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’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:
I just remembered, as we were walking out of Bacchus Marsh yesterday, the old saying among Melburnians: “From here to Bacchus Marsh”. Well, I know how far that is now.
Another thought that has often been in our minds on this pilgrimage is the story of Jonah’s arrival in Nineveh, that Great City, which took three days to cross (Jonah 3:3). The extent of the Melbourne metropolitan area, if you were to walk from Belgrave to Caroline Springs (as we have done) is about 2.5 days walk. However, if you wished to walk from the farthest Eastern edge of the Archdiocese of Melbourne (let’s say the edge of the Bunyip National Park the other side of Gembrook) to the farthest Western edge (let’s say the boundary of the Ballan Shire around Ingliston), it will take you about 2.75 days walking in both directions, about 5.5 days. We’ve done that now too.
While we are on statistics, yesterday’s walk from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan also clocked up another diocese that we have walked from end to end: in total (in the order that we did them): Sale, Canberra-Goulburn, Wollongong, Sydney and now Glorious Melbourne herself. By the time we reach Penola we will be able to add Ballarat to that list.
I rose yesterday (yes, I’m writing this on the morning of Friday 4 October, and these events took place on Thursday 3 October) feeling a little bit worse for wear after the big push the day before from Caroline Springs to Bacchus Marsh (almost 36km). Fr Patrick kindly offered to repeat Maria’s offer from yesterday – to take our packs to Ballan for us so that we could walk with only a daypack. Josh borrowed the backpack that Maria gave me yesterday, Sean has his lightweight daypack that he had brought with him (I need one of those), and I figured that if a I put all the stuff I didn’t need in my backpack’s cover bag I could take my pack with me with only 1/3 the weight. This worked out well, and I think it is a process I will be able to use in Spain next year if Josh and I ever use one of those services that carry packs for you from town to town. If.
Patrick said goodbye to us at breakfast (“I’m going over to the church”), and we finished packing and set off. Mass was to be celebrated at 9:30am, but we thought we needed to be leaving before that. On our way out of the presbytery, we thought we would stop in at the church, and found the cleaner doing the vacuuming in the narthex. We were about to go into the church and she warned us “Try not to make any noise – Father is hearing confessions”. I didn’t know that this was what he was “going over to the church for”, but I availed myself of the opportunity to be shriven as I had not had the chance before leaving from Melbourne. A happystance.
Fresh and new and leaving my burdens at the Cross of Jesus, I set off with Josh and Sean to the local Coles where we bought bread, kabanosi, cheese, cucumbers, bananas and apples for lunch. We stowed these in our packs and set off again on the path along Werribee River. This was a delightful walk with which to start the day. We crossed the Halletts Way Bridge and turned South onto O’Learys Way which led up into the new housing estates South of the town into an area known as Maddingley. There we turned East on McCormacks Road which led up the hill to the top of the plateau and the start of Ironbark Road. From the River up to the top of the hill was 3.5km and a rise from 118m up to 262m. This is quite a climb, but easy to do at the start of the day and not too strenuous. While it appears that one has reached the top of the hill by that stage, in fact by the time we arrived at Ballan we had climbed another 240m to 500m elevation. But this was over another 19km and was hardly noticeable. [As an aside, it was funny how many people said to us that it would be “uphill all day” walking from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan. I had to remind them that we were not taking the Freeway…]
From the top of the hill, we had one of our last glimpses of Melbourne in the far misty distance on the horizon. At the top of McCormacks Road, we crossed a bridge over the railway line which was passed through a deep cutting underneath us. We turned right into Ironbark Road to the North West towards the locality of Ingliston. The railway line ran through the cutting for about another kilometre before it finally reached the same level as the road. All the rock and other material from the cutting had been heaped up between the railway and the road with the result that anyone on the road could not see the view into the valley. On top of one of these mounds of rock was a survey marker – a sure indication of good view. So, being part mountain-goat, I set off to climb up to it. Probably a mistake. I was just wearing sandals and socks today, and the rocks were not entirely stable on the side, and there was lots of long grass growing over them (snake heaven!), but the pinnacle was too much of a temptation. At the top, my phone told me I was at 300m, and I had a full 360 degree view all around.
Back at the corner of McCormacks Road and Ironbark Road, we noticed a track on the other side of the railway cutting heading in the same direction. Sean said he thought that might be an idea to walk on that instead of the road, but I said that I had no idea where it led, so best not. Walking down the road, we began to hear loud banging noises on the other side of the rock heaps out of sight. I worked out what it was when I saw, over the embankment, a red flack flying. Looking on the map, it showed “Bacchus Marsh Rifle Range”. Good thing we didn’t go that way…
About 5.5km along the Ironbark Road, we came to the Werribee Gorge State Park. At this point the road winds around a bit and goes up and down a bit more. The road passes over the railway and then plunges down a bit and goes under it, under a grand iron railway bridge many metres overhead. Just before the bridge there is a track into the bush on the left that goes up to the level of the railway. Josh walked around to the other side of the bend on the road, but Sean followed me up the steep incline on this path up to the level of the track. This track then leads along the railway for another kilometre of so and would be a good option to walk. However, Josh was down on the road on the other side and we had agreed to stop for lunch just past the bridge, so Sean and I went back down to the road level.
We found a nice spot to sit under the trees and ate our lunch. It is always pleasant to have these little picnics while walking.
Then it was just a matter of putting on our packs and setting off again into the sunset – well maybe not the sunset yet, but definitely into the sun. It was quite a warm day – 26 degrees, which is pleasant normally, but when there is no shade and a stiff wind blowing it became a little trying after a while. The road for much of this section is only sealed in a single lane, so passing traffic tends to kick up a bit of dust which you then are left walking through for a minute or so until it clears. This is easy walking on the side of the road, but the few vehicles that go past are going at 100km/h and some of them don’t slow down for pilgrims.
