In the End…

Arriving at our Destination

 

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
(T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets, Part II, stanza V)

The Inaugural Aussie Pilgrimage has come to an end, but I am confident that it has really only just begun. 

Today was a shorter walk than most days and on level ground, but the terrain was hard going as we were following the railway from Kalangadoo to Penola most of the way, and where it wasn’t being used as a stock run (at one point we came across a permanent water trough installed on the railway verge) it was densely overgrown. The track itself was stoney and too rough to walk on for very long, so we often found ourselves in the paddocks with the sheep and the cattle. I joked that we should add an additional category to the passport: Camino by Ride-on Lawnmower. In the long run the ideal thing would be to have the entire line converted to a rail trail.

We travelled together for most of the day – for me the first time since the Nelson – Port MacDonnell leg. This was important for several reasons. First we wanted to enter Penola together as a team, but secondly this was our last day together and even if we were walking silently the companionship was important. There were seventeen on the walk today – we were joined by Vic and Moira – a South Australian couple who own the Cobb & co. Building across from the Church in a Penola and have an interest in developing the camino. Several others were with us who taken a rest day or two, so I suppose that about 10 or 12 in total did the full walking camino.

We stopped for lunch at the Kronghardt siding, where we built a small cairn of stones on the track. I added a piece of shell I had from the beach near Lake Mombeong out of my “Julian Tennison Woods” specimen box (the plastic container my knee brace had come in). On the way I found a few more specimens/souvenirs: a piece of rusty barbed wire, an even more rusty railway nail, and a fully intact tortoise shell sans any remains of its defunct inhabitant. While having lunch we met a local farmer, Ross Rogers, ploughing his paddock preparing to sow potatoes. We had a long conversation about the camino and the railway and the path ahead. Turns out his brother married the aunt of a chap I went to school with.

About five kms out of town, we shifted from the rail line onto the corner of a gravel road, Kidman Lane, at the point where it touches the line. From here the lane veers to the left of the line so that we need up entering Penola along Mount Burr Road. Where we left the line, Kidman Lane takes a sharp 90 degree turn. There is a strainer fence post on the corner which Luke selected to enact a custom that is observed on the Spanish camino. He collected an armful of stones from the railway and gave one to each of the pilgrims to throw at this fence post. I had a small beach stone in my specimen box which I had collected from Cape Bridgewater for the purpose and three that. Over the years, if each pilgrim does this, the pile should grow…

The Stone Post on the corner of Kidman Lane

At the end of Kidman Lane, our backup team was waiting for us along with David McLachlan who is documenting the last few days on video. We stopped for a group picture on the Mount Burr Road under the “Welcome to Penola” sign, before joyfully entering the town. Our immediate destination was the old school house beside the Mary MacKillop Centre – the official conclusion to the Camino. I first went into St Joseph’s Church to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and give thanks for a safe arrival. Then I visited St Mary’s shrine and lighted three candles – one for Jan and Carl, one for Peter, Suzie and Albert, and one for my family, Cathy, Mad and Mia. It was for these – and for my own conversion of heart – that I walked this Camino.

In the Mary MacKillop Shrine

At the Centre we were welcomed by Sister Claire, given tea and coffee and biscuits, signed the register, and received our “credentials” – the latter modelled on the Santiago Camino (too closely, in fact, as it referred to the Church of St Joseph in Penola as ‘this holy and apostolic church’!) in both Latin and English (the text needs a bit of work). I showed Sister Claire my small collection of artefacts and asked if the was a place in the garden where I could deposit them. She said that she would like a list of what they were and where they came from along the way, so I promised to do that this evening.

Signing the pilgrim register at the end of the Camino

We then were shown to our lodgings. Some of the group stayed at the Royal Oak Hotel, but the rest of us were at the Coonawarra Motor Lodge at the other end of the Main Street. This time I accepted a ride! The evening meal was at the Royal Oak where we enjoyed a good meal washed down with plenty of good Coonawarra red wine. Speeches were made and thanks given, a real celebration of the Camino, and Luke stamped our passports with the final Penola Stamp. I walked back to the lodge, giving thanks to God for a journey completed and looking forward to a good nights rest and the start of Holy Week with mass in the morning.

