on the right. I was walking ahead of Sean at this point by about one kilometre. Just over the fence was a barking and bounding black and white border collie, and nearby: a cat! Unfortunately, as I approached with my phone to take a picture, it ran off, so I could not confirm the sighting later on.
Woolmunda Park Cottages, up Wethling Lane, will be our depot for the next two nights. We plan to use the local bus service to shuttle back and forth. This will have the added benefit of tomorrow being a “day pack” day again. After dropping our gear in Cottage No. 2, the owner of the Park, Cheryl, drove us into Smythesdale to collect groceries for the next two days meals and lunches. She also gave us a dozen eggs. In the end, we probably have too much food, but we will make a good go of it. Tonight we ate pepper steak pies, with mashed potatoes, eggs and salad. We even had soup for first course. There is a wood combustion heater in the cottage, so we washed our clothes and hung them on the clothes horse in front of the fire to dry.
I spent some of the evening marking papers, but very soon the weariness overcame us and we headed for bed. We don’t have wifi here, or a very good internet connection (3G one bar), so I won’t upload the photos until I get back to Ballarat.
Here’s the map, though. The journey was 26.5km and took us 6.5 hours. We took the yellow trail in the end…
Today is Sunday, the “day of rest”, so appropriately we scheduled one in. “Rest” is a relative matter, however, and, as we were on foot, any church attendance or sight-seeing was to be done on foot. I think I did almost 12km walking. I know that Josh did closer to 22km. Being at East Ballarat, we were two kilometres from the Cathedral. So (again, taking in consideration that daylight saving began today) we were up very early and all three of us headed down into the main part of town. Sean and I went to 8am mass at St Patrick’s (led by a retired priest and a woman cantor on the guitar), while Josh went off for a walk around Lake Wendouree. The lake circuit is 6km in itself. After Mass, Sean and I went to a Ballarat institution named L’Espresso. Founded 44 years ago, this is a coffee house which also sells music – not only on CD’s but also LPs etc. The coffee was very good and I had polenta pancakes for breakfast. While we were breakfasting, Sean and I worked out that we have so far walked 131.7km from Fitzroy.
I finished writing up yesterday’s journal on this ‘ere blog, and at 10am Sean suggested we decamp to the Art Gallery in Lydiard Street. While he went into the Gallery, I set myself up in the Gallery Cafe and marked assignments for my university class. Sometime around 11:30, Josh arrived and the Sean came back from his tour of the Gallery. We had coffees and then Josh headed off for the Extraordinary Form Latin Mass (low mass with choir). Sean wanted to do more exploring (I think he went to the Observatory), and I needed to do more marking, so I stayed behind for a while and continued marking until the Cafe became too full and I was clearly taking up a table that was needed for paying customers.
I then shifted around into the old Gold Exchange next door where there was a free photographic exhibition – and a nice couch to sit on with a power point near by to plug in my devices, and continued marking. I stayed there until I felt hungry and then moved off again to find somewhere to eat. I eventually ended up in the Beechworth Bakery where I had a pie, and continued marking. It was a bit noisy in there and I shifted camp again to a quiet space in an arcade in the mall. By this stage it was 2pm and I was wondering what had happened to Sean. We had planned to meet up again about that time to walk down to the Cubby Haus Brewery about 2km down Humffray Street. He rang at 2:30 to say that he was at the brewery and where was I?
To get down to the Brewery, you just follow the cobbled drain otherwise known as the Yarrowee River, until you get to the old Sunnyside Mill with its landmark chimney. You then head back around onto Humffray Street down to a little business area, and you will soon see the Cubby Haus Brewery. Malcolm, the owner and beer maker, was on hand, and Sean was the only other soul on the premises when I arrived. He was happily hoeing into a pizza that Malcolm had made for him. If I had realised that it was possible to get food at this spot, I would have come down there much earlier. I did a bit more marking while Sean did a little bit of mapping work. We tried several of the brews: the Good Witch Rye Malt Pale Ale, the Oatmeal Stout, and the Brown Ale – all excellent beers.