We stopped for a short break under the pine trees at Ingliston (nothing there other than a bus shelter for the school kids) and then continued. I had done a bit of research and worked out that the border of the Diocese of Ballarat and the Archdiocese of Melbourne was the same as the old Ballan Shire/Bacchus Marsh Shire border (it’s all Moorabool Shire now), and the marker for that from the satellite map was a large area of bush land on the north side of the road. When we got to that point, I was a bit confused because there was not bush land. In fact, there were trucks and bulldozers and a whole lot of noise and dust going on like something from the side of Taylors Road in Rockbank. Where once there were trees, there were now piles of wood and rocks. What was going on? Surely they were not planting housing estates this far out of town? The answer came several hundred metres up the road when we saw the sign for the entrance to the Ballan Waste Management Centre. The waste management business was expanding. For the rest of the way into Ballan we had big heavy trucks going past us occasionally, kicking up dust at 100km/hr.
Aside from all that it was a relatively easy and pleasant walk into Ballan. We arrived in Ballan at 4:20pm. There is a lot of work going on on the railway crossings and bridges in Ballan at the moment, so a walker needs to check access and where the crossing can happen. We had looked up to find the location of the Commercial Hotel in the Main Street and decided to head directly there before heading around to our hosts for the evening. A young local saw me in my foreign attire and with my walking stocks and asked me: “Are you lost? Are you looking for somewhere?” No, I said, I’m just heading for the hotel. “We don’t have one of those here, or a caravan park,” he replied. I think I should have said we were going to the pub.
Which we were. We easily found the establishment wherein we could procure a refreshing alcoholic beverage, and Josh bought us each a pint of cider, which was just what the doctor ordered, or would have ordered if we had consulted one on the matter. We then went around the block to Bill and Colleen O’Reilly’s home. We were originally going to be staying with a friend of mine, Noel Gregory, who is a member of my Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) text reading group and who lives in the parish here. However, a family crisis had arisen and we had to change plans. A few weeks back, after Noel agreed to have us at this place, I received a phone call from Colleen who had seen the news of our pilgrimage in the parish bulletin. I had kept her phone number and so I was able to contact her and she and Bill were happy to take us in. They had two spare bedrooms and a motor home in which we could stay. When we arrived Bill and Colleen were out the front to welcome us. They brought us inside and asked what we would like first – the answer was simple: a shower. So they showed us to their bedrooms – and I was astonished to be shown the main bedroom. They had decided that they would spend the evening in the motor home and let us use all three bedrooms in the house. That IS hospitality!
Colleen had prepared a lovely dinner for us and had invited a neighbour, Lourdes, to join us as well. So we were six for dinner. Good conversation (as so often with our hosts), but we ended the night quite early as we were very tired. I was too tired to write up the day’s journey last night, so have just completed doing that this morning.
The journey from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan was 26.6km.
And here is a map:
There are days on pilgrimage when everything is easy. Mostly these are days when you are walking on one of Victoria’s many wonderful rail-trails. It is smooth, quiet, level, picturesque, etc etc. No problems. There are other days when everything is a challenge. These are days when you are walking through a landscape in which no-one ever thought or imagined that anyone would b stupid enough to try to walk from A to B rather than drive. After all, all sane people drive, don’t they? Why on earth would you ever walk anywhere?
The hike from Caroline Springs to Bacchus Marsh is one of the latter, rather than one of the former. Back during the Year of Mercy, the Ta Pinu Shrine at Bacchus Marsh was one of the five “Holy Doors” established for the plenary indulgence. Back then, I was very much tempted to do a walking pilgrimage from Melbourne to the Shrine. Well, today I did it. And I don’t think it likely that I will ever attempt it again unless a lot changes in terms of the route to get there.
There have been some stretches of the MacKillop-Woods Way that have provided real challenges. The bushy end of Victoria, for one (from Orbost to Eden). The walk from Bodalla to Moruya which involved walking all the way along the Princes Highway. The little stretch from Milton to Conjola (on which you could easily get yourself killed). Or the climb from Stanwell Park to Otford (ditto). None of these sections of the MWW lend themselves to walking. It is as if the people who designed the roads intentionally designed them to *prevent* walkers.
Today was, perhaps, never quite as bad as any of those. But it was close.
The great blessing was that Maria, who works in Bacchus Marsh, offered to take our backpacks around to the Presbytery at St Bernard’s where we are staying tonight. That meant we could walk with daypacks only. Yay!!!
Then we were sent on our way this morning with the breakfast to end all breakfasts: cereals, fruit, toast, scrambled eggs, Angus Beef sausages, and bacon all served up by Mary at her place. At the end of the meal I was convinced that I would not need lunch for the day. Or for perhaps two days! Victor and Mary took us to view the St Catherine of Siena Church and then ran us back around to the Christ the Priest Primary School where we recommenced our pilgrimage. Mary was a bit surprised to see us walking straight back past her house not 15 minutes later – but that was the shortest route out to the countryside, which was just around the corner from the Borg’s home.
In order to avoid the traffic, we took Clarkes Road and Monaghans Lane over Kororoit Creek (a couple of planks made up the ford) north to Taylors Lane. Along this route, to the East and on our right, was the City. On the other side, open fields. It was a stark contrast. But what we could already see in the distance became apparent once we hit Taylors Road: the City is expanding. Everywhere that we looked, they were ploughing up the paddocks and planting houses. The expansion is dramatic. We were surrounded with road works and building works and real estate sales centres. Dust and noise and a lot of passing cars, trucks, and construction vehicles on the insufficient single lane road that is the only alternative route on the north side of the freeway.
We walked over 3km along Taylors Road to Plumpton Road. Originally we had planned to walk up Plumpton Road until we got to the start of Beatty Road and then head back (south west) down to the ford over Kororoit Creek. But coming along Taylors Road in this direction, I spied a “short cut”. It involved continuing straight on west along Taylors Road at the Plumpton Road corner, past the gate that currently brings Taylors Road to a dead end, and into the open land along Kororoit Creek. Even here, there were fences and stakes all around where housing lots appear destined to arise, but for the moment it is currently possible (with a little bit of bashing through uncharted areas) to get through to Beattys Road at the ford over the Creek. Being a warm day, I was constantly on the lookout for snakes as we were walking through this grass land. I was fairly confident that we could get through this way, because I was following a vehicle track in the grass – and there was no sign that the vehicle had returned by the same route. Sure enough, we joined Beattys Road about 800m or so further on – and saved ourselves at least that much from walking the long way around. Because of the development, I don’t know if this route will be open to future pilgrims or not.
