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 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.
I woke only once during the night, about 12:30pm, having been asleep for more than 4 hours. But I went straight back to sleep and didn’t wake again until 5am, after 9 hours of sleep. That is the longest that I have slept on this trip so far.
At this point, I got out of bed and began doing some catch up blogging/journaling. I wrote up both our Rest Day on Easter Monday and completed the story for Tuesday, and posted both. At 6am, I heard the shots being fired at the Anzac Day memorial service down the road. By the time I had finished my blogs, Josh and Sean were waking up. I had hoped to have more time this morning, but the minutes just seem to slip away when we are preparing to leave and we needed to be down to catch the 9am ferry this morning. We had a long day ahead of us – 27 km. I had walked further on Good Friday, but this would be the longest walk that either of the other two had done on this trip. I estimated that it could take us at least eight hours, if not nine, which would mean that we would definitely be getting in after dark unless we moved quickly.
Moya came in to farewell us this morning. Being a justice of the peace, she used her JP stamp to mark our pilgrim passports – a first! Ostensibly, it attests that the passports are a true and correct record of our pilgrimage! We headed down to the ferry via the RSL club, where we paid our respects at the memorial. There is a memorial near the jetty which commemorates the first Anzac Day service to be held in Bundeena on 25 April 1946 – 73 years ago. While we were waiting for the ferry, Moya and her friend Fran caught up with us. They had walked down to see us off and wanted to take a picture of us all together. This was indeed a kindness, as we do not have many pictures of all of us together.
The ferry which took us across to the mainland was slightly older than that. Apparently it will turn 80 years old in May! And still going strong. The crossing was a pleasant little harbour cruise for $6.80 each. When we arrived at the other end, we each bought a coffee at the little coffee and souvenir shop on the jetty. The girl behind the counter was very chatty, so we told her what we were doing. She knew who Mary MacKillop was and understood what were doing. She asked if we were all friends, and I replied: “Well, we were when we all started off!” She also offered to take our photo together. Sean bought me a souvenir Cronulla Ferries enamel mug. “That’s going straight to the Office for Tea and Cake”, I told him.
I was anxious to head off and set off at my normal pace, before Josh reminded me that we had to take today gently, applying the Leunig dictum of regular rests. I found this a little frustrating during the day as my “super power” (as Josh calls it) of getting faster and faster toward the end of the journey was starting to kick in. The route from the Cronulla wharf to Botany Bay is not direct, but basically we headed north past the Woolooware Station until we came out near the Sharks Rugby Club. On the way, Fr Cameron Forbes rang to give his condolences with regard to my father’s death and also to discuss leave arrangements. He was ringing from Indonesia, and we were on the move (I was supposed to be navigating), so we did not talk for long.
We came out onto Captain Cook Drive, where the police were out in force breath-testing drivers, and went through the Solander Fields onto the bike path that leads around the bay. Once again, what a difference a good path makes. Without this path, this end of the walk would be very unpleasant, but it converts the route into quite a nature path, skirting the coast between the mangroves and the industrial areas. There are some offices and some residential appartments along here, but their view of the bay is obscured by the trees along the path. Some have tried removing these trees, but the local council has put up “shame signs” saying that this area has been vandalised and the council will replant five trees for every one destroyed! As the path approaches Taren Point Road and Captain Cook Bridge, the industrial section gives way to a residential area, where the views are great but where the houses are still built on mudflats. Sydney folk will build a house anywhere if it has a view.
We crossed the Captain Cook Bridge (Josh needed just a little moral support to overcome his vertigo, so I didn’t get a lot of time for taking phots), and headed off around the bay again towards the west. As we passed the sailing club, some people asked us where we were walking from. When we replied “Melbourne” they let out some cheers of encouragement and said “Almost there!” At this point we made a significant change in our planned route. We had intended to walk along the bay, but this would have been quite exposed to the sun (it was very warm), lots of people (the Anzac Day holiday had again brought out the crowds), and traffic. Instead, we found a bit of a track – nothing really clear – leading up along a waterway known as the Bado-berong Creek. The creek was more of a stinking drain, and the grassland and trees around it were an odd assortment of parkland, horse agistment, and overgrown jungle – even some market gardens further up the path. We decided to take this route, as it more or less led directly north to the Ramsgate RSL club where we planned to stop for dinner. The path though is not defined or direct, and between Russell Street and Sandringham Street we could find no through access and had to turn around about wandering in circles through the bushes. But from Sandringham Street onwards, we had no difficulty finding our way to the RSL.
We stopped for Yum Cha at the RSL – which I thought was a bit strange, but Josh didn’t think so. He said that it would have been strange if it were a sushi bar. The girls at the bar were very interested in our walk, one of them had clearly been to St Mary’s tomb and had said “You’ll love it when you get there.” The service was a little slow at first, but then the food started coming quick and fast. We had (if I can remember some dishes), deep fried prawn dumplings, duck, pork bun, dim sims, spring rolls and a number of other things before finishing with mango pancakes. We had checked our bags into the cloak room, and when they brought them out for us, they commented that my pack was much heavier than the others. I had been suffering from a bit of an aching shoulder, which was the first time o this trip that my new AARN backpack had given me any problems at all, so I thought that maybe I needed to offload something. The first to go was Sean’s muesli/granola mix – that got rid of about half a kg. I ate fruit I had brought, and drank some of the water. It wasn’t much, but it felt lighter afterwards.
We set off again, following the creek line through the Rotary Park. At points there was a proper trail here, other times we were just following where a lawn mower had clearly gone through the overgrown reeds with the hope that there was an opening at the other end, but the overall effect of this path was peace and quite and coolness and shade. At times we would hardly have known ourselves to have been in the Great City. After the Rotary Park was the Leo Smith Reserve, then Scarborough Park, then the Civic Avenue Reserve, then past the Rockdale Bicentennial Park, before finally coming out into Brighton-Le-Sands. At some sections of this walk the creek opened up into quite a wide waterway. But once we hit Brighton-Le-Sands, we were in built up suburbia. And by God, it was ugly. There was nothing at all to recommend the architecture for several kilometres. We passed St Thomas More Church, but it was closed up as tight as Fort Knox.
We continued up Francis Avenue to Bestic Street where we crossed but again did not follow our original planned route. Instead of following Muddy Creek, we went up a shady gap between the sports fields and the houses on the western side, then between some market gardens and the Riverine Park Wetlands. Then we kept going north through Banksia Field and Eve Street Wetlands. Finally we came out onto the bike path that led underneath the M5 East road. This took us on along Marsh Street and toward Airport Drive, but before crossing the bridge, we needed a break. The Novotel Hotel is on that side of the bridge, and I went ahead to see if we could find someone for a coffee or a drink in the hotel. Instead I found a small coffee shop just closing up. The barista said he would be happy to make us a coffee each before closing. After I found Josh and Sean, who had lost me as I was walking around the hotel precinct, we did enjoy a coffee and a cool drink each. The Barista wanted to know if the coffee was as good as the coffee in Melbourne, and we said he could tell his mates that we had walked 1250 km for a cup of his coffee! It was 4pm already, so I rang Fr Tony at the Chevalier Centre to say I didn’t think we would be in til 6pm. We ended up spending about 40 minutes there, which put us very behind schedule.
We then headed up over the Airport Drive bridge over Cooks River and followed the bike path past the Airport along Alexandra Canal. Sean and I, more so than Josh, I think, were fascinated by the planes coming in to land and trying to photograph them. I caught some great video footage of a plane coming in right above our heads. The sun was setting by the time we passed the Nigel Love Bridge and came out into Coward Street in Mascot. This lead us directly East for some distance, until we turned up Maloney Street in Roseberry. It was now 6pm and in the middle of this street, quite apart from any other shops, we came across a street side pizza shop. I proposed that we stop for dinner, since there was nothing particularly close to the Chevalier Centre, and once we arrived we were unlikely to want to go out again. This decision was met with approval, and we ordered the 2 large pizza meal deal with garlic bread and soft drink – a Greek Lamb pizza (in honour of the Greek Orthodox Easter this weekend – we had passed a Church where they were beginning their Maundy Thursday liturgy) and a cherry tomato, parmesan and prosciutto pizza. Both were excellent. I had some red wine left over from last night in one of my drink bottles, so we made quite a feast of it. Our “last supper” before the big day.
I had called Fr Tony to let him know that we had decided to stop for dinner, a decision he agreed with and told us not to worry – he was waiting for us. At 6:45 we headed off again, it now being quite dark, and made our way over the M1/Southern Cross Drive on Gardeners Road, before turning north into Tunstall Avenue. We clearly had arrived in the “nice part of town”, as the general architecture improved considerably and there were nice lawns out the front of the houses, where just the other side of the M1 were derelict looking flats. Fr Tony rang to ask where we were, and when I replied that we were on Tunstall Avenue, he told us not to go around the long way, but that he would come and meet us at the gate to the oval on their property, which was at the highest point of the Avenue.
It was a glad meeting, being the latest of any of our arrivals since our fateful Tathra experience. He led us by the light of my iPhone torch (also shades of Tathra) across the oval to the large imposing buildings which were once the Seminary of the Order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, but is now a retreat centre. He showed us inside, pointed out where we could have breakfast, signed and stamped our pilgrim passes, gave us our keys and wifi passwords, and told us that our stay would be gratis – for which we are very grateful. Josh quickly went off to shower and to bed, while I started trying to catch up on the blog and upload my photos and Sean worked on his journey. I sat in the Breakfast room and drank tea while writing until about 10:30pm when I needed to go to bed.
When Sean and I arrived in Bundeena tonight at Moya’s place, Josh asked us how our route had been. “A bit of a curate’s egg,” was my reply, that is, bits of it were excellent. Other bits, not so good.
In many ways, I had been looking forward to today as a highlight of the whole pilgrimage – indeed right from the very start of our planning four years ago. I was hoping to enter Sydney (“that Great City”) via the Coast Walk through the Royal National Park along the cliffs. Common sense took over a few days ago, when it was clear that a) 31 km was too far for us to do in one day with our packs and b) our bodies were nearing exhaustion and would not have been able to endure the climbs involved. Having done the Kiama Cliff walk and the Kangarutha Trail at Tathra, we had a pretty good idea of what it would be like, and I realised that I had to put this one back on the bucket list for later.