 

Wine at the end of the journey

 

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Almost there…

Railway line to Kalangadoo

Due to an error of advance planning, I ended up walking the entire day on my own. We had gathered at the foyer of Jen’s Hotel and were waiting to get going, and while waiting, I decided to go across the street to the Subway to see if I could get a cup of coffee. No success (“The milkman hasn’t come yet”), but when I returned to the hotel, there was no-one there except Sean (who wasn’t walking teh whole trail this morning, but starting about 10km up the trail at Wandilo). I assumed the others had all left, and Sean helpfully gave me directions to take.

So I set off at a pace to try to catch up. Along the way, I passed a butchers and popped in to buy a piece of fritz for lunch (thanks, Brian the Butcher!). Back out onto the street and then I found the old disused railway line towards Kalangadoo and started off. I was several kilometres down the trail, when I realised that there was no one ahead of me. Nor was there anyone behind me. I knew that several others were being dropped off with Sean at Wandilo, but surely I wasn’t the only person doing the whole trail?

The trail started off following the railway line before swapping to the sealed road that runs along the line up to the start of the pine forests. The ideal for the future would be if the railway line could be transformed into a hiking trail. That would solve all our problems. But it isn’t likely to happen any time soon – and for the most part it is currently too overgrown to walk or the locals have fenced sections off and are using it as a long paddock for sheep or cattle. As it is, we have had to find the most direct route which is, at the same time, a pleasant walk. I made the entire route out to be just under 40kms, but others thought it was closer to 37km (I think it depends if you wander about a bit or not on the way…). From the end of the sealed road (Wandilo Road) the route enters into an area of pine plantation and native forest conservation park. Here the road is limestone gravel road and very pleasant to walk along with very little traffic. After this came open farmland all the way to Kalangado.

It was in the forest that Adrian and Peter in the support vehicle caught up with me and let me know that, apart from Sean, Paul and Tom who all started 10km ahead of us at Wandilo, I was actually far out in front of the rest of the team. Apparently the reason there was no one around the hotel when I returned from Subway was that they had all gone around the block to have a coffee at MacDonalds. As a result, I had ended up leaving an hour ahead of everyone else. The fact that I was walking at about 5km/h – a tad faster than the average 4km/h we have generally been walking at – had served to put even more distance between us. Adrian parked the 4-wheel drive and went of walking back towards to the others, but Peter sat on a log with me in the forest and we talked together as I ate my lunch. After about 40 minutes I set off again.

The weather was quite cool today, with a couple of drizzly showers, so rather than putting on all my wet weather gear, I wore a disposable poncho left over from World Youth Day in 2008. It occurred to me that I should get my youngest brother – who is a canvas worker by trade – to whip up a heavy duty poncho for me for the future.

Once I was reassured that I was not alone on the trail, I didn’t mind at all walking on my own for the almost 8 hours that it took me to cover the distance today. I had a lot of time to reflect on things and to pray. I can recommend a day of solitude on a Camino. When you are with others you are either talking or listening – except in the rare and valuable times when you are simply walking companionably. If you are talking or listening, you aren’t really giving any attention to what’s going on within you or whats going on around you.

I actually caught up with the advance party of Sean and Paul just five minutes before entering town. Tom had already gone ahead and checked into the Kalangadoo Hilton, so I was the second person in and the first to have done the whole walk, at about 4:30pm. The pub is a typical small town local watering hole. Ian, the publican, is a native of Loxton. He has been very welcoming – making a good impression by pouring me a beer as soon as I entered the bar from off the street. ‘The ladies have what beds there are about the place, and the blokes have floor space for their blow up mattresses and sleeping bags. That may sound primitive, but to make up for it, the hotel has a bath (!!!) and good hearty meals.