We then headed over the ford and west along Beattys Road for the next 5km. It is currently closed to traffic in the section from Kororoit Creek to Leakes Road, but that made for pleasant(ish) walking. The day was fast warming up (it was about 26 degrees by now) and a wind was blowing across the open plains in our faces which was drying my lips. The countryside might have been beautiful, but like many closed roads, people had found a way in and had used it as a rubbish dump. Sean called the collection of old car bodies down at the ford “a car graveyard”, but I rather think it was a car murder site. Piles of rubbish were everywhere, and Josh shielded his mouth and nose as we passed on pile of dumped demolition material that looked likely to have a good asbestos content. Once we got passed Leakes Road, however, we were on a wide sealed road with a good verge all around and hardly any traffic. I had reconnoitred this section last Sunday driving on the way home from Ballarat, and had discovered that it was possible to access the MacDonalds Roadhouse on the freeway through a back paddock at the end of Beattys Road, so we diverted into this establishment. Josh was hungry and ordered a steak sandwich, but Sean and I were just happy for a cold drink, somewhere cool to sit down, and the chance to wash our hands and faces.
The next challenge, from the end of Beattys Road, was to make our way along a section of the freeway. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as the freeway verge is at least 40 metres or more wide, but it was the only way to get through to the old, closed off section of High Street that would lead us directly into Melton. The distance we needed to cover was no more than 600m, but I was nervous of being caught by a passing traffic cop. There were, however, no signs whatsoever prohibiting walkers from passing this way – I guess because it would never have occurred to anyone that walkers would ever wish to do so. Because of the wide verge, it was completely safe in any case. Completely? Well, no, because we were walking through longish grass and so, inevitably, I met a snake. And it was a beauty – long, fat and grey in colour. Our encounter was sudden and lasted no more than a second. Thankfully it had the same idea about me as I had about it: to get out of each other’s way as quickly as possible. I was walking in front of the others, so I was able to warn them, and we skirted around the area of the sighting. Despite being rattled by the experience, I felt a little calmer afterwards. The character Baldrick, in the last season of Blackadder, once carved his name on a bullet so that the “bullet with his name on it” would be in his pocket and not in the gun of the enemy. By the same theory, I had expected to see at least one snake on this journey (I have only twice before crossed paths with a snake while I have been on pilgrimage), and so now, having seen that one snake, I figured the chances of seeing another were slim.
We got to closed off end of High Street where there is currently a roadworks stone heap in a high fenced off area. You can’t get over this fence coming from our direction, so we skirted around it (at the corner it is only about 10 metres from the freeway) to the other side where we climbed over the old barbed wire fence onto the old High Street road. I am confident that this road will one day be reopened to traffic and connected back onto Beattys Road to provide another route onto Taylors Lane, but for the moment, it was a quiet entry into Melton (still littered with rubbish). But once we reached the roundabout where traffic entered onto the freeway, were were back in the noisy industrial end of Melton. We were intending to visit the Church, which is one block back off this road on the north side of the street where the road bends west into the long shopping strip that is the city of Melton, but on the other side of the road was the Golden Fleece Hotel. Three beers vanished into three thirsty tired and hot pilgrims very quickly, and then, because it was now 2:30pm and the kitchen was closed, we went across the road to a Vietnamese cafe and had a bowl of chicken and noodle Pho each.
I used the opportunity to make contact with Fr Patrick Bradford, who was to host us tonight at Bacchus Marsh. He was heading into the city for a meeting, but had given instructions to a parishioner, Ron, to pick us up from the Ta Pinu Shrine, 5km outside of Bacchus Marsh where we planned to end our journey for today. He told me he would send Ron’s number through so that we could get in touch. It was 3:30pm by the time we got going again, and so we scrapped the idea of calling into the Church for a stamp in our passports – we made do with the Melton Post Office instead, where the attendant immediately grasped the idea of what we were doing and very efficiently, within a matter of seconds, had stamped our cards. Then it was a slog through Melton on the concrete footpaths through the sun with little shade. From the beginning of the shopping strip to the last house of Melton is just over 4kms; another 2kms brings you to the brink of the valley in which Bacchus Marsh is nestled.
From this point there is a good view of the valley and of the hill on which the Shrine to Our Lady Ta Pinu is constructed. At this point, I checked my phone and found a message from Ron. There had clearly been a miscommunication and he had already driven out to the Shrine expecting to pick us up at 4pm. It was now 5pm and we were still 3.5kms away. So we made a couple of decisions. We decided we would walk all the way to Bacchus Marsh today, rather than try to return to the Shrine in the morning as originally planned. We also decided that, given tomorrow was destined to be another very warm day, we would skip 9:30am mass and get going by 8:30am. So I rang Ron and he arranged instead to meet us at the presbytery to let us in when we arrived.
Now we faced our last challenge for the day: getting down the hill into the Valley. We started by walking along the verge of the Western Highway. This was not as foolhardy as it might have sounded, because the verge is reasonably wide and the traffic (thanks to the new Freeway route) is not as heavy as it otherwise would have been. However, when we came around the corner of the first bend, we discovered two things. First, we could have gotten through by walking on a track up along the fence line rather than down on the road, and second, there is an old stone bridge that offers a picturesque alternative route for a couple of hundred metres. It brings you back onto the highway again, but even here it is possible to walk on the grass on the side of the highway along the fence line rather than on the highway itself. Of course, snakes are still a possibility, so at one point, where the grass got too long to see what was in it, we did go back up onto the highway. Any future walker will need to assess the competing dangers and make their own decision! The highway rises back up a bit out of the valley of the old bridge, and there are some terrific views along the way. At the top of the hill is the intersection between the highway, Long Forest Road and Hopetoun Park Road. We skirted along the verge as far as we could but eventually had to get back on the road for the final descent into the Valley. Not very nice, but passable.
Then we passed over onto the South side of the road, where there is a piece of old highway to walk on. We did not know it then, but there is no really safe way to cross from the North to the South side of the Freeway. It might at this point have been possible to take a track down under the Freeway bridge over Pyrites Creek to the other side, but we only noticed this in hind sight. However, even if we were not wanting to climb the hill to the Shrine (and we were not) we wanted to head over to see the old Hopetoun Cemetery. It is our usual practice, while on pilgrimage, to stop at any Cemetery and pray for the souls of the departed. This is in fact an old Catholic cemetery, originally opened by Archbishop Goold and well worth a visit.