Instead, we determined to go up the centre of the Park, via the Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. Given that I had already climbed up to Otford Station, starting from there and walking to Bundeena would be in the vicinity of 23 or 24kms, which would be much more manageable. We thought too that Josh might decide to come with us, but in the end, he decided to stick to his original plan of taking the train from Stanwell Park to Heathcote, and walking through to Cronulla from there and taking the ferry over to Bundeena to meet us. This was about the same distance (19 km, he thinks), and avoided the high hills and clifftops that otherwise bring on his fear of heights (vertigo makes him freeze).
We all had to catch the 8:48 train from Stanwell Park Station, so we were up fairly early. Anne came over to tidy up after us, so was there when we left. Sean went up to the Cafe to order takeaway coffee for himself and Josh, and Josh followed him after a while, as I was still packing. I said thanks and farewell to Anne at 8:30, leaving a fairly narrow window to climb up the hill. I had walked up it the day before without my backpack, but what a difference an extra 12kg makes! I was already feeling the strain when I arrived at the cafe, only to find Josh and Sean still waiting for their coffees. Josh was on the verge of saying “forget it”, when they produced two coffees in take away cups, and we all headed off. We were all exhausted and drenched in perspiration by the time we made it to the top – with only a couple of minutes to spare. I have found the one of the most useful training exercises I have done for this trip was to climb the Parliament Station escalator stairs in Melbourne from Platform 4 at the bottom to the top without stopping while carrying my heavy briefcase. It is more psychology than anything else. In this case, it didn’t matter how tired I was when I got there, I needed to be on that train or we would lose another hour waiting for the next one.
Of course we made it, and were soon up at Stanwell Tops Station where I had spent an anxious hour and half the night before. Josh was staying on the train, so we waved him off. Sean and I then took the steep stairway up the hill on the Eastern side of the station – I had come in on the Western side from Lady Carrington Road the night before. This track is called “Station Road” and “Farnshaw Road” on the map, but they are really just fire trails rather than roads as such. The way is very steep, however, and after last night’s rain, the track was quite slippery in places. Farnshaw Road comes out on Lady Wakehurst Drive, and the entrance to the Royal Coast Track is just a little further north up the road on the right. For the first 2km or so, we followed the same route that would have taken us on the cliff walk. This continued the very steep climb upwards, and skirted very close to the cliff edge. This would not have been suitable for Josh to attempt at all. Signs were warning parents to “supervise young children”, but there is no way I would bring a young child up here. For all that, it was very beautiful – predominantly rainforest and rock formations. Near the summit, we veered left onto the Garrawarra Ridge Trail at about 10am. This trail goes along the ridge (as the name suggests) for about 4 km more on a wide and even track before coming out at the Garrawarra Farm Carpark. The highest point we reached was about 285m somewhere above the Figure 8 Pools.
On this section of the track we met a young Frenchman who was studying for a year at Sydney University and had come down to explore for the day. We commiserated with him over the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, but he admitted that he had only ever been inside it once, and that was because a friend had come from overseas and wanted to see the tourist sights. We talked a little about what we were doing, and he asked how we managed to walk so far. So I shared with him the Leunig poem “How to get there”. He in turn drew our attention to a poem by the Greek poet, Cavafy, called “Ithaka” which I had not previously known, but, upon reading it, found it strangely appropriate to our journey. We had sat down for a rest as we were having this conversation, and as he walked on, I called out after him “Hope your road is a long one!” – and he laughed.
Once we reached the Garrawarra Farm carpark, the experience of the day turned from exceptional to very ordinary. The carpark was full, and the short unsealed road leading to it was streaming with constant traffic. This only became worse when got out onto Sir Bertram Stevens (SBS) Drive. This road was almost exactly like the road out of Jarvis Bay, but with even more traffic. There was virtually no verge on which to walk and very little shade either. We stopped at about 11:45am at the Curra Moors Track entrance carpark for a rest and an early lunch. While sitting there, enjoying our lunch of kransky, dolmades, Camembert, bread and strawberries, I received a text from David Spike with condolences and encouragement of his prayers. I decided to give him a call, and talked with him until we had eaten all our food and decided to push on.
Just before 1pm, while still on the SBS Drive, we came over a crest and there in front of us was The Great City. We had had glimpses of the other side a few times already along the road, but this time we could clearly see the Sydney Tower on the horizon. As per custom, when pilgrims sight their destination, we knelt and gave thanks to God and prayed for a safe conclusion to our journey.
We continued on the relentless SBS Drive for almost 6 km before turning right onto the Bundeena Road at 1:35pm. If we thought the Bundeena Road would have less traffic or better walking conditions, we were wrong, although we found that walking on the Western side of the road gave us some shade. After another 4 km or so, at 2:25pm, we decided to take the turn off to the right towards Maianbar, the other settlement on the north shoreline of the Royal National Park, West of Bundeena. This was a good decision. The road down to Maianbar is relatively new, and had a feature that the SBS Drive should have had – wide cycle lanes on either side of the road. One might hope that eventually the SBS Drive will be upgraded with the same feature – although a better idea would be to put an entirely separate track for walkers and cyclists a few metres off the road into the bush. The other nice feature of the Maianbar Road is that it had virtually no traffic.
We sat and rested in the bushes on the side for a while (as per Leunig’s instructions: “Sit down and have a rest every now and again, / But keep on going, just keep on with it.”) When we arrived on the outskirts of Maianbar, I walked over and sat down in a school bus shelter and rang Fr Tony at the Chevalier Centre in Kensington to check our accommodation booking. He seemed surprised at first, but then checked his books and said yes, he had our booking. He thanked me for ringing to remind him. I was glad I did! I also sent through a message to Archbishop Anthony’s diary secretary to let her know to let him know that we had arrived in his Archdiocese. While I was sitting on the seat, Sean came up and photographed a large spider in its web – the web covered about 1/4 of the front of the bus shelter. I must have just missed walking straight into it as I rushed to plonk myself on the seat!
The Maianbar Road skirts around Maianbar before entering it, so we didn’t go into the village – instead, we took a steep rough track that led down to a bridge over the Cabbage Tree Basin inlet. This track leads into the back end of Bundeena from the West. It goes through an old section of the Bonnie Vale camp ground in which there are a number of old asbestos shacks still standing. But there were signs up everywhere about the danger of asbestos and all but the marked walking track was closed to traffic of any kind. Apparently there were once some 170 such cabins in the area and that most of these were demolished years ago but – as we learned later from Moya – an unscrupulous demolition contractor had simply buried the asbestos on site and now it was all emerging into the open air.
At this point, Josh was coming across on the Ferry, having completely exhausted himself on his section of the walk. Moya texted to offer to pick Josh up in her car, an offer Josh gladly accepted. Sean and I walked into town past the “Our Lady of the Way” Catholic Church. This is nothing particular to admire architecturally, and there was no statue of Our Lady of the Way as when we last saw her in a grotto in the garden of the Bairnsdale Presybytery, but nevertheless, we took the dedication as a good sign. The we made our way up to the RSL club for a beer. While sitting there, I rang Josh. He had been picked up by Moya, and they had had a good long chat before she had to go off to tend to a palliative care patient. I asked Josh what he wanted to do about dinner, and he didn’t want to go out, so I went down to the IGA store and bought food and wine and beer to make a pasta and salad dinner.
Sean and I then shouldered our packs and pushed on up the hill to Moya’s house. This house is made available to people and families from Sydney who are in need of a break or a holiday but can’t afford the usual commercial prices. The rooms are comfortable and the kitchen is well stocked. We met Moya when she came back from her errand and she made us very welcome. She was not charging us to stay in the house, but I felt it right to make a donation. Josh had the room in the back porch, Sean had the bunk bedroom and I had the main bedroom with the queen bed facing the beach. I made dinner while we chatted about the day. My brother Ken sent through the draft of my father’s memorial card, which he wanted us to look over. Josh and I did some redrafting and I sent back our suggestions. They have chosen a really beautiful picture of my father, gently smiling and looking directly into the camera with a sparkle in his eyes. I hadn’t seen it before, but have saved it in my phone favourites list to keep.
After dinner, I was feeling so tired that I asked Josh and Sean to do the cleaning up in the kitchen and went to bed. It was only 8pm, but I went straight to sleep. Josh says that he came in to check at 8:30pm to see if I was still up blogging, but that I was completely out to it.
During the night, Wollongong was hit with a sudden thunderstorm, which woke me up at about 1:30am. The heavy rain continued on and off until dawn. I was awake half the night with anxious worry for the coming day – the weather apps predicted showers through the day as well as overnight. But when dawn finally arrived, there was no sign of the previous night’s clouds. The sun was shining, and it was warm and humid. I got up immediately and showered and prepared to go around to the Cathedral for 6:45am Morning Prayer and 7am Mass.
Morning Prayer was led by the parishioners. I enjoyed this greatly, and cannot think why all parishes, and especially all Cathedrals, do not follow this practice. There were a fair few present for Mass when it started at 7am, and Josh slid into the pew beside me. Fr Anthony Ha announced the opening hymn “By every nation race and tongue”. At last! An easter hymn I could get my teeth and put my heart into. As there was no accompaniment, Father began singing, but I immediately took the lead with the pace and pitch and timing (the six beat bar on the last “alleluia” is always tricky) and Josh provided backup. Fr Anthony had already arrived at the altar at the end of the second verse, and there was a decided dropping off, but we pushed on with the third verse. Why stop when you’re having fun?
Fr Anthony led the Mass with the same enthusiasm and natural authority of the day before, this time comparing the “two ex-Lutherans, Josh and Sean, who are doing the MacKillop Woods Way with good intention” to Mary Magdalene, who had met the risen Jesus and found a new direction in her life. His facts were a little garbled, but his point was excellent. He offered the Mass for my father, Les, and (contrary to strict rules, since my Dad was not a Catholic) included his name in the Eucharist prayer for the departed faithful. I really appreciated that. This was, for me anyway, my father’s funeral mass.