Josh, in the mean time, had gone out to lunch with his mate Daniel and his family, and now rang to say he was heading back to the Presbytery to pack up and head to the train station. We arranged to meet him there. Malcolm put his stamp in our pilgrim passports – it is traditional, by now, to have at least one brewery stamp for each leg. I asked why he spelled Cubby House in the German fashion, as “Haus”, and he said it was because his Grandfather was a German Jew from Berlin who managed to get out of Germany in 1934. Anyway, Sean and I walked back to Lydiard Street where we met Josh in the Art Gallery cafe again. We then went around to the Station and saw him off on the 5:13 train. We knew that he would see most of our trip since Tuesday morning in reverse. We are quite looking forward to the journey ourselves when we do it next Thursday.
It is always a little melancholy to wave goodbye to a pilgrim companion. We did this back in 2016 when Josh had to leave us in Moe. He returned later in October to do that section when we met him in Bairnsdale and walked on together to Orbost. This time, Josh plans to come back in December to complete the trail. Sean and I climbed back up Bakery Hill in a light drizzle (I noted with annoyance that there is a Kathmandu store at the back of the Woolworths on the north side of the Mall – I had been looking for a camping store to buy new rubbers for the bottom of my stocks – of course it was closed now). We went shopping at Coles to buy food for lunch tomorrow and also for dinner tonight. We decided to have pasta, with a sauce/topping of baby tomatoes, spinach, mortadella, basil, mushrooms and goats cheese. I grabbed a cheap bottle of red to go with it.
Back at the Presbytery, Fr Justin was not in, so we made ourselves at home. I spent a bit of time repacking: I intend to leave behind a lot of the bandages and liniments and medical supplies I bought with me that I don’t think I will need. I overpacked in this department this time in light of the injuries I suffered last April. I then cooked dinner for Sean and myself. There is a terrific gas stove in the kitchen that was a dream to work with. Justin has the kitchen well stocked with good olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper etc. I called Cathy and we talked for a while to catch up on everything. Sean then came in and we finished cooking and eating the meal together.
Now I am back in my room, and I can hear Sean talking to someone in the kitchen, so I assume that Justin has returned home. Josh has made it back to Melbourne and has settled into his hotel before returning home tomorrow. I’m going to try to get one more essay marked before heading to bed.
No map or distances today, but if you would like to see the pictures, click here!
On all our journeys, there comes a point where you get into the swing of things, and everything settles down, and life becomes good – at least for a while. It is a point where you are happy to keep on walking, enjoying being alive, feeling yourself attached to the countryside you are walking through, generally one with the world. At this point you would be content to keep on walking forever. You even find yourself enjoying the company of your fellow pilgrims!
Yesterday (Saturday) was such a day for us. The weather was just right: overcast, cool, a light drizzle every now and then. The countryside was as green as the Irish landscape that many of the original settlers would have known well. The traffic on the roads was light and often non-existent. There was a community hall to stop at for morning tea, a pub perfectly placed for lunch, and a parish church open for prayer. Bill had offered to drive the bulk of our luggage to Ballarat for us, so we were walking with day packs. And we only had about 24km to travel. What was there not to like?
I read this morning (Sunday) an account of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians. The strict order has an unusual feature: regular “rambles” together as a community in the countryside. Here is what St Bruno had to say:
“I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation… I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields. One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees…
“Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life. It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut.”
All of this, I could strongly identify with as we were walking to Ballarat. Unfortunately, it was Josh’s last day, as (due to personal constraints) he has to return home on Sunday. But we made the most of it.
As we were preparing to leave from Ballan, Bill offered to drive our luggage on to Ballarat for us and deliver them to our destination. This was an offer that was accepted with alacrity. It would make it the fourth day on this journey that we have walked with just day packs. It is an interesting thing that no-one ever offered to do this for us on our whole walk to Sydney, but on this walk all our hosts so far have done us this kindness. I think Maria at Caroline Springs started it, and as each host has received the delivery of our bags they decided to replicate the offer. It has made a great difference to our enjoyment of the pilgrimage this time. I have worked out that I can use my backpack as a day pack if it is lightly packed (it is an AARN which weighs hardly anything in itself) while putting all my unneeded gear in my backpack cover bag for transportation. If I need to, or get the opportunity to, I will use this system for the Camino next year too.