The last pilgrim eventually came in at 7pm. Aside from possibly the first day at Cape Nelson, this was probably the longest walk for the pilgrimage. There is no internet connection here, so I will have to upload it tomorrow – possibly at lunch, as I had a good connection almost all the way here. They say if I go out into the middle of the cross road up the street, I will get a connection… Bring on the NBN.

While writing up this entry, I sat outside the pub and smoked my pipe. I made very little progress with writing as the locals gathered at the waterhole are all curious about what the hell we are doing. As with most pubs, you get people who are polite and people who are crude, but they are all friendly.

I have found multiple opportunities on the Camino to turn the conversation to matters of faith and the Gospel. I was telling Luke last night that I think that this little venture is very true to the New Evangelisation – although that is a term that probably few on the Camino would understand.

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Encounters along the Way

Today, at last, we left the sea shore and began heading north. It was a completely different kind of day to previously, because I had predetermined to visit my brother Gary who lives on the North West corner of Mount Shank, about 2/3 of the way between Port MacDonnell and Mount Gambier. Sean asked if he could come along with me, as he wished to check out the possible routes and to try out his European designed and made luggage trolly. 

I had been looking at the satellite pictures on my iPad, and Sean had been looking at surveillance maps, and together we were curious to discover what the dotted lines meant that ran directly north from where the Port MacDonnell Tourist Park was located to Mount Shank between the Riddoch Highway and Earls Cave Road / Big Hill Road / Ellis Road / Rabbitors Road. We set off on Millards Road, which was a road, right enough, but then continued on Starks Lane and Maneys Lane, right up to Berkefeld Land and into Mountain Path Road at Mt Shank. What was interesting about this route is that it is marked as a public throughfare on the map, but in fact there are no roads along these lines. What there is is a broad way, as wide as a roadway, but without any road built on it – vehicle tracks at the very most. There were gates across the way, but these were latched, not locked, and did not impede our progress – even with Sean dragging his trolley behind him. They took us through beautiful countryside right up to my brother’s place at Mt Shank arriving about 11am 17kms later. We did take a detour to the little Anglican Church of St Luke (where we rang the bell!). 

Walking around to Gary’s place, we had the first of a number of encounters with innocent bystanders: a little dog came yapping out at us from a house as we passed by. Not a moment later, her owner came out after her. We were introduced to Trixie, a four month old Jack Russell, and we discussed with her owner what we were doing – including the fact that we were dropping in on her neighbour.

Gary and his dog welcomed us to his home. From the inception of the idea that I might do this pilgrimage, I have envisaged walking past Gary’s house and dropping in for lunch. His wife (a school teacher) and children were not in as it is still school term in SA, but he fed us several cups of tea and a good lunch of ham and cheese rolls with cucumbers and tomatoes from his garden before showing us around the farm. He was especially interested in the Camino, and expressed an interest in joining us next year. 

From Gary’s home we headed northwest by a rather zig zag route, still following the public crown land throughfares: Bellum Road, Louden Hill Road, then Childs Road onto Rabbitors Road (the route the others had taken). Only the last of these is really a road – all the rest are tracks at most on the public throughfares. But the scenery was wonderful, as was the isolation. We were agreed and determined that this should be the official Camino Trail rather than the road that the others were taking.  

As we headed then into Mount Gambier (the full journey was actually longer than the map seemed to indicate – it was another 20kms), we encountered two more innocent bystanders. One was working in her garden (we did not get her name), the other “Brian the Lapsed Catholic”. Each of these were fascinated to learn what these crazy people walking past their home were doing. But the greatest joy, which simply made my day, was the re-encounter with Bevin and Monique from the Nelson pub! They were driving past and saw me, tooted and turned around and pulled up for a quick chat. They had been on a day trip to Mount Gambier as a part of their Nelson holiday, and were very happy to see us walking along the side of the Road. I have been praying for them, and will continue to do so as I go on.