After mass, Father Anthony introduced us to members of the congregation. Josh was talking animatedly to a parishioner whom he seemed to have known all his life – and it turned out that he did know her. Both Trudy and Josh were surprised to see each other in the Cathedral that morning. However, Josh and I both wanted to go to confession, given that we will be completing our pilgrimage in the next few days, and when we looked around, Fr Anthony was disappearing back towards his house. So we gave chase and caught him on the back veranda as he was divesting himself of his chasuble. When we explained we wished to make our confessions, he immediately came back to the Cathedral for us. I went first, and then Josh. While Josh was in the box, I went to pray in the special Mary MacKillop Chapel that I had missed yesterday – Sean had seen it and drawn my attention to the relics that were in the chapel.
Then Josh’s friend Trudy offered to drive us back to the hotel – but as it turned out, she found a park that was no closer to the Harp than the Cathedral was. But it was right next door to the Lutheran Church, a dark brick 70’s affair that was wedged between an oversized Salvation Army centre and legal firm, but nevertheless quite central in the city. We found Sean having his morning coffee in the cafe under the Harp Hotel. Josh and Trudy joined him, but I went back to my bedroom to have breakfast, start packing and to talk to Cathy on the phone.
Sean went off to the station when they were finished, but Josh came up and had breakfast in my room as I finished putting the last bits into my back pack. I put on my toe-socks again from yesterday, and my heel gel stockings. I had been wearing my sandals with the new heel inserts, which made them quite comfortable and easy on my left ankle which is still giving me heebies. But today I took no pain killers and no anti-inflammatories, so it must be getting better. The blisters too are not growing and are settling down.
Josh and I headed out to the train station with about 10 minutes to spare. Sean was waiting for us. I am very thankful that all I have to do to get on and off the train is use my iPhone wallet to access my MasterCard – no registration or separate Opal card needed. I wish we had this in Melbourne. We travelled all the way through to Stanwell Park, and had a 50 minute window to walk the 1km to Doran House in Stanwell Avenue to drop off our backpacks, put tomorrow’s lunch in the fridge, put on walking shoes and gear, and get back for the return train to Woonona. Doran House is a large establishment, an old Christian Brothers house, which has bedrooms everywhere, upstairs and down. It is right next to the beach too, so (as I write this) I can hear the waves crashing against the shore. I had hoped to go for a swim tonight, but the day turned out differently to what I expected.
For one thing, the humidity did not let up. All day, Josh complained of “swimming in my own perspiration”. This was most acute when inside a building, like the cafe where we had coffee in Woonona. Out on the trail, it was usually more bearable. The crowds of holiday makers were thinner today – the families with children were still about, as school holidays were still in progress, but the rest had gone back to work. This was true also in Victoria, where, back home, Annie Carrett (aka “the boss’s boss”) had sent out a notice to all staff in the Archdiocese that my father had died. So I spent a lot of time replying today to text messages and emails for prayer and condolence – and even phone calls. Mum said that she has been having much the same experience. It is quite overwhelming to learn at times of such distress how many real friends I have, and the genuine care that my colleagues show for one another. It is moments like these that make me glad to be working for the Church.
Another great blessing to discover today is the new “Grand Pacific Walk” – a cycle and walking pathway from Clifton to Stanwell Park along the Lawrence Hargreave Drive. I had been concerned when planning this section of the trip that there was no walking space on the side of the road at the northern end of the coastal road. This concrete paved track, opened in December last year, made all the difference to our day. Not having our packs made the walking easy. We walked along more beach fronts and over more headlands as we headed northwards from Woonona back to Stanwell Park. We planned to stop for lunch in Austinmer, so we called in at the little newsagent/post office for a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The girl in the office was more than happy to do this, and said that she gets several people a week making the same request. It seems that some people just collect post office stamps. We did not end up eating in Austinmer because the cafes and restaurants there were a) crowded and b) not licensed. Josh looked up and found that Coledale had an RSL club and we decided to walk the 2kms further to that establishment. Still in Austinmer though, I climbed a narrow headland to find a concrete park bench looking south the way we had come, painted yellow and green. This was so unusual that I wanted to take a photo of it, and stepped backwards to get the whole thing in. Imagine my shock when, having taken the photo, I realised that I was just a foot or so from stepping back over the cliff edge. Scary.
In any case, the view seemed to reach all the way back beyond Port Kembla to the Kiama cliffs. I love the opportunity to view our progression this perspective. Looking north, we could see the Stanwell Tops Bald Hill Lookout and I could see my final destination for the day. Josh, who has a thing about cliffs etc., decided he didn’t want to do the Sea Bridge walk and so planned to take the train from Scarborough to Stanwell Park. Sean walked as far as Stanwell Park, but decided not to come with me up to Stanwell Tops.
First we had to have lunch though, and again we found out that the RSL club was not doing food today. So we went across the road to a bottle shop where I bought a bottle of red wine for dinner tonight, and Josh bought three beers (the last bottle of Karmeliet for himself, and a bottle of Duvel each for Sean and I), and then next door to the Mr & Mrs Smith cafe, where Sean and I ordered the Beef Burger with Sweet Potato chips and Josh had the Nasi Egg with pork belly bites (very un-Indonesian, I said). Here we noticed two friendly dogs strung up to the guy at the table next to us – both, according to their owner, had a bit of dingo in them. The dog owner, who did not tell us his name, nor we ours, told us that he was a barrister in Sydney who lived down here in Coledale. Josh kept wondering if the guy was someone we ought to know – someone famous, but was never able to put his finger on the identity. We had a good conversation, however, and were surprised when, without us as much as mentioning that we were Catholic, he raised the Pell trial as an example of the deterioration of what passes for justice today – especially in Victoria. He expressed the interesting observation that all his colleagues in NSW thought George would get off on appeal, whereas all his VIC colleagues had the opposite opinion.
It was already 2:40pm, so from Coledale I really started pushing ahead. At Scarborough passed one of the most spectacularly placed cemetaries we had come across on the journey – on a headland looking out to sea. The Scarborough Hotel has been opened again as a very family friendly pub. Sean and I dropped in only to use the conveniences, but it looked like the kind of place that would make a good pilgrim stop in the future. Not so the poor old Imperial just a few hundred metres up the road in Clifton, which is derelict, but surely would now profit from reopening with the new Grand Pacific Walk starting right outside. Josh caught the Scarborough train to Stanwell Park as planned, and Sean fell behind as I powered on toward the Sea Bridge. I remember this engineering feat well from my visit in 2014 with my brother on the CMA national run. In fact, seeing the paragliders soaring around the peak of the Bald Hill lookout, reminded me that I was about to come full circle (so to speak) returning to the place where I had visited five years ago and conceived of this pilgrimage.
Passing the Sea Bridge and Coalcliff, I came over the hill and saw Stanwell Park in front of me. And Josh standing on the walkway. I did not expect that he would have ventured out over such a precipice, but he was gesticulating downwards. I thought he meant that he was afraid of the height, but as I drew closer he more emphatically pointed behind me and downwards. There below me on a grassy ledge was a deer stag. I managed to take a few pictures before he disappeared into the brushwood. Later, the waitress at the pizza restaurant informed us that the deer in the area are so plentiful that they are being culled, since they are causing a lot of problems on the roads.
Josh and I walked together for a while, and he told me he had made a booking at the restaurant (which was, according to Anne our host at Doran House, opened only a month ago) for 6:30pm. I indicated that if I were to get back in time for dinner, I had to get a move on, and continued ahead on my own. I reached Stanwell Park at 4:45pm, and then headed up towards the escarpment on Lawrence Hargreave Drive. But the path up the hill runs out at Chellow Dene Avenue, and there is a sign on the left hand side of the road indicating that one should not attempt to walk up the road as there is no verge whatsoever. At this point I needed to make a decision. My only imposed rule on this whole trip is to walk the whole way to St Mary’s tomb – every metre. Yes, I know I didn’t walk over Sussex Inlet, and I will not be walking over Botany Bay even if I am going to walk over Sydney Harbour, but basically, if it is possible to walk a route, I intended to do it.
So, let me say quite definitively that, as it currently stands, unless they extend the Grand Pacific Walk all the way up to Bald Hill Lookout, it is impossible to walk from Stanwell Park to Stanwell Tops. You might be able to do it via the Wodi Wodi Track, but I’m not at all certain about that either, and it would probably extend the walk significantly. It would certainly be the “long way round”. Let me also say that tonight I DID climb up to Bald Hill lookout, but I don’t really want to say how I did it, because I don’t want anyone else to emulate this attempt. Just accept that I did and don’t ask awkward questions about how. If you intend to do this pilgrimage one day, treat the section between Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops like the section of the Princes Highway from Milton to Conjola. Don’t do it. Take alternative transport. In this case, I recommend what Sean and I are intending to do tomorrow: take the train.
So I arrived at the Bald Hill Lookout just as the cafe was packing up and it was starting to rain. It was also now definitively dusk and getting darker. I took a picture of the view southwards, tucked my phone and other electronics safely away in my bumbag, and headed off down the Otford Road. This road was a gentle incline downwards, with no traffic on it at all. It took me longer than expected to arrive at the Station, damp, and anxious that I was going to just miss the next Stanwell Park train. But when I arrived, I noticed that the next train was not until 6:33 – a full 45 minutes off. I tried to order an Uber, but “no ride [was] available”. I couldn’t walk back, dark as it now was. The rain was getting heavier. There was nothing but to wait for the train.
I answered some text messages, and rang Mum and Cathy – both said ring back later. Finally the automated train system announced the next train was approaching, but that it would not stop at this station. Nothing came. Then about 10 minutes later, it announced that the train to Stanwell Tops was approaching. Nothing. Once again, it announced an express train, and still nothing passed by. I was sitting alone on a deserted platform, and began to wonder if I had found a ghost station! This impression was not improved when, just before 7pm, a train rolled in and stopped at the station with all its windows in darkness and no one inside. The doors remained firmly shut. “Hullo?” I cried out. Nothing. “Anyone there?” I looked in the window of the drivers cabin, and it was also dark so I couldn’t see if there was anyone inside. I stood there for a while with the quiet stationary train alongside me and wondered what on earth was going on. Then the door of the driver’s cabin opened and a human being stepped out: “You need to go down to the other carriages”, he said, pointing to end of the curved platform that was beyond my sight. So I walked through the rain and finally came to carriages that were lighted and full of passengers. The doors opened and I stepped inside and I was whisked away back down to Stanwell Park.