Noel arrived at 9am to ferry us back to St Patrick’s Church in Gordon which was our end point yesterday and our starting point today. Photos were taken and farewells made. Bill and Colleen have been the most hospitable of hosts. Actually all our hosts on this Leg have all gone beyond our expectations in their generosity to us. It was very fresh and cool when we set off from Gordon along the Old Melbourne Road. We stayed on this road the whole day, walking via Dunnstown, until we got near Ballarat, when we diverged onto Clarkes Road and Coulsons Road.
We skirted around Black Hill, and stopped at the Millbrook Community Centre for morning tea (Colleen had packed fruitcake for us – pity I didn’t have a thermos of tea to go with it). The Community Centre was a bit sad and neglected, but from what I could see inside, there was a functional kitchen and there were also toilets outside that were open.
The traffic was very light, so we were usually able to walk on the road. The occasional small bridge had no verge, but as there was no traffic to speak of this was not a problem. We were walking between the two railway tracks – the old track to the north and the new track (put in about 15 years ago according to Sean) to the south. Mount Warrenheip was always in front of us as a marker for our journey.
We arrived in Dunnstown at about 12:30pm, and entered the Shamrock Hotel. The woman attending the bar was trying to get the fire going with some old cardboard Guinness packs – not very successfully. So after Josh bought us a bottle of Cascade Light each and we had ordered our meals (burger for me, steak sandwich for Sean, Mixed Grill for Josh) and the bar woman had gone out to the kitchen to cook them, I remade the fire and got it going nicely. There was no one else in the pub at this stage, so apart from the TV above us playing the horse racing, all was quiet and restful. I was a bit surprised because I thought that on Saturday there would be a bigger crowd. But football season is finished, and, as I found out later walking past the oval, cricket had begun, so I guess there were not so many crowds in Dunnstown for Saturday now. The food when it came was excellent. Towards the end of the meal a few others started entering the pub, but now we were ready to go again.
Across from the pub in Dunnstown is St Brendan’s Church, which we were pleasantly surprised to find open for both viewing and prayer.
Walking up the road past the mountain, we were greeted by many very friendly dogs coming out to see who was going past. We could see Kryal Castle nestled on the north side of the hill. The road is descending from here into Ballarat. We came in around the back way along the railway – Josh was amazed that we were so close to a city and still it felt so rural. We crossed the railroad on the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road Bridge, and walked down the new Arthur Kenny Avenue of Honour. This AoH commemorated all the boys of the Ballarat Orphanage who served in World War I. We decided to change our route a little to divert to the Eureka Stockade and visit the memorial there. It is interesting that the memorial tablet commemorating those who lost their lives at the stockade (unveiled on the anniversary of the rebellion in 1923) commemorates both “the heroic pioneers who fought and fell on this sacred spot, in the cause of liberty, and the soldiers who fell at duty’s call”. I have always felt that, despite our political disagreements, Australians could never have a “civil war” against each other, because we have always had the ability to see both sides of an argument. Or we are just too bloody apathetic. One of those.
We now headed towards our abiding place for the night. Fr Justin Driscoll had offered to put us up for the night either at the Cathedral Presbytery, where he had been living until recently, or at St Alipius’ Presbytery in East Ballarat where he had just been reassigned. As it turned out, we were to stay at the latter. This building is, I am sorry to say, infamous as the site of some of the worst abuses against children in the history of the this dreadful scandal. I certainly felt some unsettlement at the prospect of staying there, and I know Josh did too. When we arrived, I asked Justin how he felt about living there. His answer was simple: “It wasn’t the building’s fault, and there are great things happening here in the community.” There are ribbons tied on all the cast iron fences and gates both here and down at the Cathedral where we went to Mass this morning. This manner of commemorating the suffering of the victims will continue for many years, I believe. Noel had told me that St Alipius’ Presbytery was the one building his wife wanted to see demolished, and I know others feel the same way. But many countries around the world manage to move forward despite painful pasts of war and wickedness, and I pray that the time will come when we can do this too. That doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean incorporating the knowledge of past crimes into our understanding of our history and present identity in such a way that we come to own it as a part of us. Does that sound wrong? It is hard to express these feelings.