Finally, a small moment of grace. As we came over the blue lake and down into the town, we came to the Anglican Church. I went nearer to take a picture, and saw lights on in the Church and cars outside. “I will go aside to see this great sight, why the window are on and there are cars outside”, I said to myself. And yea verily, they were about to celebrate the eucharist. In absence of my own Church, I determined there and then to attend this mass; Sean went on to Jen’s Hotel to book us a room. The Anglicans were very welcoming, and when mass was over, I told them about the Camino, and asked if they had a stamp with which to stamp my card. They found one and duly did so. “Why not make the pilgrimage ecumenical?” they asked. It already is, was my reply. But they are right, we should market it better.

Eventually I arrived at the hotel to find a room waiting for me, with beds with sheets, and with an ensuite shower. I prepared for dinner and went downstairs.

Two of our companions are leaving us tomorrow, Mick Dillon and his mate Carl. Mick has done quite a bit of the work preparing for this Camino, including having walked two thirds of the Way from Melbourne to Penola (he recently did the walk from Melbourne to Apollo Bay, and did the current route last year with Luke). However, like us, he has never walked the way between Bridgewater Lakes and Lake Mombeong. So, as much as we would probably make very odd walking companions, I said that that was my goal to complete that section too, and we would look into how to do it next year. 

At the end of the day, I calculate that we have travelled 165km, and probably have about another 70 kms to go. Tomorrow is going to be a very long walk. With my knee now strapped up with a proper knee brace, I have no doubt of making it, but I do need to get some sleep (and stop having late night conversations…)

 

Trixie the 4 month old Jack Russell and her owner at Mt Shank

My Brother Gary and I and his dog at his Mt Shank home


The Woman on the Road

 

Brian the Lapsed Catholic


Bevin and Monique from Edenhope on a Day Trip to Mount Gambier

 

Eucharist at Christ Church Anglican Church

 

 

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Crossing Boundaries

Stepping out on Eight Mile Creek Road

Today was “hump day” – we passed our half way mark in both time and distance on the Aussie Camino. We also crossed the Victorian/South Australian border. And left the sea shore for the last time. And I took a detour that I probably shouldn’t have…

A number of pilgrims left us this morning to return home. The reasons were many and they were their own. A rule on pilgrimage: you don’t judge another person’s camino. Most who left did so for reasons that they could not avoid – committments at home or physical inability to go on etc. They will return and complete the camino one day. One of those who had to leave was Fr Greg, who needed to be back in Melbourne. So we didn’t have mass this morning, nor will we on the rest of the pilgrimage.

So a smaller group left Nelson by the main highway. We passed a sign saying “32kms to Mount Gambier” – well, not by our route. We couldn’t get off the highway quick enough, what with the huge timber trucks charging past us every couple of minutes. Unfortunately, there was no other way to enter South Australia from Nelson. The Great South West Walk is a Victorian trail – it doesn’t cross over into South Australia. After about 7kms we turned south, and headed past the Piccaninnie Ponds down to the beach. After that it was mainly beach walking until we reached the Eight Mile Creek Road, and then we walked along that into Port MacDonnell – about 33kms in all.

My knee has been playing up something dreadful. I can walk well enough, but any climbing up or down hills puts a strain on it. Thankfully, there was little of either today, and is unlikely to be much more along the Way. Our support team went ahead and bought a knee brace in Port MacDonnell for me, and hopefully this will get me through to Penola in three days time. 

At one point I found the going in the sand on the beach too tough on my knee, and so I detoured off inland to find an alternative track. I rang Luke, who was about a km ahead, to say I was doing this, and he counselled strongly against it. “It’s all private land, and the sand firms up after about 500 metres.” But I had already committed myself and decided to press on. I walked along a boundary fence, with bush one side and cow paddocks the other. I soon realised my mistake when I came across a small tiger snake. Much more carefully, I pressed on, only to find a sleeping red-bellied black snake curled up on the track in front of me. I moved further out into the cow paddock, and was glad to get to the main road, where I found our support vehicle heading along. I declined offers of a ride – I don’t want to “cheat” at this pilgrimage and am determined not to accept any rides until I arrive in Penola. When I rejoined the rest of the group, I had to admit to Luke that he had been right.