What a relief. As I was walking down from the station to the Main Street, the other passengers told me that the train was 30 minutes late, but they didn’t know why. Later, Anne told us this is not unusual. I was so glad to arrive in the restaurant where Sean and Josh were sitting with the bottle of wine and bottles of sparkling water and two pieces of an “entree” garlic cheese pizza left for me to nibble on before the main course pizzas arrived. During the meal, I confirmed with Moya Turner at Bundeena that we were still expected. Towards the end, Anne turned up and drove us back to the House and settled us in. We each chose the luxury of one room to ourselves. I gave a donation to Anne for the use of the house, and we put the washing on. The others retired to bed fairly early, after consulting various train timetables for tomorrow. I wrote up this account while waiting for the clothes in the dryer.
It is just after 12 now, so I am going to bed.
I’m writing this three days after the events, and there have literally been many miles since then, so I hope I can recall the events properly.
I was awake and showered and chatting to Sean at 7:45am when I heard a bell toll in the near distance. This ancient device served its purpose: it was a reminder that divine service was about to begin at the Cathedral. As I had intended to attend, I immediately put on my sandals, grabbed my stock and scampered over to arrive in time for morning prayer. The Office was being led by the people themselves, much the same way as is common for the rosary to be led in parishes, and they were doing a fine job of it. Towards the end of morning prayer, the bell sounded again, and when the prayer had ended, the mass began with an unaccompanied hymn, “Christ the Lord is risen again”. The priest was a small, elderly and almost entirely toothless Vietnamese man, who was difficult to understand both because of his accent and lack of dentures, but whose open enthusiasm, joy and (almost apostolic) authority made up for any other deficiency. He conducted the mass and the homily in a way that made me feel as if today – Easter Monday – rather than any time in the last 36 hours, was Easter Day. It was a great pleasure to be able to receive communion again.
At the end of the mass, the priest came up to me to say hullo even before I could approach him. Sean also appeared at my elbow – he had slipped into the Cathedral toward the end of mass to take photos and now joined us in the hope of getting a stamp in our pilgrim passports. Father ushered us outside and sat us down on the bench as he greeted the other parishioners and then came to talk to us again. Even before explaining our pilgrimage, I told him what a comfort the service had been for me because my father had died only three days ago. He immediately invited us both back to his nearby home for coffee and a longer chat.
The back verandah of Father’s house was set up as a living area with a table on which were his papers, an ash tray for his cigarettes, a big jar of instant coffee and sugar and an electric kettle, a fridge and a bunch of chairs. He sat us down and made coffee for us as we began to tell him about ourselves, our pilgrimage, and my father. He told us his own story of being a minor seminarian from the age of 13, completing his training for the priesthood by the early seventies, but then, with the Communists taking over all of Vietnam, being prevented from being ordained. He made his escape from Vietnam only to end up in a camp in Malaysia where he lived for (if I have the story right) the next fifteen years or more. Finally, in the early 1990’s he was ordained a priest and was able to emigrate to Australia, coming to Wollongong where he has served ever since. It was when Father signed our pilgrim passports that we learned his name was Father Anthony Ha. We asked for his blessing, which he freely gave with an extempore prayer for our journey. His nephew and niece were staying with him, and his nephew kindly took a photo of Sean and I with Father Anthony.
Sean and I then returned to the Cathedral to spend some more time in there and to take photographs. I lighted 11 candles – for Cathy, Mad and Mia, for Sean and Josh and Myself, and for Mum, Ken, Gary and Terry. I was particularly struck by the replica of the World Youth Day cross, which had a prayer on it written by Bishop Peter Ingham, the former bishop of the Diocese whom I had known for since we were on the Australian Consultation on Liturgy together when I was still a Lutheran. It was particularly the words
“As we gaze upon your Cross, Lord Jesus Christ, we learn how to suffer, how to forgive, how to love. Put fresh heart into us, Lord; encourage us on our life’s pilgrimage to persevere in the faith of your Church so as to share in your glory. May your Mother and ours, who stood beneath the Cross, pray for us.”
We returned to the Harp Hotel (or “Mhotel” as was written on the door) and finished getting ready to go out. Josh was up and active, so we set off up the Mall through the City Centre to the shopping precinct. I had a bit of a shopping list, but first we needed breakfast. Looking for a food hall, we found ourselves in the basement of one of the shopping centres, which was a section of David Jones. Josh then reminded me of something I haven’t done for about 25 years – you can eat at DJ’s. Their cafeteria, compared to all the other eateries around, was quiet and uncrowded on this Easter Monday morning, so we sat down to a good breakfast of granola and fruit and coffee. There were Easter Eggs for sale at 50% off on a stand nearby, so Josh bought us each a rather fat and deformed “chicken” each and a small collection of chocolate sheep. I was given the black one, which Josh thought was appropriate.
Sean went off looking for his own shopping, while Josh came with me to the Anaconda Store. I wanted new rubbers for my stocks and some new socks. He wanted to get a carry bag for his back pack. He was not successful, but I found that Anaconda had their socks at 50% off too, so I bought a range of Injinji socks with glove-like toes on them to stop blisters (I had noticed a small toe blister beginning). I bought two thin wool liners to go under my cotton crew socks and a thicker pair of woollen socks, and single pair of toed socks to be worn with out the liner. I also bought a pair of bamboo socks. As far as rubbers for the end of my stocks went, they had a choice of two – $5 for the Denali set and $20 for the Leki set. I didn’t think the Leki’s would fit my poles, so I bought the Denali. (It later turned out that these wore through after two days too, so maybe I need to try the Leki ones next time).
Josh went off back to the Hotel while I then went to the Chemist Warehouse and again bought up big. Panadol, some more Voltaren tablets, gel heel cups to wear with my sandals (these worked very well), some ankle stockings that had gel heel padding in them – I thought these might be good for protecting my blistered heels while working (which they did – after two days of wearing them, my blisters are subsiding).
After all this shopping, we met at the hotel again. I put on my walking shoes and compression pants and various bandages etc. and we set off for our “rest day” walk. The idea was to knock off around 7 to 10 kms today without our packs so as to make the following day more manageable. Wherever we ended up, we would simply catch the train back to the hotel at then end. Then tomorrow we would catch the train to where we finished and walk from there. We also decided that in fact tomorrow we could take our packs to Stanwell Park and leave them at Doran House before continuing back to our starting point. I checked with Anne, the caretaker of Doran House, if this would be okay, and she confirmed that it would be fine. So we had our plan.
We walked down to the Wollongong foreshore and rejoined the bikeway. There were hundreds of people out with their families again on what was already a warm and sunny day. We walked up the coast all the way to Towradgi, where we stopped to eat at the local Bowls Club. They had $15 lamb shanks and vegetables, which were close to the best value and the tastiest meal that we had had on the whole trip. We set off again, and finally made it to Woonona after 10kms of walking. Woonona was conveniently close to the bike trail, so we thought that this was a sensible place to call it a day.
It was about 5pm, so we did some grocery shopping to cover us for the next couple of days – mainly for breakfast in the morning but also for lunch in the Royal National Park on Wednesday.
In the evening, after such a large lunch, we did not feel like a big meal, so we went downstairs to the Indian Restaurant where we ordered naan bread, onion bhaji, Palak Paneer, and vegetable korma, with lassi each.
And that was our rest day. We felt we had achieved something, and even though we still walked 10km, not having to carry our packs made it an enjoyable day.
I’m writing this account up in the Indian restaurant next to the Harp Hotel in Wollongong on Easter Monday Night, although the account is of Easter Sunday.
Having gone to bed comparatively early on Easter Saturday night1, I woke early the next morning, before dawn. I needed a cup of coffee, and Sean had left his coffee making apparatus and fresh ground Jasper coffee out on the bench. I boiled the kettle and made myself a fresh cup and started writing up my previous day’s experiences. As I did so, the sun came up to reveal the view from the lounge and kitchen to the south: the golf course and park and bushland shrouded in mist. It is a beautiful view that makes Murray and Iryna’s home very special.
Sean woke and joined me and was writing up his journal at the table when Murray joined us. Then Josh appeared and finally Iryna who busied herself making us a light breakfast of hot cross buns, yoghurt and juice. We bade farewell and headed off at 9am into another sunny day – already warm and humid. I was wanting to take the most direct route through to Port Kembla along Shellharbour Road, but Josh and Sean wanted to go to the old town of Shellharbour on the shore. As a result, we wandered a bit out of the way through suburban streets, and missed the opportunity to walk most of the way along a creek path.
We arrived in Shellharbour at 10am and were looking for somewhere to stop for coffee and a bite extra to eat. The first trendy cafe we stopped at was crowded with bright young things. (Mind you, these days everyone looks young to me – and perhaps I look old to them; in fact, a mother told her child today to “let the old man” use the drink fountain first before she had a drink.) After we had divested ourselves of our packs and poured ourselves water from the jugs and used the bathroom, we went to order our food and was told that, due to the crowds, it would be a 45 minute wait. We couldn’t wait, so we trudged on down the street to a burger joint on the corner by the shore, where they made us coffees and egg & bacon sandwiches, and they even had baklava for “dessert”! I brought out a little bag of Easter eggs that Cathy had given for me to share with my companions. This was our Easter feast!
We headed down onto the foreshore, where dozens of families with young children of all cultures were enjoying their Easter Sunday morning. We made our way around the headland, and the rocks, and the beach to find the start of the NSW Coastal Cycleway. The sign at the start said “24 Wollongong”. We followed this more or less for most of the rest of the day, although we shaved off some of the more windy bits by taking direct streets to shorten the journey.
Along this section, my daughter Mad rang for a chat. She was feeling the need to talk through her feelings about Grandpa, as I think his death was finally sinking in and she was beginning to grieve. We talked for about an hour of our memories of Dad, and I also described all the things I was seeing along the way.
We made our way along the shore to Pur Pur Point and Reddall Reserve – all the way packed with picnicking families. After a stop for a drink at the kiosk, we crossed the Windang Bridge, over beautiful cobalt coloured waters flowing from Lake Illawarra, and entered Windang itself.
We were instantly transported in a different world. From here on in to Wollongong we were walking alongside a six lane highway. The shops and houses along the side of the road were old and shabby. The landscape was scrubby. We were entering, according to the signs, “Australia’s Industry World”, and the exhaust from the stacks in the steel works were always on the horizon to prove it.
We stopped at the Lake Illawarra Hotel and ordered a beer each before finding out that there was no food being served today. So once again, on with the packs, and off onto the road. Because we were still following the bike path, it was not awful as such. There was plenty of room to walk away from the road and even a bit of shade on the Western side. We eventually made it to the southern business area of Port Kembla at about 2:30, and stopped to eat at the first establishment that presented itself – KFC. Josh thought that the “Family Pack” might suit the three of us, with 10 pieces of special fried chicken, mashed potato with gravy, two packs of fries, coleslaw, and a bottle of soft drink, thinking that this would do the three of us nicely. But when Sean arrived, he announced he was not very hungry, leaving Josh and me to eat the whole lot. Which we didn’t, of course, although we did eat all but two pieces of the chicken, which went into my back pack (and later on into our hotel room fridge for hobbit second lunch).
After this, I told the others that I needed to walk alone for a bit. By 3:30pm I had entered the industrial section of Port Kembla. I recalled this spot quite well from 2014 when I road my motorbike up here with my brother Gary and his mates on the way to the Christian Motorcyclist’s Association National Run at Stanwell Tops. We had been riding along the Hume for most of that day, and then had come down the escarpment into Port Kembla, arriving in peak hour traffic on a very warm afternoon. I remember it as being very unpleasant – vividly enough to recognise the very intersection where I was stuck at the traffic lights in the heat.
Anyway, that intersection was at the gates to the Port Kembla Steelworks, and from here on the bike path is right on the edge of the six lane Five Islands Road which skirts past the steelworks and railway. If you are on the south side you need to push through some bushes to get to the stairs which take you down to the path, but Josh and Sean walked on the north side, closest to the steel works, and they seemed to have the easier going. I stopped for a “tyre change” – a foot-refresh and new socks – and as I was sitting on the edge of the busy road across from the steelworks, a couple walked past hand in hand. “Nice place for a stroll”, I joked, but it didn’t coax a smile from them.
A most interesting feature of this route is the overpass at Cringila Station. According to Google Maps (and, Gaia Maps, for that matter), one should be able cross right over the bridge to the other side of the railway. This is not possible, as there is a gate at the other end saying “authorised personnel only” and “trespassers will be prosecuted”. So, it is necessary to descend down to the path on the north side and to proceed along Five Islands Road for another 500m or so to Springhill Road, another six lane road that leads eventually into Corrimal Street, the main street of Wollongong.
About half way along Springhill Road, I received a phone call from Ken, my older brother. He and my other two brothers were with our mother discussing funeral plans for our father. Despite the fact that my feet were very sore and my legs were aching, I found that this conversation took my mind off all other things, and before I knew it I was in the centre of Wollongong. I went straight around to the Cathedral, where the 5pm mass was still in progress. I walked in just during the consecration, and was able to receive holy communion on Easter Sunday after all. Again, the service was fully spoken with no hymns, but the building was beautiful, the pews crowded and the priest conducted the mass very well. Although I was hot and sweaty when I arrived, and not a little teary from the thoughts and family conversations that had transpired during the day, I was finally here. The Catholic Womens League ladies were distributing Easter eggs at the door, so I took one for myself and one for each of my companions.
I then made my way around to the Harp Hotel where we had two rooms booked. Rooms were about $100 a night – the same for Sean and I to share a room as for Josh to have his own. The Harp is a fairly seedy sort of joint, but the service has been good (we needed an electric kettle replaced as soon as we arrived, and it was) and each room has an ensuite bathroom and air conditioner. I checked in and collected the keys, and had just enough time to deposit my pack in Room 11 and to get back downstairs as Josh and Sean were arriving, both quite exhausted from the day.
After settling into our rooms (Josh, who has room 12, pointed out that the room next to him is number 14 – there is no number 13!) and showering and generally restoring our humanity, we went around to the foreshore looking for the Illawarra Brewery. As it turns out, there is still a bar and restaurant in the location, but the actual brewery has relocated up the road a bit. No matter, they still had an excellent range of beers, including two of the local brew. I ordered the IPA and the others had the Brown Ale. We did not feel like a big meal after the KFC lunch, so I ordered nachos and wedges, which was more than sufficient.
We had walked about 26kms today, which is not a very long day, but I was nevertheless physically and emotionally exhausted. The physical exhaustion comes from still having a partially bung back calf tendon and blisters on my feet, whereas the emotional exhaustion, which I think is actually the greater, comes from the inner grief and the deep and passionate conversations I have had today with family members.
Tonight was an “ear-plug” night – to keep the noise out from the Karaoke down in the bar. But this ended about midnight, and when I woke once during the night, all I could hear was the birds nesting in the trees outside.
This is surely one of the more unusual Easter Weekends that I have spent in my life. As a young boy, I remember one year that we all went camping for the first time with some friends up on the River Murray near Loxton. Dad took us kids out fishing in a little tin dinghy and I caught my first fish early on Easter Sunday morning before going to Church. Another time, we needed to be at the baptism of my newborn cousin in Adelaide, but we had a mob of flyblown lambs that needed dowsing in sheep dip by hand first before we left on the 2.5hr drive to get to an 11am service, which, of course, Dad got us four boys to help with. And more recently, there was the 2009 Easter in Rome, with Sunday morning mass with Pope Benedict on the front steps of St Peter’s Basilica. And now we are spending our Easter Triduum walking, walking, walking.
We left Billowview this morning at 7:45, but lingered in the town having breakfast at the bakery until 8:30. We then took the way down to the beach path, walking on lawns wet with a very heavy dew (and getting our shoes soaked as a result). It was already warm and humid, and this continued all day – with a bit of relief from sea breezes. The beach was already filled with the Easter holiday crowd. From this point onwards, for the next couple of days, we were walking through a sea of holiday makers, who magically parted as the smelly pilgrims walked through on dry sand. Just after 9am we came to the start of the Kiama Cliff Walk. To reach the start of the path – which is generally a soft, grassy (short) surface – we needed to cross the shallow inlet of the Werri Gully Lagoon. So we took off our shoes and waded through. Ah, what relief that was on my feet. It would have been nice to have walked all the way in bare feet, to give my blisters a rest. It could have been done, as the path surface was very gentle, but too risky.
Josh stayed behind and waved us off, as he was catching a ride with Brother Michael to Kiama (the whole vertigo thing made this section a bit of a worry for Josh). Sean and I have walked a number of cliff walks together before, including the second day of the Aussie Camino around Cape Bridgewater and the Killcunda cliff trail near Philip Island. This walk was a little more strenuous than the former and a little less than the latter. There was a lot of up and down, which had us perspiring, but also beautiful views which were inspiring. A lot of other people were doing the walk, including bunches of young people, families, a dad with his young daughter, joggers (mad) and mountain bikers (I don’t think I would want to be on a pair of wheels that close to the cliffs). It took us from 9:30 to 11am to complete the path and arrive at Marsden Reserve on the other end, at the southernmost part of Kiama. Rounding one more headland, we came to Easts Beach, where Josh was meeting us. He had carried about half our pack contents in a duffel bag to lighten our load on the cliff walk, but now we refilled our backpacks, and the addition was noticeable. I struggled to climb up the steep steps and hill slope on the north side of the beach, and the pain in my left groin muscles returned with a vengeance.
Josh led us around to a little cafe in Tingira Crescent – the “Little Earth Cafe”, which made its own popsicles. I had a mango and coconut ice, which was very refreshing. We talked to some of the locals about our trip, including one fellow who used to work for the highways and knew the roads to the south fairly well. It was twelve noon when we set off again, so we said the Angelus (the last time on this trip) and set off. By 12:30 we were in Kiama central. We didn’t visit the lighthouse – we could see it from the path and didn’t want to add any distance to our walk today. In fact, while we had planned to walk along the shore all the way, we shaved off some kms by going in a more direct route through the streets and along the railway line. Kiama is a pretty township, which has many historical and quaint buildings and attracts hordes of tourists, especially on this day, Easter Saturday.
We struggled a little to find our way down onto Bombo Beach, but Josh powered on while Sean was still looking at his maps, and found the path that led underneath the railway line and back onto the sand. I took of my sandals and walked in the sea water for the first time on this trip. It was lovely. Climbing over the Head on the other side, we passed “The Boneyard”, and old quarry area with some amazing rock formations, but which now houses the local sewage plant. Be thankful that the photos don’t come with “smells attached”. Around the corner is Cathedral Rocks, and Sean and I tried to find a way down to the beach here on the other side of the houses on the edge of the cliff, coming to a dead end where the old stairway is closed (“condemned”, according to the sign which warned of certain death to anyone who tried to use that path), and had to turn around and go back and climb up over the street road. Again, Josh was out ahead. I had to phone him to call him back as he was heading up to the Minnamurra Lookout – again, it would have been nice to go there if we were tourists, but we didn’t have the time or the energy, so we walked directly towards to the bridge over the Minnamurra River past the railway station. We were disappointed to see that the caffe at Minnamurra was closed, as we could have done with another rest at this point.
On the other side, the path led through the “Ruth Deventer Reserve”, following the railway line and the Rocklow Creek. This was clearly reclaimed swampland, with beautiful tall trees in quite a thick forest. It was cool and pleasant, although Josh was a bit spooked when he realised that our spider-friends had woven webs right across the path and were hanging metres above our heads as we walked through! Coming out the other end, we crossed the railway line and came onto an old abandoned stretch of the Princes Highway, now utterly devoid of traffic. I felt a small sense of victory standing in the middle of this three lane footpath!
Fr Denis rang to check in on me to see how I was going. I was able to report all was well – enough. This day has been one with my mind off my father’s death for the most part. That would be due largely to having the other two guys with me all the way. You can’t focus on yourself when you are walking in company.
We had to skirt the golf course to get around to the AirBnB accommodation where we were booked in at Shell Cove. We were glad actually at this point that we were not walking all the way into Shellharbour, which would have been another 5kms or so. Shell Cove is a new area. The house in which we are staying was not built when the satellite pictures were taken for Google. Iryna and Murray were waiting for us when we arrived at 5:15pm and showed us to our rooms. The accommodation is for three, but in two rooms. Sean and I had to share the queen bed this night, as Josh got the single room for himself (snoring). We had a cup of tea with our hosts, but then quickly showered and got ready to go out to dinner and mass tonight.
Murray drove us to Shellharbour City shopping centre where there was an abundance of places to eat. All Saints Catholic Church was just down the road in close vicinity to the shops – an excellent location for the mission of the church. Murray recommended the new Bavarian restaurant (one of the chain restaurants by that name), and Josh thought that would be good. We decided it was Easter as the sun had set and so ordered the meat platter for two with sauerkraut and red cabbage, preceded by salted pretzels with butter. We also ordered German beers to go with it. The pretzels were very hot and soaked up the butter before they disappeared into our tummies. Then the platter came: chicken fillets, pork knuckle, pork belly, kransky, bratwurst, frankfurts – more than enough for two and just enough for three hungry meat-starved pilgrims. There was a big doughnut with chocolate dipping sauce to finish!
We then walked down to the Church and arrived just in time for the start of the Vigil. We were given candles and told to go inside. When I suggested we would just wait outside for the service of light to begin, I was told that that was not right – we had to go inside. No, I will stay outside thanks. There were a few other rebels outside around the fire too. Josh and Sean stood at the back but I went straight up and introduced myself to some people (as is my want). Marion and Des – New Zealanders – were keen to chat and told me that Des’s Great Grandmother (?) had met St Mary as a little girl when Mother Mary went to NZ and she had talked about it for the rest of her life. Des had his missal with him to follow the mass, and they were very excited to be about to start this wonderful service to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.
So was I. I was especially looking forward to a celebration that would give me encouragement in the face of my father’s death. I wasn’t expecting too much, I think, to want to hear how Christ had conquered sin and death and brought life and light to all. I wasn’t expecting too much, I think, just to have the chance to sing “Jesus Christ is risen today” at the top of my voice.
The start of the service went well, but from then on it could only be described as a slow – very slow – the sort of slow where you can see what’s coming and start wincing long before the disaster fully reveals itself – train wreck. No, I can think of another analogy: it was like a rudderless sailboat on a lake, being blown hither and thither, occasionally coming to a landing and then drifting off into the distance again. It was joyless, boring, and utterly soul-less. It made us feel utterly depressed rather than jubilant in the certain knowledge of the resurrection. It’s not that they actually missed out anything or committed any particular liturgical errors – although they managed to reduce the renewal of baptismal vows to shambles. It was how the liturgy was done…
I have excised a long section from my draft for this post about the liturgy in which I gave full details, but have decided not to publish it. Likewise, Josh wrote a full critique, but I have decided not to publish that either. Sean just said “It made me feel again like when I was a 14 year old forced to sit through boring mass.” Dear priests, remember that the liturgy too is evangelisation, and that, if we faithful are indeed obligated to attend, it might be worth making it such that we want to come back next Sunday, eh? Just saying.
I guess that we were less than fully disposed to be sympathetic toward the parish because, of all the parishes that we have visited on this pilgrimage, this was the only one which declined outright to give us any assistance in terms of accommodation or even advice for where we could stay while in town. We were finally told, after months of trying to arrange something by phone and email with the parish office, “We don’t do that sort of thing here.” So perhaps you might understand our feelings when, leaving immediately after mass, we literally shook the dust off our sandals. We had found no welcome here.
Although Murray had offered to come and pick us up, we caught a taxi back to the ‘BnB. We are glad we did, as Iryna told us that he was asleep when we came in. We fairly quickly prepared for bed and retired for the night.
My dad died this morning.
But I am going to keep walking until I get to St Mary’s tomb.
In a way that is probably selfish. Mum would like me to be home, but she has given her blessing to me to keep going. My older brother says there isn’t much for me to do anyway. Well, there is. I need to be with Mum and my brothers at this time. But I have also found that I need to be with myself too.
Today, perchance, I was going to walk alone anyway. Last night Josh and I covered the three kms from the Nowra train station at Bomaderry, so that this morning I could catch the train from Berry back to Bomaderry and start walking from there.
I got up really early, and least the Old Convent about 7am. I walked around the town a little bit, taking photos. I love the fact that the Princes Highway, which was diverted from the Main Street of Berry two years ago, is still sign posted – and there wasn’t a single car on it when I crossed the street. Lovely.
I was going to eat breakfast at the bakery, part of the reason I left so early, but I was horrified at the cost of the food, and so headed straight for the train station. I tapped my phone on the Opal Card reader (I wish we could do this with Myki in Melbourne) and sat down on the station to wait for the 8:09am train to Bomaderry. I had only just sat down when my phone rang. As soon as I saw that it was my older brother ringing, I knew what the news was. Mum had gone up early to the Nursing Home, and entered Dad’s room to find that he had died. The nurses had not noticed this yet, so she must have arrived very soon after it happened. Mum had been with him yesterday before going to the Maundy Thursday service, and had rung each of us brothers to let us know that the end would not be far away. One of my younger brothers was on the way up from Mount Shank to see Dad, but had only gotten as far as Penola – St Mary’s town – when he heard the news. My other brother is coming home on Sunday with his family.
After talking to my mother on the phone, I sat and starred at the railway in front of me. It was so quiet, and still. No one else was on the platform or came on while I was waiting . I was the only one catching the train. I wept for the first time today while sitting there.
In Bomaderry, I had breakfast at the station bakery. More weeping. The chemist shop wasn’t open on Good Friday, so I went to the IGA to get some bandages for my feet and blisters. I spoke with Fr Denis, my episcopal vicar and friend about my plans for completing the pilgrimage and for leave afterwards.
Then I set off on the road to Shoalhaven. I had estimated that today would be 28kms, but in the end it was closer to 31kms. The first section was quite nice (once I got away from the industrial plant on the south side), and there was a wide, mown, grassy verge on which to walk. There was a constant stream of traffic coming towards Nowra from the North (this continued all day), but relatively little going in the same direction as myself. There was one or two spots – a bridge and a corner – where there was no verge, but thankfully the sparseness of the traffic from Nowra meant crossing these sections was not the same hair-raising experience as walking the Milton section of the Princes Highway.
Because of my blisters, I tried wearing my sandals to walk, which was okay, but then I couldn’t put the heel support in for my left foot, which put a bit of a strain on my sore ankle. In the end, I opted for the shoes, with one heel support in each shoe. This solved the groin pain in my left leg that I have been having for the last few days, which was obviously due to the shoes being different heights. But it did mean that I had to be constantly rebandaging my feet to avoid the blisters (now one on each heel) from growing and being painful.
I met a bloke on a bike coming the other way. He introduced himself as Matt Sweeney, and took a bit of the wind out of my sails by saying that he has done the Appalacian Trail a dozen times, the Camino de Santiago about forty times, and cycled around the world about a hundred times. I exaggerate, of course, but he was obviously very experienced. He asked me to connect with him on facebook (his moniker is ”The Aussie Crawl”) but I don’t do Facebook…
I continued on my way, dodging spiders on the one side and cars on the other. It was a nice day, but I was actually getting a bit warm. Mt Coolangatta (this is the original Coolangatta) was looming up on the left hand/north side, and so was Coolangatta Village. I was getting very weary already, and had barely done 12kms, but I saw a sign saying that Coolangatta Winery Estate had a restaurant and decided to treat myself to some fancy seafood. Alas, they were not doing meals today. So I pushed on a little bit further and came, as planned, to Shoalhaven, where I had a very good lunch at the Bowls Club: Beer battered blackfish with chips and salad and a bottle of 50 Lashes Pale Ale for $25. Not bad. I also ordered a glass of ice, which I put in a small ziplock plastic bag and used as an ice pack for my feet. THAT was nice.
All along the way, I had been listening to music – for the first time really on this trip. First I started with something calm: Max Richter’s “Sleep” suite. But then I went looking for Requiem’s to listen to, and remembered Zbigniew Preisner’s “Requiem for my friend”. The Lacrimosa is a real cry from the heart, and when it came on, I joined in singing with every bit of volume I could manage. It became something of a scream in the end, partly because I can’t sing that high, and partly because I was weeping my heart out.
So, leaving Gerringong on the Gerroa Road, I switched to a very old favourite – in fact, it was the first CD I ever bought – Mozart’s Reqiem. The very first bars set me to wailing once again. My God, music is a powerful lance to the boil of grief…
The Gerroa Road runs along Seven Mile Beach National Park, and yes, as the name suggests, it is almost 7 miles (11kms) of straight, wide, two lane road with thick forest and bush either side. It is unrelentingly monotonous. The traffic from the north was still a constant stream, so I walked on the western side. The verge is very wide here, so there is no problems with safety. It is just boring. Nothing for it but to crank up Mozart and put the head down and walk, trying to drown out the pain in my feet and legs and heart.
My feet demanded a pit stop at about 3pm and so I turned my phone on and found that Mia had sent through a nice picture of herself and the dog in the back of the car on the way to Philip Island. She had done a little bit of the driving, but now Cathy had taken over. They were in crawling traffic.
I tried ringing Mum but got no answer. Just the answering machine with Dad saying to leave my name and number.
So I rang my Godmother, Jan, Dad’s sister. She was glad that I rang, as she had thought about ringing me but didn’t want to intrude on the first day. We had a good long talk. She encouraged me to keep going with the pilgrimage, and we are looking forward to seeing each other at the funeral. She reminded me that Grandpa Schutz had died on Tuesday in Holy Week. I could remember that, because I had preached at his funeral, and I remember making the Easter connection. Jan has three other sisters, and had accompanied Dad and Mum on a train journey last year up to Towoomba for a get together with all the siblings and their partners, which was the last time they were all together.
Josh and Sean, meanwhile, were meandering their way along from Berry on what, by their later account, was something of a gourmet food crawl. They eventually made it to Gerroa only an hour and half ahead of me. They made the decision to walk on the beach for the last section, and, had I not been concerned about whether or not I would need someone to come an rescue me, I probably would have done the same. They say the beach walking was wonderful – the sand was firm (Kingsford Smith once famously landed a plane on this stretch of beach) and the water refreshing. I should have gone that way. My feet would have thanked me.
But from the cross road where the road from Berry met the Gerroa Road, there was a firebreak on the western side, and so I walked on that until just out of Gerroa. If I had taken the beach route, I would have missed an enjoyable conversation with Adrian. I had stopped at a kiosk to buy a cold drink and to rest my feet, when a father of two boys who asked me what I was doing. He had seen me out on the road as they went past. I explained the pilgrimage – which he understood because he knew of the Camino, and he said that he had been a long distance cyclist before starting his family. He had cycled from Switzerland to Israel, and from Sydney to Uluru, among many other things. He was very keen to tell his sons “This man is walking from Melbourne to Sydney” I told him that my father had died and we talked about the need to make your life an adventure and not put that adventure off.
I set off for the last section of the walk today as the sun was setting over the escarpment and the full moon (the Paschal Moon) was rising over the ocean. I was listening now to Kathryn Jenkins singing “Abide with me”, which was just perfect. “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me”. There was a great view from the top of the hill of the Coolangatta Mountain in the distance – it was hard to believe I had just walked all the way around it. Cathy rang then as I was walking through the beautiful section of countryside between Gerroa and Gerringong, and then I rang Mum.
It was just on dark as I passed the Catholic Church on the hill outside town, with the moon rising behind it. A pity an iPhone 6 is so lousy at taking night shots. As I was heading up the street to “Billowview”, the Christian Brothers retreat house where we are staying, Josh and Sean were coming in the other direction. They bundled me back into the accommodation (a room each), sent me straight to the showers, put all our dirty washing on, and then we set off for dinner. I had passed a little family-style Chinese restaurant on the way in, so we ate there. I had braised fish, Josh had a vegetarian laksa and Sean just had veggie spring rolls. We had more than enough to eat – as travellers we did not have to fast, thank God – but we did observe the abstinence. No alcohol though. Probably a good thing, as when I got home, I dosed up on anti-inflammatories and pain killers.
We visited Brother Michael over in the “house” to get a sticker for our passports, and then returned to the rooms where we sorted our washing and our packing for tomorrow. At this stage, Sean plans to walk the first half along the cliffs with me and then take the train from the lighthouse, and Josh plans to do the opposite. Josh has offered to take the bulk of our extra gear so we can walk the cliffs without being over burdened.
I have done all my emails, and now it is late 12:30am), so I need to go to bed.
I’m going to keep this brief, as it is already 10:30pm, and I have to be up early to catch the 8:09 at Berry Station back to Nowra in the morning. Fr Pat from Nowra has settled us into the old Josephite Convent at St Patrick’s in Berry (where St Mary visited a couple of times – but this isn’t the same building as was here when she came). Sean and Josh are having their showers, and I have made myself some toast and Vegemite and tea for supper.
This morning I finished off our clothes in the dryer in the Caravan Park laundry. Then Sean and Josh set off for the 5 Little Pigs cafe in Huskisson while I finished packing. My leg is again improved, so today, I was walking with just the Tubigrip and heel supports – I’ve ditched the knee braces. I caught up with them at the cafe, and had a 5LP breakfast, which was coffee, orange juice, boiled egg, toasted baguette, strawberry jam, and berries, nuts, muesli and yoghurt – an excellent meal.
The first part of the day, going through Woollamia was very pleasant. The road had less than moderate traffic, and there was a concrete bike path all the way to the Woollamia village. Beyond that the verge on the side of the road was usually wide, with a cut grass surface. We stopped to talk to people along the way, and to pat animals (missing the rats!). We stopped at a bus shelter at 11:00am to have our morning tea (well, no tea as such – although I did joke about starting a little fire and putting the billy on). While we were sitting there, we saw the spectacular sight of three very large kangaroos jumping out of the forest at full speed. They went along the road for a bit and then tried crossing the road, almost colliding with traffic. They looked entirely spooked and split up going in various directions, slipping over when trying to change direction. Eventually all three disappeared into the bush.
Perhaps these antics are what distracted us, because when we got up, we just kept following the Woollamia Road, instead of taking the right turn into Falls Road. This had serious consequences once we hit the Jervis Bay Road, which had very heavy traffic on it. We thought we could avoid this by taking a horse track on the northern side of the road, and that indeed worked for a while. But the track became smaller and smaller, and there were more and more of those big spiders across the track, and the trees got denser and denser until we were quite stuck in the bush. We pushed on through and emerged onto the (spooky music in the background) Princes Highway (aka the Pilgrim’s Curse). This too was bad. Not Milton-to-Conjola bad, as it was passable, but it was two lanes of very busy, very fast traffic in both directions. We were always going to have to walk along a section of it, because there was no other way to cross the Currambene Creek, but missing the Falls Creek road turnoff more than doubled the time we had to spend on it. This section is passable, there is a wide verge, but the verge is often up the embankment on the side and quite bushy. It was hard going. The bridge over the Creek at least has a walking path on the side. In all we estimate that our detour had added about 2kms and 40 minutes to our day.
Once we had crossed the bridge, we were immediately at the turn off into Comberton Grange Road, and peace descended as we once again left the Pilgrim’s Curse behind us. We sat on some rocks, and had our lunch. Today was “special fruit bread” from the Cafe this morning (baked in Berry), camembert cheese, an apple, and – at least for Josh and Sean – a packet of Alpaca Jerky. I tasted it and spat it out… (We hates it, hobbits!). Josh has always been joking about getting a couple of Alpacas to carry our luggage on the pilgrimage – Pablo e Pedro he calls them.
We headed down the road (past a sign advertising “grader and roller hire – call Dennis Schutz” and a goat farm) to Western Road, a gravel road that runs parallel to the Nowra State Forest. This was a very quite, pleasant, shady and cool stretch of road – the only disturbance was trail bike riders (and it WAS a disturbance). The norther half of this track, after crossing Forest Road, had a sign “road not maintained by council”, and this was very obvious. The surface was very eroded, rocky, full of deep puddles and ruts. It was good under foot, though, as it mean that there was a constantly changing surface. Odd as it might sound, this is actually better on the feet than a concrete or sealed path, which is unchanging and can lead to sore muscles. Nevertheless, it became so rough that we shifted over onto a parallel vehicle track for the last section. It also runs parallel to the Nowra Rifle Range, so there are big signs saying “keep out”. Along this stretch, to encourage ourselves on the last part of the journey into Nowra, Josh and I listened to Maddy Prior singing hymns (on my iPhone – I didn’t bring my Bluetooth speaker this time!).
When we emerged, we were at the start of a concrete bike path that led into South Nowra. Josh had said that the first place where we could buy a drink, we would be stopping. As it turned out, that was Hungry Jacks, and we decided, given that we would be going to mass later on, to have an early dinner here (it was only 3:30pm). Sean was horrified that we were going to eat here, but the salty, calorie-rich food was just what we needed. In fact, I think we are actually all suffering from a lack of salt in our diet on this trip. I rang ahead to Fr Pat at the Nowra Church office, and said that we would be there in about an hour. I then panicked a bit when I realised on the way that it was at least 5km still to go. So I rushed on ahead, only later realising that I had left the other two behind without any guidance of which way we were going. So I pulled back a bit, apologised and consulted. I still arrived at St Michael’s before the others, and found Fr Pat working in the office on liturgies for this weekend. He showed us where we could drop our packs till after Mass tonight, and explained that we would be leaving late as he would drive us and he could only leave after the final veneration of the blessed Sacrament and compline.
The walk had been about 29km in total, and we were all very sore. We had discussed various ways of handling tomorrow’s 31km hike, and Sean decided that he was just going to walk from Berry to Gerringong, cutting the day in half (it is a nice road through there too). I, however, am being a stickler for walking the whole way, and so, to lessen the distance tomorrow, I called a taxi to take me out to Bomaderry Station on the other side of the Shoalhaven River and to walk back to St Michael’s. Josh joined me for the company.
We took our time on the 3km journey back, both of us calling home to mother. My mum reported that today Dad was “asleep” all day and has been eating and drinking nothing. He is very clearly moving into the last stage of his life, and could pass away any time in the next week. My brothers will be coming up for Easter to stay with Mum. Mum has accepted that I will come home once I have finished this pilgrimage. I decided during Mass tonight that if Dad should die before I finish, I will apply the plenary indulgence for him. I have, in fact, dedicated this whole pilgrimage now to him.
I found myself quite teary tonight during mass at St Michael’s. Fr Pat held the service in the School Hall, as it is much larger than the Church. He had involved all the confirmation children in the mass, which was also a way of getting their parents and family to the service, and included some of them in the footwashing ceremony and the procession of the Lord’s Supper at the end of mass. I was amused, sitting there in my sandals and with my hiking stock, that in the Exodus reading, God instructed the Israelites to be ready with sandals on their feet and their staff in their hand. I had come dressed correctly. The deacon in his sermon also explained the purpose of footwashing “in the olden days before cars when people walked dusty, stoney roads”! Speaking of feet, my right foot has developed a small blister on the heel, just to add to my worries. So I will walk in my sandals instead of my shoes tomorrow.
Josh and I stayed to venerate the sacrament on the Altar of Repose and then to say Compline with the few who remained. Then, after closing the Church, Fr Pat drove us out to Berry. He has been priest in this parish for 27 years, and knows the area like the back of his hand. He gave us a little tour (in the dark) of Berry, pointing out the way that the other two will take in the morning, and showing us inside St Patrick’s Church. Then he opened up the Convent building – built in 1923, but the sisters left in 1979. Now it is used as a retreat centre.
I had better wind this up, and get to bed now. More in the morning.
The three of us slept at fairly close quarters last night, so we inevitably disturbed each other with snoring or getting up in the middle of the night. But when day dawned, we rose and set about the business of pilgrimage once more.
We headed around to the main street of Sussex Inlet to go to the supermarket, but then Josh suggested that we call in at St Patrick’s Church to say our prayers. We did not expect the church to be open, but we said our prayers in any case outside near where the Blessed Sacrament would be reserved. As we finished, a car pulled in and a bloke named Stephen got out. He said he had come to get the church ready for 8:30 mass – which no one had told us would be on. Because Fr Michael was away, “Fr Bill” would be saying mass. Unfortunately, we did not have time to stay for mass, but looked about the Church, said a few more prayers, and then bade Stephen farewell and went and did our grocery shopping for lunch (same basic menu as yesterday).
We planned to meet “Wayne 2” (as Sean calls the resident of Sussex Inlet that he met on Monday night at the Milton Church) at the local cafe for coffee at 8:30am and an interview about our pilgrimage. Josh ordered eggs benedict (in honour of the emeritus Holy Father, who turned 92 yesterday). When Wayne (2) turned up he told us about the “Sussex Inletter Weekly” for which he writes. He had been reading about our venture on this ‘ere blog, and so his questions were well aimed at what it meant for us. Of course, he also wanted a local angle on our visit to Sussex Inlet. The odd thing is that on one level, we get to know a place quite intimately when we visit through getting to know and meet some of the locals, and Sussex Inlet is no exception. On the other hand, we never get to “sight see” as such, because, being on foot, we are limited to seeing just the section that we walk through. Wayne took a couple of pictures of us as we walked down the main street to the Marine Centre. I stopped to get some more supplies at the Chemist, and then we went around the Centre, where Wayne (1) met us and stamped our passports. Mike then gave us life jackets and helped us on board the motor boat. Wayne (2) took photos as we waved goodbye to Sussex Inlet and were ferried over to the other side.
We sailed past the oldest residence in the area, a place called “Christian Minde”, which these days is a holiday accommodation centre, and Mike dropped us at a jetty with “Tony’s Shed” written on the boat house. We waved farewell, grabbed our packs, and turned around to meet the very “Tony” after whom the shed was named striding towards us. We introduced ourselves and asked, of the large homestead in front of us across the lawn, if this was his place. Yes, he replied, and this is private property! Well. That was awkward. We couldn’t work out why Wayne (1) and Mike would have planned to drop us off at a jetty if it was not okay with the owner. Tony said that the homestead, Kullindi, was built by his Danish great grandfather, and the family had lived there ever since. His grandkids were fishing off the jetty. He said he would be quite okay with people crossing his property if only they asked permission first, and gave us both his phone number (0428 496 048) and website kullindihomestead.com.au If anyone wants to follow in our footsteps, they should phone and make sure that Tony is at home and it is okay with him that they cross his property, as you have to cross his property to get to the main road. If you have the funds, you might even find it rewarding to book a room at Kullindi.
So we set off along the newly graded dirt road that skirts the shoreline of St Georges Basin to Cabbage Tree point. The road, while pleasant, was actually quite busy. It serves not only the few homesteads along the Inlet such as Kullindi and Christian Minde, but also a number of holiday units at the end of the cove. The drivers didn’t always slow down, which made the road quite dusty. From Cabbage Point, the road climbs quite suddenly upwards to bout 100 meters over about 1/2 a km, which was quite a strain to walk.
While going up the hill, my mother rang.
Dear Reader, while the pilgrimage has many challenges, there is also another challenge in my life at the moment: my father is dying. Cathy and I visited him and spent 5 days with him the weekend before I started this journey. On our last visit to the nursing home, he recognised who I was and I gave him a big hug to say goodbye. I knew at the time that it was possibly the final time for us together. I was also very aware that his passing might take place while I am on this pilgrimage.
Mum was ringing to discuss a possible surgery that Dad might require in the next few days, but that the doctor from the nearest town was coming across to examine him and determine the best course of action. She said that she would ring back later when she knew more.
We stopped at the top of the hill to say the Angelus (it being 12 noon) and to have lunch. From there we could already glimpse Jervis Bay. But when I looked at my phone to check my Gaia maps app, I realised that we had passed the track that I had intended for us to take while I was talking to my mother. We had now gone too far to turn back, so we walked on, down the hill to the Booderee Visitor Centre and entrance to the Jervis Bay Territory. The Territory is an interesting historical oddity, which, if I have my facts right, was established as a federal territory to ensure that the Australian Capital Territory had “sea access” that was not dependant on NSW. The border runs almost parallel with the road on which we were walking – if we had taken the track to the north, we would have walked out of the Territory without passing the official border control. Technically (and Tony had reminded us of this) we should not have entered the Jervis Bay Territory without paying an entrance fee, but we were able to walk around the toll booths from the inside without being touched for a a donation to the Federal Government.
The main road into Jervis Bay is very busy, and would have reminded me of the Princes Highway if it were not for the decently sized verge on the side of the road. Josh had been busy telling us how very few people in Australia ever visited the Territory, but today it looked as if it was the most popular destination on the tourist map. The sun was out in full force by this stage and, although it was only 23 degrees, it was uncomfortably warm. We passed the “Harmony Haven Fire Trail” (which was where I had initially planned we would come out) and found that there was a gate across the track. If he had come that way, we would have missed some excellent views of the Bay and of the Jervis Bay Village.
The next track that I had planned to take, which would have taken us off the main road toward the east into the Jervis Bay National Park, had been blocked off many years ago and was overgrown. So we continued on the main road until we came to the Erowal Bay Road turnoff. We went in the other direction, on the Bristlebird Management Trail (aka St George Avenue), toward the water and communications towers at the intersection with the track known as Birriga Avenue. There we stopped for a rest again. It was 2pm and we were getting a little knackered. My leg was getting sore again, so I took off the bandages to take a look at it. I as surprised to see a nasty purple bruise on my heel, and sent of an inquiry to my myotherapist. He texted back that the bruise was called “tracking”:
“The calf has had a small bleed and gravity and the fact that you’re on your legs walking all day is causing the blood to find a distal space to fill. Seen it many times before. Are you able to walk without too much of a limp? This walk is certainly going to test your resilience!”
Actually the answer to this question, when I took off my knee braces and ankle brace and all but the Tubigrip on my calf was “yes”. I felt much freer without these encumbrances, which were actually putting more strain on my leg than was good for me, I think.
After a wrong turn down toward the coast on St George Avenue, I realised that we had again missed the turn off that I had planned heading north. This unnamed track skirted the farthest hole of the Vincentia Golf Course. You know you have reached civilisation when you see people on golf buggies…
The track here was very rocky and uneven, but nice to walk along, and brought us down into Troubridge Drive. We went on a bit further, which resulted in some bush bashing, to come out onto the street in which the Holy Spirit Catholic Church is situated. Oddly enough, this is called “St George Avenue too, although it does not connect with the track that we were following earlier. We heard singing as we approached the Church, and inside found the local choir practicing for the Triduum. We spoke briefly to them, letting them know that we were doing a pilgrimage in honour of St Mary, and then said some prayers and made our way back around to the shopping centre.
There we paused in a local cafe (the Albert Miso) where we had some nice Krombacher Weizen Bier and a good long rest. We should have bought our evening supplies from the Coles supermarket while were were there, but didn’t think of it. The waitress advice taking the shoreline pathway along Collingwood Beach to the Huskisson Holiday Haven Caravan Park. This was a very pleasant walk along a paved bike path. We chatted to people along the way, including some young teenagers who rushed up from the beach to “give information” (we must have looked lost). We told them we were walking from Melbourne to Sydney (“WOW”) and that it was was a pilgrimage in honour of St Mary MacKillop (“So, you’re Christians are you?”). I told them yes, and that we were doing this walk because we loved God and wanted to honour St Mary who was an important part of the work of the Church in our Australian history. We met another gentleman who was leaving his back gate onto the path with a walking staff, and spoke to him about what we were doing. He said that he had once met the pope and talked to him: “Back in 1986, I went with a group of nuns to Alice Springs to meet him.” He was, of course, referring to St John Paul II. The real estate on the shore line of Vincentia must be worth a mint, because the views, as one bloke told us from his front lawn, were magnificent. He had just driven down from Sydney to spend the Easter break at his holiday house. We could also see something like parachutes out over the water, which turned out to be “hydrofoils” according to a chap who was packing his back into his car – “It balances you between the air and the water!”
Finally we crossed the bridge and rounded the corner and we were in the Holiday Haven Caravan Park. We were directed to the office, and then shown the cabin right next to the office, behind the one facing the ocean shore. It is not the most palatial of cabins (Sean has just pulled his bunk mattress out and put it on the kitchen floor because he doesn’t fit in the bunk space) but it is comfortable. I sent Josh and Sean off to buy food from the local IGA before it closed at 6pm, while I went off to wash all our clothes. There is a good breeze blowing outside, so I have hung the washing out rather than put it in the dryer. The others returned with rissoles, sausages, salad mix, olives, potatoes, frozen spinach, avocado, onion and cherry tomatoes. Sean made the salad while I boiled the potatoes. The stove top was not very effective, so the rissoles and sausages were not frying up very well. While we ate the potatoes and salad, I put all the meat, together with the spinach, onion and left over cherry tomatoes from the salad into a big saucepan. We poured in some of the oil from the olives and left the whole thing to stew for an hour. The result was really yummy. We washed it down with more of the Weizen Bier we had had this afternoon.
Mum rang back this evening to say that the decision has been not to go ahead with the surgery for Dad. They will instead medicate him to control the pain, but the result of his condition is that he will die in the next few days or week. This is a very confronting situation for me. I found myself weeping for the first time since we became aware that he was dying. Mum has given me leave to continue the pilgrimage if he dies in the next few days. If that happens, I will fly home from Sydney and Cathy and I and the girls will drive up home straight away.
Speaking of the girls, Mia had some good news tonight: she has scored her first paying job. She was on a trial shift at a local restaurant as a waitress. She starts her first real shift on Monday. This is exciting for her – and for us too.
Tomorrow we are beginning the Sacred Triduum, when we commemorate our Lord’s suffering and death and resurrection. We have our longest day yet, as we walk to Nowra for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. As we walk along, Sean, Josh and I, each with our various challenges and ailments that we are carrying with us, are also aware of the suffering in our personal lives and in the world, and offering it all in the name of Jesus in prayer.
Pray for me, as I will for you.