In any case, Fr Justin made us feel very much at home. He had another engagement for the evening, so we went out to the Munster Hotel for dinner. We had “Irish Stew” – perhaps the first time I’ve ever had stew as a menu item. It was very good pilgrim food. Josh’s friend Daniel came to join us. The conversation was spirited, but I was tired and it was I who broke up the party at about 8:30pm. We went home and retired to our rooms. I put a load of washing on for Sean and myself and hung it out to dry. The evening was quite warm and I expected that by morning the clothes would be ready to bring in.
Back in my room, instead of writing up this journal, I did some marking for my uni class (I still have twenty essays to have done by Thursday night!). The others were fast asleep and Fr Justin had not yet returned when the doorbell started ringing insistently. I had no intention of answering it, and the next thing is that the nocturnal visitor started banging on the back door near my bedroom. She was shouting out too. I then heard windows and doors rattling all around the house as she was trying to get in. It was really a bit frightening, but I reflected that such must be a very common experience at presbyteries. Eventually she gave up and went away. I put out the light and fell asleep immediately. It was only 10:30pm, but I knew that we would lose an hour overnight as Daylight Saving was beginning this weekend. There was to be an 8am mass at the Cathedral in the morning that we were going to try to get to, so we would need to be up at 7am (equivalent of 6am) anyway.
Total distance for today was 23.7km.
And here is a map.
Having fallen asleep immediately last night, I was up at 7am this morning working on my journal for yesterday. Sean joined me and worked on his own journal for a while. At about 8am, Bill and Colleen came in to serve us breakfast, and Josh made his appearance. He kept up conversation while I finished off writing. Sister Kathleen popped in with the key for the Gordon Church (so that we could see inside), and we explained to her about the MacKillop-Woods Way.
We set off at 10am and headed around to the Post Office for a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The family at the post office became excited by the mention of St Mary MacKillop as their daughter (who was helping out in the post office during her school holidays) went to St Mary MacKillop Primary School in Keilor Downs. Apparently they had been given holiday homework to get an interesting photo and tell a story about it, so they thought that a photo with three Mary MacKillop pilgrims would do the trick nicely. So after stamping our passports, we posed outside the post office. They printed off a copy for us and put it in a post office folder for safe keeping.
We set off then for Gordon via the Bostock Reservoir. We went down the Old Geelong Road, then onto Shaws Road. At this point we really felt that we had entered a green and pleasant land – proper pilgrim territory. The day was quite cool (especially compared to yesterday) and overcast, with only a slight breeze, which made for comfortable walking. The gravel road led past mobs of sheep grazing in green paddocks, and went downhill towards what my map tells me is “Moorabool River East Branch”. There had been some talk of a mineral spring near the Reservoir, but I was not expecting what we found. Just on the north side of the road as you enter the Reservoir grounds, right where you cross the river (which is really just a creek), is the Ballan Mineral Spring picnic ground with shelters and tables. A small staircase leads down to a landing at the level of the river on which there is a pump operated with a hand lever. When you pump the handle, the spring water comes out. The inscription on the pump says
“Ballan Spring is a sodium bicarbonate natural mineral water or “soda water”. It is quite gassy water with high chloride, sodium and zinc levels.”
It tasted very good, and the spritzig quality made it very refreshing. It has quite high levels of magnesium too, which was good for sore muscles. We tipped out our drinking water and refilled with this.
The walk through the Reservoir park was very nice indeed, through mainly pine forests on a decent track. I took a wrong turn at one point on the other side, which had us wandering around in a bit of boggy land. This also led to my second encounter with a snake – however this one did not move and was wound at an odd angle, and might have been dead. But its eyes were open and looking at me, and that was enough to make me change route very suddenly. Somewhere in the forest we also completed 100km of the journey.
Then we were back out into the open country again and onto the Old Melbourne Road for the rest of the way into Gordon. Nothing extraordinary happened on this last 5km journey into Gordon. There was some traffic on the road, but not too much to be a bother, and was quite nice walking. There was a bit of rain at this point, but only spitting. Enough to get out my poncho and throw it over myself and my backpack. This seemed to work quite well.