While I am being very disciplined about walking the entire camino, my discipline did not extend to my alcohol free day, which I have been trying to keep during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays. The bottle waiting for me at the Port MacDonnell Tourist Park (where we have good self-contained bunk room accommodation) was just too tempting. I will make Holy Week an alcohol free week instead! We had dinner at the Victoria Hotel where the other half of the group is staying – a very good bistro dining room. I walked the 2kms back this evening to the park in the cool breeze, with my knee in its new brace, singing hymns with all the joy of a happy pilgrim.

Today I have been contemplating something one of the other pilgrims said this morning, to the effect that the real camino is the people you are travelling with. We really are a mottly crew. Over the last four days, I have heard many personal stories, and told my own a few times too. Together we have shared the things going on in our lives which, if not the reason for our doing this pilgrimage, certainly colour the whole experience. Not everyone is easy to get along with – I doubt very much whether I am sometimes! It is funny how we walk along, sometimes forming small groups and entering into conversation, but then just as easily breaking away or falling back for some reason or other, leaving the conversation to be continued at another point. Or not. 

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On the Beach Again

Pilgrim on the Beach

Not much time tonight for writing – and a bit sore and tired too. Today’s leg of the pilgrimage covered the one outstanding difficulty of the route of this Camino – the section between Bridgewater Lakes and Lake Mombeong – it is simply too long and too isolated to be covered without much more time, backup support and stamina. We will solve it one day, but for the moment, the only solution was a bus journey from the school camp at Cape Bridgewater where we were staying to the camping ground at Lake Mombeong. However, from here on it is walking all the way.

It rained lightly for the first couple of hours walking today, but was not cold and so was not unduly unpleasant. We walked on the Great South West Walk all day, the first 10 or so kms of which was in fairly thick coastal bushland in the broader swamplands associated with Lake Mombeong. We then went out onto the beach again, then a section on the dunes, and then a very long stretch, about 10kms, along the beach until we came to the Glenelg River. We then headed into the township of Nelson, and made base at the local hotel (although most of us men are staying up at the Kywong Caravan Camp 2kms away). We are five to a small cabin. While this means a cheap overnight stay, it also means reproducing the best of the Camino tradition, including snoring, coughing and farts disturbing the peace. I can’t complain too much – in this current arrangement I have scored the double bed in the main section of the cabin, while the others are squeezed into the bunks behind the curtain.

We had our evening meal and drinks down at the pub, and got to speak to a wide range of locals. A Parks Victoria employee came in with a baby ringtail possum in his hat. A older couple on holiday from Edenhope – Bevin and Monique – provided pleasant couple over the sirloin steak which was the kitchen’s special.

I found the opportunity to pray the rosary while walking on the beach today. There are very many in my prayers as I walk, but especially my aunt and uncle, Jan and Carl, and my good friends Peter and Suzie Holmes and their little baby Albert. I am also praying for the soul of Fr Des Byrne – a good priest who died just recently. And of course for my family, for Cathy, Mad and Mia. I carry you all in my heart as surely and as unforgettably as I carry my backpack on my back. 

Sticks and Beads

 

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There are quicker ways of getting to Penola…

Over Cape Bridgewater

The scenery is simply spectacular, but the going is tough on this leg. We did 20km today from the School Camp at the small Cape Bridgewater township around to the freshwater Bridgewater Lakes. I noticed that many of us were walking more on our own at our own pace more than yesterday. Perhaps everyone was talked out, perhaps the aches and pains are getting more pronounced (cold is gone, pain in the neck is gone, but now I have a dicky left knee – which I hope will also be gone by tomorrow morning!), perhaps everyone wanted to take in the scenery at their own pace.

Okay, so what is a pilgrimage? Part tourism indeed (read Egeria’s account of her 4th Century pilgrimage to Jerusalem), part serious hike (more than part on this camino), part exploration (“David! Where are you going now?”). For myself, it is all of these with the addition of prayer. I am very glad that this morning Fr Greg said mass for us at 6:15am. It was very simple, but the camp actually has a sort of non-denominational chapel that served for the purpose, and about half the pilgrims came to mass. Then I listen to the Divine Office using the iPhone app – all seven offices. And say the Angelus. And pray for all the people that I said that I would pray for. And listen to music. (Did I mention that Michael Nyman’s soundtrack for the film “The Piano” is the perfect accompaniment to the pounding waves of this coastline?).

I found today that the walking was very slow. We had hardly covered 9kms in the first three hours – but there was so much to stop to look at. You will find the same thing happens if you drive along the Great Ocean Road and stop to look everytime there is a sign pointing to something interesting on the coastline. I sped up a bit as we were getting toward the end. The glimpse of the Lakes in the distance spurred me on, and upon arrival I stripped off down to my compression pants and jumped in. It was freezing but refreshing. We then relaxed on the lawn eating our trailmix and tuna while waiting for the rest to arrive. A large hired school bus took us back to the camp at Cape Bridgewater, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon before having dinner down at the shore cafe which opened especially for us and provided a surprisingly good menu. 

There was something self-defeating in being brought back to where we started. That is the major flaw of this excellent adventure at the moment: the distance between Bridgewater Lakes and Nelson is just too great to be done in even two days, and on top of that, there is nowhere to stay in the middle. You would have to be a very hardy hiker, enthusiastic explorer and determined tourist to fulfil the pilgrimage via that route all the way with everything you need to survive out there on your back. (Which isn’t to say it isn’t an idea that tempts me). I am confident that in the future a solution will be found to this – once the camino becomes so popular that there is a demand to find a solution. Luke and the other pioneers of this pilgrimage have a number of good plans to enlist the support of the locals, the government (national parks/tourist) and the Church (both diocese and parishes) in support. I reckon one thing the camino needs is a plenary indulgence! I think that the local bishop can grant this…

Tonight in the chapel they are showing the film “The Way”. I’ve seen it, but watched a bit of it. There is something of that camino spirit on this trip, but this is definitely much tougher as far as the actual walking goes. We received the first sprinkling of rain tonight. And we expect much more later in the week. 

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It’s longer on the inside

On the Beach

We more or less walked the coastal route today from Portland to Cape Nelson light house and then to Cape Bridgewater. It was physically a lot more demanding than I expected – with a lot of ups and downs and winds and twists, and it was actually therefore much longer than google maps had indicated to the camino organisers. It billed at being about 32km, but clocked in at 37.4km. That may not sound like a great difference, but the reality is that around 36km in one day and strange aches and pains start appearing in various muscles  of the feet and legs. Still, everyone made it, even the two that took the wrong turn and ended up doing a 45km day. And one member of our group is 71 years old. He said to me at dinner tonight that he would never have undertaken the walk if he knew exactly how long it was, but I shook him by the hand and said: “You did it.”

Before leaving, I had a conversation with my myotherapist about my walking. “What do you think about while you are walking?”, he wanted to know. Well, I take in the scenary, I listen to music on my iphone, and I pray. “I think that must be the difference,” he said, “If you are praying that gets you to your destination rather than giving up along the way.” Today proved the truth of that. Everyone came through, and arrived at the camp at Cape Bridgewater. No one was hurt – which isn’t to say that we were not all hurting in our own particular physical ways. 

I am aware too that there are many on the Camino who are hurting in other ways. One pilgrim shared with us on the way the last 10 months since her daughter was hit by a car and suffered multiple fractures to the skull. The recovery has been slow, but it has been real – a sign of the power of prayer, she said. Is this why you are doing the Camino?, I asked. “I needed a chance just to get away and process everything we have experienced in the last ten months”, she answered, “and my husband was very supportive.”

One unexpected element along the way was snakes. Many of them. My first encounter this morning was with a dead one that I almost stepped on. I only realised it was dead after my initial recoil. But later in the day the reports started coming in thick of sightings along the path. The second encounter was when I had turned to speak to the bloke behind me and he said, “Did you see that? You just stepped over a snake!” But my final encounter was the most terrifying: I came around a corner at full bore (around 8.5 km/h) only to find a huge snake in my path. He (?) immediately went into fight mode rearing up ready to strike but then, as I hastily backed away, decided on flight instead, much to my relief. I had my walking poles ready to retaliate against any attack (the poles have more than one use on the trail). I think most of the ones we encountered have been Eastern Tiger Snakes – big, thick bodied buggers with yellow bellies. Other pilgrims later reported similar encounters. So, be warned if you plan this trip in the future! Talking about this later to Luke Mills, the creator of the Aussie Camino, he suggested that pilgrimage has always involved risk, and perhaps this is the particular risk of the Aussie Camino. How appropriate that, on a journey of spiritual discipline, the tempter should take the form of a serpent!

The way we walked today was scenically spectacular. We are not tourists, but that did not stop me taking many photographs of the journey. We mainly followed the Great Southern West Walk, which was along cliff tops and, for a goodly number of kms, on the beach. At this point, I put my music selection onto Michael Nyman’s soundtrack for the film “The Piano” – which was really appropriate for the crashing ocean waves, the broad sandy beach, and the thick fog of sea spray in the air.

Tonight’s dinner table was true Camino jolliment and cameraderie. I had brought six bottles of wine along which were shared among all present. We are staying at a school camp, which was also once the location of a Josephite convent. In the morning Fr Greg has offered to say mass for us at 6:15am before we leave at 7:30am, so I perhaps ought to get a bit of sleep! (I have just spent an hour or so talking to Luke about his vision for the Camino over a pipe). 

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On the Aussie Camino

Fr Kalka blesses the Scallop Shells at the Sending Mass

 

It is not my intention on this pilgrimage to write an exhaustive account at the end of each day. If you want to know what the Aussie Camino is, google it. You will find several good accounts from its creator, Luke Mills. In short, tomorrow morning, myself and about thirty others will leave Portland in Victoria where we are staying overnight and walk to Penola in South Australia, where we should arrive (Deo Volente) approximately 200kms later on Saturday night next week.

Yes, the Camino is connected with St Mary MacKillop – Portland is where St Mary’s family lived for many years and where she had her last lay teaching post. Penola, of course, is where she took the viel as a Sister of St Joseph and began the first Josephite school. But the Camino is not about St Mary, nor are we following any historical trail that St Mary herself is known to have travelled. 

Also, this is not Captain Catholic’s pilgrimage. I have met many of my companions, and some of them are lapsed or non-practicing Catholics, some have a tenuous hold on their faith, and some are not Catholic at all. Anyone who knows about the Spanish Camino knows that there is no requirement that participants be Catholic. In fact, it is almost as popular with non-Catholics as with Catholics.

That said, we (at least some of us) have been to Mass twice today. We started with Mass in the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre this morning at 10:30am where Fr Kalka blessed our scallop shells and sent us on our way. Then we arrived in Portland in time for the Vigil Mass at All Saints Church (next door to Bayview College where the Lorreto Sisters have their school on the site of the old MacKillop cottage). 

Still, a topic of conversation over dinner later in the evening at Mac’s Hotel was “Why are you doing the Camino?” The answers were many and various – and honestly, like myself, there were many who did not know why they were taking this on, but simply were drawn to it. One lady I was talking too said: “I just realised that many are intending to walk on their own – I thought we would all be walking together”. I responded that for some of us, it is especially the isolation that we are looking forward to. “You don’t expect to find God out there do you?” Well, maybe. I am rather hoping he will find me. I then told her that during my training for this event (which began only 5 weeks and about 460kms of walking ago) there were points when I found I was really entering a bit of a “dark place”. “Don’t tell me that – that’s not why I came.”

This is a new venture – it is only the second time anyone has walked it (Luke and his small band of companions did it first last Easter). But already the idea has proved enormously popular. There are a few kinks in the route. At the moment, you couldn’t do the whole thing without either a backup vehicle or a very large fully accomodated overnight camping backpack. But I am sure that with time the idea will catch on. Maybe our passports (yes, we have real “Camino-style” passports with stamps!) will become historical items! 

I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if I will even make it all the way. I have a bit of a cold, and a very bad neck. But I need to do this.

My spiritual director told me the other day when I went to be shriven before leaving “You know, historically there have always been two acceptable ways for men to avoid their reponsibilities? Going to war and going on pilgrimage. The Crusades achieved both.”

Well, I will content myself with my scallop shell rather than taking the cross. My responsibilities are where I left them. Tomorrow morning I am literally walking away from them. I don’t know what I am walking towards…

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Do you know this priest?

Earlier today, I came across this photograph below, and did not immediately recognise the priest holding the monstrance.

Wondering if others would have the same difficulty, I did a quick survey of my co-workers in the Archdiocesan office, and found that about 6 out of ten claimed to have no knowledge of the subject, although they thought he looked familiar.

Do you recognise him?

Pope Francis(Credit)

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Expressing Joy – or “The Empty Nest”

Where_are_they_all.JPG

I haven’t been blogging much lately, as you know. Lot’s been happening at this time of year, including teaching a new course for Anima Education on “The Challenge of Atheism” – which was a real challenge, I can tell you. But it was also one of our best attended courses ever, and I think both teacher and students benefited enormously. 

But I am writing this short post about a recent experience of “joy” that I had. Many people around the Archdiocesan offices know that for the last six weeks I have been playing “nanny” to 24 baby rats. Dot and Smudge, the two six week old female rats that I brought home in the last weekend of October, turned out to be both pregnant at the time the left the pet shop (we won’t go into details…). The result was that two weeks later Smudge produced a litter of eleven pups and, a week later, Dot produced thirteen more. 

The experience was somewhat overwhelming for me, and all will attest, including my wife and colleagues, that I have been somewhat obsessed with caring for my rats over the last six weeks. Well, last week ten of the first litter went back to the pet shop ($5 each) and this past week eleven of the second litter were sent back. Their cage, which is situated in my outdoor “hermitage/cave” now looks decidedly empty. No more bouncing and scuttling little rats at feed time, or sleeping bundles in the morning (you may not sympathise with this, but the experience of placing one’s hand into a warm soft heap of baby rats is actually very pleasant!). Aunty Smudge and Mummy Dot have only three young females left of their litters – Stripe (because she has one), Stumpy (because someone chewed off half her tail) and Persephone (because my daughter claimed the right to give at least one of them a “real” name). You can see in the picture Dot, Stripe and Persy with an expression on their faces which says “Where has everyone gone?”

The night before the last litter was packed off, I was walking the dog and reflecting on the experience overall. One reason I have identified that I have been so besotted with these little creatures is that I grew up on a farm where we always had a little of baby somethings around, be they puppies, kittens, chickens, piglets, lambs, joeys, emu chicks, whatever. This was an important experience of my childhood and yet it has been more than thirty years since I have had a pet that has given birth to a litter. So there was a bit of “return to childhood” about it all. I am sure there is more to it than that though, and doing the atheism course at the same time as raising the baby rats often had me wondering whether the rats believed in me (the god who daily provided clean bedding, gave them food and clean bedding and refilled the soy milk bowl). 

Anyway, as I was saying, I was walking the dog and took the opportunity of being out on the local oval alone to voice out loud my gratefulness by simply saying “Thank you God for my rats”. It was a simple act, but one which helped me to place it all in perspective and own it as a precious experience that was a gift from God. 

Today I found a link in Cathnews to an article in America Magazine by James Martin SJ on joy. In it, he says that if we are going to be truly honest with God in our prayer, we need to bring the joys and positive experiences of our lives to God as well as our needs and difficulties. Giving thanks, even for small things (eg. 24 baby rats), is a way of seeing all our experiences as gifts, and valuable ones at that. Out on the oval the other night, with the stars shining in a clear sky, one could be overwhelmed by the “bigness” of God – after all, he made all that, and on a scale far beyond my comprehension. But at another level, he was concerned for these little creatures, and saw somehow that bringing them into my life would bring me joy. 

So this post is just to say again: Thank you, God, for those baby rats. 

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