Of course, you can only really do this by car, and even then it is fairly inaccessible. I must confess that I find it quite bizarre that the Moorabool Shire Council has not seen fit to create any kind of access for walkers from Bacchus Marsh over the freeway to this cemetery and to the Shrine. We found that he had to cross two bridges that had no space at all for walkers and hardly any kind of sufficient safety rail on the side either before we managed to get to the other side.
At this point the Avenue of Honour that leads into Bacchus Marsh begins. There is a jogging/walking circuit trail that goes along the Avenue for a little while and back around the Lederderg River, but does not go all the way into town. Again, why? Why could there not be a walking track connecting the two? There isn’t even a footpath. But the Avenue was very beautiful in the setting sun and we didn’t grizzle too much. We were beginning to get very tired. Josh was being tempted by all the signs offering the sale of apples along the way, but as it was now about 6:30pm, they were all closed. I was actually starting to become a little wobbly on my feet, so it was with great relief that we finally arrived at the St Bernard’s church and presbytery just on sunset at 6:45. We had walked 35.2km.
Ron came around and let us in. We could have had a good chat, but what we really wanted was a cup of tea and a bath. As we were sorting both these out, Fr Patrick arrived back from his meeting in town. The table in the dining room was set for dinner for three, with a note left for us regarding dinner in the fridge that needed reheating, so I had thought that maybe we would not see him tonight, but thankfully he had returned in time and was able to spend the rest of the evening with us. He had cooked the meal that had been prepared for us, a chicken and pumpkin dish with salad and red wine, followed by ice cream and blueberry pies for desert. It was an evening of great conviviality. At about 10:30, we retired to bed. I tried to write up a bit of this account but was too tired to get much done, and decided I would get up early and finish it in the morning. (Which I have now done!).
Distance travelled today: 35.2km
So we are underway again. The MacKillop-Woods Way exists more in the realm of ideas than the world of reality at the moment, although every step we take on this pilgrimage brings it more into focus. It started as an idea in the mind of Sean Deany, was focused by the dream of Luke Mills to establish the Aussie Camino from Portland to Penola, was broadened by my vision of walking from Melbourne to Sydney via Eden, and now Josh and Sean thought we should complete the walk by heading in the other direction from St Mary’s birthplace to Penola where she began the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
Thus began the 5th Leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way.
I came into the office at the Archdiocese yesterday for two purposes: the first was to collect our pilgrim passports which Archbishop Peter had signed for us, the second was to catch up with my colleagues Brenda and Mark for tea and cake with Rachel in the Historical Commission. I also managed to catch up with Nigel Zimmermann, and as we were heading out of the office back down Albert Street, we ran into Rabbi Dovid Gutnick from the East Melbourne Shule with his family. They were just returning from prayers at the end of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. So I took the opportunity to introduce him to Nigel, to wish them and their community “Shana Tova”, and he wished us all the best for our pilgrimage. A good interfaith start to the journey.
I then went down to Little Lonsdale Street to the small hotel in which Josh had booked us a room for the night. Josh had just flown in from Launceston and arrived a few minutes after me. We checked in, dropped of our gear and, after a bit of organising, headed around to Moor Street to Jim’s place where Sean lives. Jim welcomed us with a glass of whisky to salute the start of our new journey. After an hour’s lively conversation Sean, Josh and I headed around the corner to The Standard Hotel in Fitzroy Street for dinner. The Standard is a favourite – great beers and really good food.
As Josh and I were heading back to the hotel, we passed the bar and restaurant that used to be the original synagogue in Melbourne on the corner of Little Lonsdale and Exhibition Street. Feeling like “something more” before retiring, we went inside and had ordered a G&T each, made with Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin from Healesville (served with orange, not lemon). This was, at least in theory, to ensure a good night’s sleep.
I had a rather fitful night, spending the hours between 1am and 2am awake and tossing and turning most of the rest of the night. I must have finally fallen into a deep sleep just before the 6am alarm went off. We got ourselves organised as fast as we could, but were still just that little bit late for the 7am mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral – we entered during the first reading. It was the feast of St Therese of Lisieux – a fitting day to start for a couple of reasons. She had, for a time when our colony was regarded as the a “mission territory”, been Australia’s patroness, and also her relics had come to visit our parish of Our Lady’s at Ringwood soon after I had been received in to the Church in 2003. At the time, I had asked her to intercede for me with regards to my future. I cannot say that walking pilgrimages was ever a part of my plans all those years ago, but I trust that her intercession is with us on the way this year.
We had teed up beforehand with Fr Zaher to give us the pilgrim blessing after mass, but he kindly included our pilgrimage in the intercessions for the day and in his mass intentions. After the mass, he led us to the stairs on the side of the altar where knelt and received the blessing for our journey (Sean was included in the prayers, although he didn’t make it to the mass!).
We then shouldered our packs and went around to St Mary’s Square outside the Daniel Mannix building at the Australian Catholic University in Brunswick Street where we had planned to meet with Sean at 8:15. As it we were about 30mins early, we decided to go to the ACU cafe for coffee and breakfast. We visited St Mary’s Chapel on the way, where the cast iron cross of her original grave has been installed. Sean joined us soon after 8am and, after he had had his regulatory double shot latte, we went around to the statue of St Mary in the Square for the expedition portrait. We had just nabbed a passing student and press-ganged her into the role of photographer, when my colleague Sam Zifchak passed by and we passed the duty to him. Sam and I had been hoping to catch up before I left on the journey but couldn’t find a time that suited, so this was “well-met” indeed. We crossed to the other side of the road, and again begged a passerby to photograph us with the stone marking St Mary of the Cross’ birthplace. Next we headed up to the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick Street to the local post office to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The post office attendant was very ready to help. He immediately brought out the post office’s special picture stamp, which featured none other than St Mary herself and identifying Fitzroy as her birthplace.
Finally, all rites and ceremonies having been attended to, we set off. We crossed the Carlton Gardens past the Exhibition Building (which is currently being renovated), then onto Queensberry Street. We continued along Queensberry all the way to West Melbourne where the new train station is being constructed. Then we followed Arden Street under the freeway, over the Moonee Ponds Creek, over the railway, and into Kensington. We crossed the bridge over the Maribyrnong River and followed the path around the Heavenly Queen Temple. (I thought it was a Buddhist Temple at first, but we looked this up and found that it was a Chinese temple devoted to the sea-goddess Mazu. The big statue of Mazu is looking out at the ports. It is, I guess, roughly the equivalent of Our Lady Star of the Sea…
We then made our way onto Hopkins Street which becomes Barkly Street and we followed this all the way into Footscray. We stopped for a coffee break in the Theatre Cafe. We were rather intrigued there by the feature teaspoons. I had one of San Francisco, Sean had one of the Eiffel Tower and Josh had the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
From there it was a long march all the way down Barkly Street until we arrived at the Central West Shopping Centre where we had lunch. Sean and Josh chose to eat a separate cafe to me, as I chose the bakery. Largely this was because I could get a table near a power point to plug my iPad and iPhone into. While eating, I marked an essay for my Uni class (we are in the middle of marking season, and although I had managed to get one whole class marked, I still have most of the second class to mark before Thursday week). When we got going again, we were on South Road and Monash Street all the way into Sunshine. Before we got to the station, we came to Our Lady’s Catholic Church. There we met up with Fr Peter-Damien McKinley who showed us around the school grounds where there were a number of St Mary MacKillop related installations. He also gave us access to the Church, which, among other points of interest, had a relic of St Mary’s second coffin. We called in across the road at the parish office, where the secretary kindly stamped our passports for us.
Then it was on over the Sunshine Station, and finally onto the Kororoit Creek trail. The trails was green and shady, and there was a cool breeze blowing which refreshed us in the warm sunshine. We were able to follow this trail along the creek for most of the rest of the day, although in places we had to go onto the main roads to save distance. This mean that we had to walk a bit of the way on the Ballarat Road, just where it passes the Turkish Mosque and goes under the Ring Road freeway. This brought us out into Deer Park, and, as we were crossing the road, I pointed out the Deer Park Hotel across the road. “Time for afternoon tea?” I asked. Yes, agreed the others, and Josh reminded us that he was paying for beers on this trip again (it is the birthday gift that keeps on giving – even when it isn’t our birthdays!).
We spent a pleasant half hour in the pub over a couple of schooners, listening to Beatles music. When we set off again, a short cut across the park brought us back onto the Kororoit Creek trail. We walked on the north side of the creek all the way around onto Opie Road, when we realised we had missed the creek crossing to the other side. I had expected a bridge, but it was just a rocky ford (which might be submerged in wetter times). In any case, we had no trouble crossing, and after walking through a bit of a field, we found ourselves at last in Caroline Springs. We had stopped a little earlier for a rest (Sean was feeling a bit sore) and I took the opportunity to call my daughter who had spent last night having tests in a clinic. We fell into a bit of an argument about how much further it was to go. I insisted no more than 3 or 4km, but Josh thought it was closer to seven.
When it came to it, the mistake was mine. Maria Carnovale, one of our hosts from the Caroline Springs Parish, rang me to ask whether we were far off, and I said no, I could see the Church ahead of us. Her husband Tony and another host, Victor Borg, were waiting with the parish secretary at the church for us, but they could not see us coming up the street. When we approached the sign that I could see, I was a little confused, because it turned out to be a sign for the Christ the Priest Primary School. I called Maria again to ask how we got around the the Church, and it was then that I found out that for the last five years the parish had been worshipping in their new church about 2km north from there at the Secondary College. Vic and Tony kindly came and collected us from the Primary School…
…And took us around to the Borg’s home where Mary Borg was cooking up a great dinner for us: pasta and chicken soup, Roast beef, devilled chicken, roast potatoes and pumpkin and capsicum, and fried green beans. As well as Tony and Maria Carnovale, we were joined by Bev and Pat Gurry for dinner. These three couples, together with a few others, are known in the local parish as the “Gumnuts”, and when they heard from Fr Richard Rosse, the parish priest, that three pilgrims needed hospitality, they swung into action and made plans for us. The evening meal was rich with food, wine and loud cheery conversation. It was in the tradition of the best hospitality along the MacKillop-Woods Way, like we had received from the people at Eden and Narooma. It was after 9pm when the party broke up and Maria and Tony took Sean and I back to their place for the night. Josh is staying at the Borg’s, where we will return for breakfast.
Which brings this account of today to an end. It will be a long day tomorrow, for which we have already adjusted our plans, but more of that tomorrow.
For all photos for today, see here on google photos.For all photos for today, see here on google photos.
Total distance today was 28.59km. We left 8:45am and arrived at 5:47pm – just on nine hours.
I woke this morning with tears in my eyes. The dim dawn light was beginning to shine through the window, and Sean had just woken up and greeted me with a cheery “Good morning!” The first thing I said to him was “Thank you. Thank you for coming with me on this journey.” I expressed the same gratitude to Josh and to both of them many times during the day, including at St Mary’s tomb (sorry – spoilers – we did finally make it today!). I wanted them to know that, whatever arguments we had had on the way, their companionship was a gift beyond price. Even their occasional reminder to me that “You don’t have to walk every step” or “Remember you have a wife and children at home; they are more important than this pilgrimage” served principally to spur me onwards in defiance. So many times I had grumbled at them for slowing the journey down, and yet I don’t think I would have gotten this far without them. I needed to remember this, because there were times during the day when I could have – and did – cry out in despair at the slow pace we were making. So I just want to make it perfectly clear that everything that follows is told from the perspective of my experience at the time. I want the reader to know that Josh and Sean have been invaluable companions, great supports and deeply encouraging. And Josh paid for all the beer on the way. Really. If giving a drink of water to a thirsty man earns a reward in heaven, goodness knows what two weeks of beers will merit.
This was the last day. After this, I could stop: the mad idea that had entered my head during the 2015 Aussie Camino (or was it the 2014 Christian Motorcyclists Association National Run to Stanwell Tops?) would finally be exorcised and I could get on a plane and go home. But today, my “super power” for getting faster as I got closer to the end was a source of frustration, because both Josh and Sean were tired and sore. So was I – very – and I struggled to identify even a single part of my body that didn’t ache. Perhaps my right earlobe? My left leg was 100% compared to this time twelve days ago, but not compared to what it should be. My ankle is still swollen and bruised, and my calf muscle much tighter than it should be. My back pack had begun to weigh heavily on my shoulder – especially my left one – and so I resolved to pack up a bundle of my wet weather gear and knee braces and such and send it home by post. I would have done this yesterday if the post offices had been open, but they were closed for Anzac Day. I had thought of sending them home earlier, but that would have been tempted fate. As every hiker knows, you carry wet weather gear with you, not to use when it rains, but as a charm to keep it from raining in the first place.
I had been up during the night, waking at 1:30am and not being able to sleep. So I had gone down to the breakfast room and made myself a pot of tea and written up the last two days of the pilgrimage. By 4am I was ready to return to bed. So when I woke, I had only had about 5 hours sleep, which was probably not enough. But today was going to be an exciting day, and I could not stay in bed.
Mass was celebrated in the chapel of the Chevalier Centre at 7am, which would normally have been too early for me, but was just right given our timetable for today. (Nb. The centre, which includes the monastery, is called “Chevalier” after the founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Fr Jules Chevalier.) It was a blessing to be able to receive communion on the day of the completion of the pilgrimage. I prayed also for the intentions of the Holy Father, which, along with communion and confession, is one of the requirements for the plenary indulgence. I am working hard at the “no attachment to sin, not even venial” bit.
After mass, I wandered around and took some photographs. Fr Tony told us later that there are currently 36 members of the community living in the monastery – but most of these are retired and elderly. There was a sizeable congregation of lay people at mass, so the locals must be quite supportive of the monastery, especially to climb the hill at such an early hour.
I had some cereals for breakfast and a cup of tea, and then finished packing. We headed out at 8:30am. We walked directly east toward the University of NSW campus where, once Sean had finished admiring the work on the new tramway, Josh bought us coffees and pastries (hobbit-second-breakfast) in the student cafe in the University Mall. I had planned to visit the post office in the university to send all my assorted unnecessary bits and pieces back home, so when, just as I was putting my pack back on, Josh announced that he felt like having an additional ham and cheese toastie to round the meal off, I said that I was leaving and they could catch up with me at the post office.
I spent some time deciding the cheapest and best way of sending almost 1.5kg of stuff home, and the other two arrived just as I was trying to squash all the gear into the small postage bag. They were both nattering away and offering “helpful” suggestions, when Josh saw the look on my face and suggested that they might wait outside for me. I said, “Yes, go outside before I throw something at you.” The woman on the opposite side of the bench where I was doing my wrapping looked up with a smile and said “Can I watch?”
Finally I got the the packet shut and handed it across the counter, and put my back pack back on. It was mercifully lighter, and even though it was only one more day I had to carry it, it was worth the $13 it cost to get rid of the extra weight. I will keep this in mind for the Camino next year.
So we pushed on. It wasn’t a very long walk to the coast, via Randwick, and by 10:20 we had arrived at Coogee Beach. Again, Josh wanted to stop at a cafe. This time he ordered a milkshake, while Sean and I drank the free water, and I grumbled about the unnecessary delay. From here the idea was to follow the coast around Gordons Bay and Clovelly Beach. There is no getting away from the fact that this means climbing up and down some steep inclines. The day was fast becoming very warm – perhaps the warmest of any day we had yet had – and the brilliant blue water in the bays looked very inviting. But we are not tourists here, so I could just dream of returning one day. The final climb up Park Street was very steep, a fact that was pointed out by certain members of the companionship. As we came to the boundary of the cemetery (appropriately named Boundary Street), we saw workmen with whipper-snippers cutting the grass on the edge of the road. We entered Waverley Gardens Cemetery through the South Gate that is just a little to the west of Park Street, and found the grounds to be quite overgrown. I was a little nervous of snakes as we were clambering around in the long grass. I wondered if the whipper-snippers were planning to work their way into the cemetery once they had done the perimeter.
Nevertheless, Waverley is an impressive location for a cemetery. The graves generally face east out over the Pacific Ocean, and the only shade in the grounds are scattered palm trees. It was via these trees that I was able to locate the grave of Fr Julian Tenison-Woods, the co-founder of the Order of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart along with Mother Mary MacKillop. I had seen pictures of the grave online, so had an idea where it was and what it looked like. Fr Julian has a very distinctive memorial stone – but then, most of the memorial stones in Waverley ARE distinctive, and his was by no means the most distinctive. Furthermore, I discovered that the design of his monument was not even unique – there is a chap called Braithwaite with an identical stone almost in the very middle of the cemetery – the only difference (besides the inscription, of course) was that there is no statue of Our Lady under the canopy. At first I thought that it had been stolen, and then I realised I was looking at the wrong grave.
The easiest way to locate the grave of Julian Tenison-Woods is to go to the circular path (which looks like a roundabout) at the intersection of the main north-south path and the northern east-west path. The grave is about a dozen rows west of this roundabout, just on the southern side not far from the path. The statue of Our Lady is where it should be, under the pointy stone canopy. There are inscriptions on three sides of the stone, one stating that “The Reverend J. E. Tenison Woods died 7th October 1889 aged 57 years” and the other two recording (on the north side) his role in founding the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Sacred Heart, and the other (on the south side) “commemorating the scientific work of Rev. J.E. Tenison Woods, F.G.S, F.L.S, F.R.G.S, honorary member of the Royal Societies of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, and of the Linnean Society of New South WAles and the New Zealand Institute.” The inscription also notes that “He achieved distinction as a scientist in the fields of geology, botany, palaeontology & zoology.” We took off our hats and Josh recited the De Profundis as our prayer for his soul.
Up at the main office of the cemetery, we met two women working inside. One was not aware of who Fr Julian was, but the other was very aware and also knew the location of the grave. The latter wanted to know our story, and she took a photo of the three of us outside the gates of the Cemetery, and took down our details. She asked us for permission to publish the picture. Unfortunately, looking at the picture afterwards, Josh and Sean have pretty sour faces. Their excuse was that the sun was shining in their eyes, but I think at least one of them was annoyed with the request to be photographed. This member of the company was getting a little impatient with the leader of the pilgrimage taking photos of him all the time too – though it was of course purely for documentary purpose.
Off we set again. Sean was very keen to find something marked in his copy of Sydways as “The Federation Trail”. I am convinced that no such trail exists or ever existed except in the mind of some civically minded town planner, but the dotted line was on Sean’s map, which was enough to convince him that it existed in reality as well. Instead, given the hour of the day (it was now almost noon) and the fact that we still had 2/3 of the way to go (plus a lunch stop), I exercised the rights of being Pilgrim #1, and decreed that we would walk as best as possible in a direct line toward the city.
This took us first into Queens Park and the whole Centennial Parklands complex. Now, here are wide rolling plains of green pastures and shady trees, and many still waters beside which the Lord was leading us (although there was no time to “lie down” beside said waters and pastures and take a little rest). We lost any real sense of a path, but ran into some interesting sights. One was an Italian gentleman playing a merry jig on a set of Irish bagpipes. Another was a forest full of flying foxes (“Look, David, rats with wings!”). But when Josh spied a full sized permanent labyrinth path he forgot all about the distance we were walking and our sore feet. “Come on, follow me, we are going to walk the labyrinth in solemn procession”, he declared and led off. I had never walked a labyrinth before (not counting the mini-one that we met at the Bodalla Anglican Church), so I thought I would give it a go. There were a few others already on the twisty design, but they were chatting and laughing, whereas we, as instructed by Josh, walked quietly. I actually overtook Josh at one point (I was happy to do this exercise, but I wasn’t going to spend all day doing it), and had the opportunity to film the other two as they finished. The whole exercise added about 15 minutes to our walk (yes, I know, I was supposed to be having spiritual meditations as I did the labyrinth, but all I could think of was how long this was taking, and that it was adding distance to my blistered feet). It produced a very interesting pattern on the gps mapping app on my phone and iPad…
We then walked through a glade of very tall pine trees, and up the path leading past Centennial House towards the entrance. Once again, Josh was diverted by the sight of two cannons on the lawns. “I know what these are”, he declared and hurried to confirm his hunch. Yes, they were Russian guns, souvenirs from the battle of Sebastopol. There was some very strange kind of elven football player statue nearby (I couldn’t work out what it was commemorating, even from the inscription), and another statue of a 19th Century gentleman with a big beard. I went over to investigate, and Josh called out “Who is it?” “The man after whom these grounds are named”, I answered. “Mr Centennial?”, Josh asked. “No,” I replied, “Mr Parkes”.
Again, I found myself waiting at the gates of the Park for the other two to catch up. It was then that I rather testily declared that St Mary had said “We are travellers here – NOT tourists”. As it was already 1pm, it made sense to make a meal stop. We were just at the start of Oxford Street, and Josh said we should go into the first place that had good beer and wasn’t “louche”. The Light Brigade Hotel fit the bill, although we did have to put up with loud American football commentary on the overhead TV screen (why?). The “quick” meal lasted over an hour. I was watching the clock. When we stepped back onto the street from the air-conditioned pub we really felt the heat. The sun was getting lower in the sky too, and we were facing into it.
Sean was still wanting to walk the Federation Trail, but I told him that we were going to walk all the way along Oxford Street which, for all its queerness, was actually an almost entirely straight route into the city… We stopped at Sacred Heart Church, which is part of the complex of Notre Dame University, and went inside to say prayers and get out the sun for a little while. Holy water, besides being a wonderful sacramental for blessing oneself, is also very refreshing when applied to the head. I was amused to find that the bowl which was used for the holy water stoop was one of the old communion bowls from the 1986 Papal Tour (I have several of them in my office at work which we use as cake plates). There is a rather impressive mosaic of Jesus (with his Sacred Heart visible) above the altar and centrally placed tabernacle with a very welcoming gesture. I liked it. Josh didn’t. It was striking to see a picture of Archbishop Anthony under the picture of the pope in the narthex. Completely normal, of course, but I had not been in Sydney since his installation 5 years ago, and so it particularly struck me. I am hopeful of catching up with him some time over the weekend. Just as we were leaving the church, an Indian security officer began closing the doors. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Shutting the church – it is almost 3 o’clock”, he replied. I wondered what happened at 3pm in Oxford Street that required the church to be secured so early.
Just before 3pm on 26 April 2019, the first three MacKillop-Woods Way pilgrims reached Hyde Park, and I declared that we had successfully walked from Melbourne to Sydney. Josh then raised the rather inconvenient fact that we had in fact left from Fitzroy and East Melbourne, not Melbourne as such. I figure East Melbourne is still within the City of Melbourne Council boundaries, so it counts. Moments later, at exactly 3pm, we entered St Patrick’s Cathedral, and thus became (I am willing to bet this to be true) the first people ever to walk from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Inside, I lighted eleven candles again (for myself, Josh and Sean, Cathy, Maddy and Mia, my mother, brothers and my father). I noted their new dangled “no mess” candle system, in which cone-shaped candles were placed in glass funnel shaped containers, so that when they burned out the wax and burning wicks fell through into a tray full of water underneath. Brilliant! I was rather more intrigued to find that, as well as slots to put coins in for candle offerings at all the various statues and shrines in the Cathedral, there were also little EFTPOS machines which, with a single tap of the phone, would deduct $5 donations. I visited the gift shop and was also able to buy a new Mary MacKillop pin for my hat (I had left the one I bought in Eden back home when I had my hat modified to add a string to it). We then went around to Cathedral House to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports. We were invited to make ourselves a cup of tea in the staff kitchen and to use the conveniences. While sitting in the lounge, the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Don Richardson, came and sat and chatted with us about our experiences on the journey. Josh and Don were very much on the same wavelength as far as the liturgy went, so most of the discussion revolved around the liturgical experience on Easter Saturday at Shellharbour.
It was now drawing near to 4pm and I reminded Josh that he had wanted to go to confession at St Patrick’s at Church Hill (Confessions, Monday to Friday, 4pm to 6pm). I asked where it was, and Josh said it was where we climb up onto the Bridge. So off we set toward Circular Quay. Then we looked at the map and saw that in fact, we had to backtrack several blocks. We arrived at St Patrick’s at 4:23, and Josh immediately got into line for Confession, leaving us to mind his pack and stocks. We took off our packs and sat in another pew and waited. St Patrick’s is a very fine church, and there was much by way of religious art and statues, especially of the saints, to look at. But the best thing to look at was the Blessed Sacrament, which was exposed upon the altar. Given how close we were to completing our journey, and how little actual formal prayer I had made on the journey on this leg, I thought I would take the opportunity to pray the rosary while we waited. I thought I might get one or two decades in, but in the end I managed an entire five decades, as the person before Josh spent almost fifteen minutes in the Confessional. (Dear Catholic readers: No matter how great your sins, please be brief when you know there are others waiting to go to confession after you.)
And thus it was 5pm, and the sun was just setting, when we ascended the stair case leading onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This was a moment where I myself would have liked to have dawdled a little bit and taken a few photos, and indeed Sean did exactly that, but my first duty was to ensure that Josh was accompanied safely and securely across. This we accomplished at a fair pace and then had to wait for Sean. Twenty minutes later and we were on the Northern shore of Sydney. Time, of course, to stop to buy a drink from a nearby grocery shop…
It was now really starting to get dark as we headed up Lavender Street to William Street. I reached the corner of William Street and looked back to find both Josh and Sean stopped absolutely dead still and talking to one another about a block away – barely visible in the gathering gloom. I am sorry to say that, mere metres from our destination and the final end of our three year journey, I lost my temper with them. I was deeply frustrated. It was now 5:45 and actually dark. I had been communicating with Sr Ann Pardy, the keeper of the Shrine, trying to let her know what our estimated arrival time would be, and having continually to revise it later and later and later. It was a repeat of last night, when Fr Tony was waiting for us out on the street in the dark, only this time it was Sister Ann’s turn. I spotted a small figure ahead in the gloom and waved my stick in the air, an act that received a corresponding wave so I knew it was our one-woman welcoming party. When the other two arrived only moments later, I recollected myself and apologised to my companions for my disagreeableness. We entered the gate of Mary MacKillop Place at 5:50pm. Sister Ann offered us tea or a cold drink, but Josh, sensing my mood exactly, said that he thought it was best not to keep St Mary waiting.
So at 5:55pm, Sr Ann ushered us into the Chapel through the vestry , switched on the lights and pointed us toward the low marble memorial stone on the other side of the sanctuary. We went straight over to the tomb, dropping our bags, hats, stocks etc. and falling on our knees. My eyes were streaming with tears as I placed the palms of my hands on the cool stone, and bowed down and touched my forehead to the tomb of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
I was so thankful that we were alone in the chapel, and that Sr Ann gave us plenty of time to spend there. When I settled myself down, I took off my shoes to give my feet relief. Josh said that that was not appropriate, but I shot back that as far as I was concerned this was holy ground and bare feet were exactly appropriate, blisters and swellings and bruises and sweat and smells included. Sean, having knelt for a few moments, was very soon focused on recording the visit by taking photos.
I was just utterly overwhelmed to finally be there. The first inscription on the stone we had seen as we approached was “Remember, we are but travellers here.” The next thing my eye was drawn toward was the note that Saint Mary was born in Melbourne, January 15th 1842, and that she died in Sydney on August 8th, 1909 – and we had just finished walking between both places. In fact, as Sr Ann showed us afterwards, the actual place of her death was just outside the Chapel, in Alma Cottage, where they have her bedroom set up just as it was when she died.
It was now 6pm and Josh led us in singing the Regina Coeli.
I saw all the vases of flowers on and around the tomb and thought to myself that I should have brought an offering to place on the tomb also. Then I remembered that I had done exactly that: I had brought a palm frond, blessed at the Vigil Mass for Palm Sunday in the Cathedral in Melbourne. So I took it out and laid that on the tomb.
I then got up off my knees and sat in one of the chairs nearby. Here I prayed for the Pope’s intentions again, and prayed for my father, to whom I was applying the benefits of this indulgence pilgrimage. I then tried to pray for everyone whom I said I would pray for when I arrived at the tomb. As well as for my mother, family, friends and work colleagues, I also opened up the Pilgrim Passports I had brought with me and prayed for every single host who had helped us on the way.
Thinking then about my family, I was going to call Cathy, but before I could, my oldest daughter Mad rang. When I told her where I was, she said “Wow, you did it!” She then asked “Do you feel free now?” Yes, I replied, yes I do. Both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, I felt like the pilgrim in Bunyan’s story who lays down his big bag of sins at the foot of the cross. But also, literally, I was now freed from the obligation of walking every step from St Mary’s birthplace to her tomb – because I had done it. The pilgrimage was over. Consummatum est. It is finished.
In the middle of these profound thoughts, Mad said: “By the way, can you transfer some money into my account?” Ah. The real world impinges immediately. After Mad, I called Cathy and Mia, and then I called my mother.
It was now a quarter to seven, and time to leave the chapel. As I mentioned, Sister Ann showed us the room in which St Mary had died, and then the room which she used as a study. In the dining room of the guest house, Sr Ann signed our passports and then offered us something to eat. Three times we declined, but the fourth time we gave way and said yes. We now know how to make a Sister of St Joseph happy: accept her offer of food! Three bowls of pumpkin soup appeared quickly and disappeared almost as quickly.
While we were putting our packs back on, I asked Sister to give our regards to Sr Marion Gambin, the current head of the order, who was away in WA for the profession of a new sister. That reminded Ann that Marion had left some gifts for us: a copy each of the letters of St Mary to her mother and a solid brass medallion of St Mary for each of us. After a picture was taken of the three of us with Sr Ann, we bade farewell and set off out the gate.
It was now 7:45 and we were all exhausted. Our task now was to find our way to Manly, where a friend was loaning us his apartment in the precinct of the old St Patrick’s Seminary. The quickest way there, we determined, was to take the train in from the North Sydney Station to Circular Quay. There we had to wait 3/4 of an hour for the Manly Ferry, so we sat down in one of the cafes and Josh bought us all a glass of champagne and we shared a bowl of nachos. At 8:40 we boarded the Ferry, and sat out on the prow. It was a pleasantly warm evening and we enjoyed the sights and the lights as we were whisked away to the other side of the harbour.
We arrived at the Manly Wharf at 9:20pm and caught a taxi up to the apartment. Unfortunately, the taxi dropped us at the wrong address and the directions we had by which to identify the right address, and then to use the keys to enter, were not very clear. It was about half an hour before we gained access. When we did, we each chose a bed and and deposited our gear. I immediately put on a load of washing, had a small glass of whisky (the first since the start of Lent) and, like the others, went to bed.