The temperature was dropping as we entered Gordon, and we headed for Gordon Bleu, the restaurant in the old hotel that was (for a while) the convent for the Missionary Sisters of Charity. According to Joe Donegan’s 2011 book In God’s Hands: a history of the Parish of St Patrick’s Gordon, Victoria, “The Dwyer family donated the hotel and ground to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, hoping that it would be an asset to the Gordon Parish. Some suggestions were to make it a refuge for homeless and alcoholic men, another was a respite home for mothers and children. It was sometimes a retreat house of the Missionaries of Charity nuns. Mother Teresa stay there a number of times. Her presence was of little interest to the parishioners of Gordon, as caring for underprivileged children or alcoholic men was strange to them. A welcome mass was celebrated for her in 1973… The Missionaries of Charity sold the old hotel in 1980.”
Today, the old Hotel is owned by Sal, a native of Yemen, and his partner, and is called (rather imaginatively) “Gordon Bleu”. It is a very comfortable and enjoyable place to have lunch or just a cup of coffee. Sal had tried for a while making a go of the business having it open for 5 days a week, but in the end found it necessary to be open only on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. I was luck to have called in Sunday week ago on my way back from Ballarat, and Sal gave me his number and said he would be about the place today, even though the restaurant would be closed. If I gave him a call, he would make us coffees and get us lunch. In the end, I didn’t even have to use his number, because he heard us as we arrived on the verandah and came out to welcome us inside. It was just starting to rain again, so it was wonderful to get inside. He had the heaters on and immediately made us coffees while he prepared our lunches: middle-eastern style meatballs with rice and salad. We relaxed on the couches as he prepared the food. It was there that I found a copy of In God’s Hands, and began reading the history of the local parish. Later on, Colleen presented us with a copy signed by the author – apparently the last copy available for sale!
Sal was a great host and his food was lovely and satisfying. It was with a little reluctance that we decided to push on, as we wanted to get to the Church on the other side of town. I rang Noel to ask him to meet us at the Church, and we headed off. On the way, I saw a number of really interesting shops in the street, including an antique store called “Shambles” and a hat shop in the old Anglican Church. Both are run by a husband and wife team Sheina and Bob (I noticed a B&B called Sheina’s Cottage just down the road, which I expect is their place too). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at the hat shop, and was astounded to find the interior absolutely full from floor to mezzanine ceiling with all varieties of hats (and some nice Harris Tweed waistcoats too). I met Sheina and we discussed deerstalkers for a while, before I thought I had better catch up with the others.
Heading back out out on the road, I could see that Noel was just arriving at St Patrick’s and was meeting Sean and Joshua. I caught up and used the key Sr Kathleen had given me to go inside to look around (see photos). The presbytery next door had recently been sold (it may become a B&B?). There were some stone crosses in the garden beds, and I wondered where they might have come from. “Up there?” said Josh, pointing to the spire. I later read in Joe Donegan’s book that the cross from the spire had fallen down in 1927 “without causing any damage”. That explained one of them, at least…
Noel drove us back to Ballan. By this stage it was bitterly cold and rain was starting. Colleen had the fire going when we got in, and Bill came in from the shed to join us. Colleen had washed all our clothes and they were drying on the hanger near the fire. We sat down and had some cheese and biscuits and a glass of port and a cup of tea. It had really begun to rain outside now, so we were glad to be warm and dry inside. It reminded us of our time in Tostaree in Gippsland three years ago in October 2016, when, after walking half a day and settling into our accommodation, a huge thunderstorm broke. We expect that there will be more rain on Monday, but we can cope with that one way or another.
After an hour or so of conversation together, Noel said good evening and headed off. We arranged for him to return at 9am in the morning to take us back to Gordon. I worked at the dining table on this account for an hour or so as Colleen prepared dinner. More enjoyable conversation and lots of stories took place over dinner: salmon and chips and pie for dessert. Although it was only 7:30pm, I excused myself and retired early. I am really very exhausted, even though today was a comparatively easy day. I think the last few days are catching up on me. No matter – there is only one more big push and then we have a day off in Ballarat on Sunday.
Full distance today was 15.5km.
And here is the map: