The MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage





An Australian pilgrimage trail in honour of St Mary MacKillop and her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods.

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

MWW2019 – Day 5: Nowra to Gerringong (“Lacrimosa”)

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’ll sort out pictures later.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

MWW2019 – Day 4: Huskisson to Nowra (“A wrong turn at Albuquerque” )

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.

Photos here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MWW2019 – Day 3: Sussex Inlet to Huskisson (“Uncharted Territory”)

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 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.

It is very late, and I will muck about getting pictures organised later when I can.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MWW2019 – Day 2: Conjola to Sussex Inlet (“I feel better now!”)

Last night I had the best night’s sleep for several days. When I rose at 6am, there was no pain from my  leg, and when I got up in the morning, I found that I could at least walk on it, although my calf was still tender and I was still limping. Massaging emu oil and Voltarin into my calf seemed to help, as did the Voltarin tablets after breakfast. So I was much encouraged and confident that I could manage today’s 22km walk.

We left the Milton parish house at 7:45 to walk down to the Brown Sugar cafe where Sean had arranged to meet Rae, the woman who offered to drive us to Conjola. I needed to go to the chemist, to buy medical supplies recommended by my myotherapist – an inner sole heel support and a Tubigrip bandage for my leg. Sean enjoyed his shot of “really strong coffee” as usual, and Rae and her husband Neil joined us just before 9am. We were all very disturbed by the shocking news of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris – my thoughts kept going back to this throughout the day.

Rae and Neil drove us back to Murray Road at Conjola where Margaret and Virginia dropped me yesterday afternoon. We bade them farewell, and set off toward the hills to the east through a quiet farming area with horses and cattle, crossed the Conjola Creek and then started the ascent up the hill on Bendalong Mountain Road. There were a number of nice houses on the side of the hill taking advantage of the beautiful view over the valley. We met a woman named Sue with her dog named Zoe. Sue was from Camden in Sydney and was here housesitting for a friend. She pointed to one of the houses with a great view of the lake below and said “That one is a holiday house for rent”. I began making plans to come back with Cathy…

It was a steep climb – the top was about 160m and we reached that in under 2kms. I found that by the end of this, my leg had adjusted to the walking and I was keeping a good pace. From the top of the hill, the road led along the ridges, so no more steep rises, in fact, a general descent after a bit. At the end of Bendalong Mountain Road, we came out onto Bendalong Road proper, which leads down to the village of (wait for it) Bendalong. There was a fair bit of traffic on this road, about one vehicle every 15 seconds, but not as busy as the Highway. After a little bit we veered off again, this time onto Cedar Road and then onto Blackbutt Road through the Conjola National Park. The surface was gravel and sand generally, and only three cars passed us. The vegetation was varying and pleasant. We stopped at about midday to eat our lunch – dolmades, kransky, Camembert cheese, fruit, Turkish bread – all good. A glass of wine would have been nice. The weather was about 23 degrees and sunny, with a nice sea breeze blowing.

Josh was texting us all the time as we were travelling, keeping us informed of his progress on the bus from Sydney. He got off the bus at Wandandian and began walking to Sussex Inlet at about 2pm, figuring he would have a 15km walk along Tallawalla Track and then Sussex Inlet Road. He told us later that this was a rather boring route.

At 2pm we had arrived at the “Cuddy Cafe” in Cudimurrah, the southern settlement of Sussex Inlet. The girl in the cafe told us that we should not walk on the road into Sussex Inlet, but take the path/track that went between the road and the shore line of Swan Lake. This was very nice, but, even though we had only walked 19 or 20kms, we were both getting tired and were slowing down.

We followed the path right into Sussex Inlet, entering town on Thomson Street past the school. An interesting fact about Sussex Inlet is that due to the creation of series of water ways on which the holiday houses are built, the town is actually technically an island – whether you enter from River Road as we did, or from Sussex Inlet Road as Josh did, you have to cross a bridge. Sean and I walked along the grassed area on the shore of the Inlet, past the RSL Club and around to the Marine Centre.

Outside the centre was Wayne, his workmate Mike and friend Bill. They were sharing some beers and smoking cigarettes in the sun, as Bill threw a ball for their two dogs, Rocky (a red kelpie) and Obi (a Koolie). These two dogs were quite obsessed with chasing the ball. Wayne very kindly offered us a beer and we sat and talked for about three quarters of an hour. As I sat, I noticed the pain in my legs coming back. Wayne’s wife Viv and Mike’s daughter Jodie drove us around to the Cedar Pines Caravan park where Wayne and Viv have their caravan. This is a standard sized caravan with a double bed and a lean-to lounge room with a double bunk in it. Sean and I took the bunks and decided the snorer could have the luxury of the big bed inside the caravan.

Josh arrived about quarter of an hour later, we had our showers and went around to the RSL club for dinner. On the way, I dropped into the pharmacy and bought an ice pack. Following Josh’s lead, we all had the duck Thai soup – probably not the best choice as the duck was complete with bones. We had our passports stamped by the guy at the front desk where we checked in. Tomorrow we must get Wayne to add his mark. I tried calling Cathy but we lost coverage after about 20 seconds of talking. The phone coverage is very patchy here.

We wanted to get some grocery shopping done, but it had shut at 7pm. It will open again at 7am. Another “Wayne”, who we have dubbed “Wayne 2”, wants to meet us in a local cafe for breakfast to interview us for the local Sussex Inlet newsletter, so we will have time to do our food shopping in the morning.

By the time we got back to the caravan, my leg was aching. So I did all the lotion and massage and cold pack business, and restrapped my leg with the new strapping I bought this morning in Milton. While I listened to Josh and Sean natter away, I wrote up this blog.

We walked about 23km today from Conjola to the Marine Centre. We did this in about 6 hours. It was a good start, and I am very, very glad to have made it thus far, but I am also very much looking forward to sleeping!

Today’s photos are here on Google Photos.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MWW2019 – Day 1: Conjola to Milton (Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Agony…)

Today started really well – but ended in agony.

Margaret cooked us bacon and eggs for breakfast, and then drove us to Milton. Virginia joined us to make a party of four. We had a lovely drive in beautiful sunny weather. Passing through Bodalla, Sean asked to stop so that we could photograph the Catholic Church in daylight, as it was dark last year when we walked past. We were very lucky to find a tradie working on some repairs to the exterior of the sanctuary, so the Church was open. This historical wooden building – built by the same family who built the stone Anglican Church on the other side of town – is only used these days for mass on two Thursdays a month, and on the 5th Sundays, so it is rarely open. Neither Margaret or Virginia had ever been inside either. Take the time to look at the photographs – it is really very special. The altar was not dressed (crucifix and candles were over on the Lady Chapel altar). The Eucharist is not reserved there, but the tabernacle is very nice. The real oddity was the oil lamps for lighting!

As we passed the Bodalla Arms Hotel, where we stayed last year, we noticed that it had closed. This is very sad, as now there is only the rather expensive motel in Bodalla to stay in. Also sad, as it means that the family who were running it were unable to make a go of their attempt to start a new life running a country pub.

We stopped at a very popular but out of the way coffee shop in Moruya for coffee. Again, see the pictures. The locals obviously know about it and head there for their morning cups routinely.

Moving further on, we went through Batemans Bay where they are building a new bridge over the inlet. This will, I think, completely spoil the iconic appearance of the current bridge there, but I guess the almighty automobile has first priority. We would have liked to have called in on Eileen, with whom we stayed last year, but she had earlier informed us that she and her husband would be going on a long overdue and well earned holiday over the Easter break.

And so we finally came to Ulladulla and on through to Milton, where we stopped at the  bakery and had some of their famous pies for lunch. They were very nice – but the pie shop at Glengarry in Gippsland wins hands down, I think. For that matter, the Shell Roadhouse at Ballarat on the highway used to make some pretty special pies too, but sadly that has closed and been replaced by some over expensive health food place…

So finally we arrived at Milton, and back at St Mary’s Star of the Sea. Therese was in the office to welcome us and showed Margaret and Virginia around. I changed into my hiking gear and Margaret and Virginia said goodbye to Sean (he had decided not to walk this day due to his sore knee) and then drove me out to the Murray’s Road turn-off at Cunjola. There we said our farewells, and I promised that Cathy and I would return within the year to see our friends at Narooma once again.

I waved them off, and set off. I was travelling light, without my pack and only with my stocks, iPhone and a bottle of water. It was clearly going to be a tough walk, and I didn’t want to be encumbered. A little way down the road, I came to the Cunjola Cemetery, and  went in to pray for the faithful departed. There I saw the first of what I saw plenty of on the rest of the way: a very large spider had built its nest across my path. I found myself dodging them for the rest of the day.

Returning to the Highway, I was faced with the difficulty of an extremely busy road with a very small verge on the side on which to walk. This difficulty became immense when I came to the Myrtle Gully bridge. There was no room to walk on the bridge, and the drop down to the Gully was deep and overgrown. I saw on the other side (the Eastern side of the bridge) a track leading down into the Gully, and decided to take that. I waited for a ute to go past, and then stepped out onto the road. Immediately I felt something as if someone had struck me across the back of the left leg with a broom handle. I stumbled, but the middle of the Princes Highway is nowhere to stop, and I hobbled to the other side. Looking back, I could see nothing. At first, I wondered if I had been bitten by a snake, but pulling up my compression pants leg, I could only see a small bruise in the area – not cuts. I decided that the best answer is that I was hit by a stone thrown up by the passing ute. Sean later suggested that what I felt might just have been my muscle ”popping”, something he says he has felt at times. Consulting my myotherapist by text this evening, he says there is a possibility that I have a calf-strain, but we can only wait to see.

In any case, my calf muscles were suddenly very taught and painful, so that I had difficulty stepping out of a back-step on my left foot. I still had at least 11km to go, and I thought that the best thing was just to push on. Not far along, I found an old rag on the side of the road, which I tore into strips and used to strap my calf muscles. This was the right thing to do, according to my myotherapist’s later advice. (Tomorrow I will buy tubing straps to wear for a few days).

The track I was on became a back road that led around the gully – I think it was part of the old Highway before the bridge was built – as it was sealed, but didn’t really lead anywhere. I came across other sections of this old road along the way too, and they were the only parts of the entire journey that was easy walking. Otherwise, I was constantly forced to chose between bashing through bush (and spiders) on the side of the road or edging my way along the highway itself. It was actually easier on my injured calf when I was clambering through uneven ground, and hardest when I was walking on the flat bitumen. At Currowar Creek, I had to go under a bridge through a cow paddock. It was muddy and shitty, but the creek did not flow right through, and I found a solid path across. Climbing over the barbed-wire fence on the other side my injured leg totally seized up and I just about fell backwards into a nest of spiders webs. To quote Ron Weasley, “Why spiders? Why couldn’t it be butterflies?”

When I came out into the valley, which earlier had looked so beautiful, I could see the Church on the hill outside Milton in the distance. The Valley had looked so beautiful and inviting when I set out today – now it looked like 9kms of agony to endure. Inspired by this thought, I began to pray the Rosary (on my fingers as I had left my beads at the church) – the Sorrowful Mysteries, starting with the Agony in the Garden. This at least channeled my pain, as I “offered it up” in union with our Lord’s own suffering on the way of the Cross. The last section of the road coming up the hill into Milton had no verge on it at all, and I had to scramble on the precipitous rock edge the other side of the traffic barrier. To my delight (a little ray of sunshine in the fast gathering gloom) I found a $10 note among the debris on the side of the road! The Camino provides!

Sean was up on the embankment on the other side of the road as I approached Corks Lane, photographing my arrival. In the end, it took me 3hrs and 40 minutes to walk the 12.4km back to the Church. Between 3 and 4 km/hr, which is not too bad.

I cleaned up and showered, took one of Sean’s codeine tablets, and used a proper bandage to strap my leg. We discussed what to do for dinner, and decided to make our way into town and buy food for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow from the local IGA (which was open until 8pm). We walked the 2km round trip (not doing too bad at this point with the leg), and came back with sausages, bread and salad for dinner, yoghurt and milk and cereal for breakfast, and fruit, a tin of dolmades and kranskys for lunch, all for about $40. I also bought Panadol, not having brought any with me. Back at the house, I fried up the sausages and Sean made the salad, and we had a very nice dinner. No alcohol tonight due to the medication, as I took some anti-inflammatories with the meal. A cup of tea had to suffice.

Then to call Cathy to let her know what had happened, and my mother to find out how my father is doing (the answer is that he was awake and eating all his meals todays, so that’s good). Then called Josh, who is currently in Sydney and will be travelling down tomorrow and meeting us at Sussex Inlet.

We will have to see how things go from here. I need to accept that I am human, and if I cannot walk, I will just have to get alternative transport. I will keep up with the itinerary and walk when I can. To this point, I have walked every step of the way from Fitzroy, so it will be very annoying to now have to miss sections. But maybe this is a lesson in humility.

At this point, Sean and I have decided that the section of highway from Milton to Conjola is impassible (despite me actually “passing” it – just). Any future pilgrims will simply have to hitch a ride over this section if they want to arrive in one piece. At least until a “St John of the Nettle” (San Juan de la Ortega) or St Dominic de le Calzada comes along and builds a proper path and bridges etc for future MWW pilgrims. One could view it the same way we view Sussex Inlet or Botany Bay – since they are authentic barriers to walking, taking alternative transport is not cheating!

Please pray for us, dear Reader, as we will for you.

In the meantime, today’s photos are all here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MWW 2019 – Day 0: Melbourne to Narooma (“This was your idea, you know…”)O

So, I walked out the front door and turned left.

And left again, and left again and kept walking to the train station. The final leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way pilgrimage from St Mary MacKillop’s birthplace to her tomb had begun.

I took the train into the city where I dropped into my office to print out the guidebooks and maps for Josh and Sean. Then I went to the 6pm Palm Sunday Mass at St Patricks, before heading around to Sean’s home in Fitzroy where he had prepared a great meal of egg and bacon pie and roast vegetables. I had brought along a bottle of wine, so Sean, his landlord Jim and I had a pleasant Saturday night dinner together.

I bunked down on the couch in the lounge room, which wasn’t the most comfortable accommodation, but I was tired and slept well. Sean and I were up at 6am in order to catch a 7am tram to Southern Cross station.

Our companion Josh is flying from Tasmania to Sydney tomorrow to catch the bus back down to Milton on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, I insisted to Sean that we were not going to Sydney just to walk back there, and that it was my intention to take the bus all the way back to our end-point from last year so that our arrival in Sydney will be on foot.

As it turned out, the massive rail-works in Melbourne meant that all outbound trains were cancelled, so the usual 8:04am Melbourne to Bairnsdale train was replaced with a coach. Somewhere around the bushy end of Victoria at 4:30pm this afternoon, with still another three hours to go on the bus, Sean turned to me and said “This was your idea, you know…”

And I am jolly glad that we did make the decision to come this way, because when we finally lobbed in at the end of the bus route in Narooma at 7:40pm, we were greeted by Fr Joseph and Virginia, the self-described “Parish Social Secretary”. They drove us out to the home of our hostess Margaret, where we were greeted by a small party gathered for dinner, including John and Suzanne (the latter is Parish Secretary), and John and Pauline (parents of Fr Luke at Bega-Tathra who hosted us last year). With Margaret (who hosted us here last year), Virginia and Fr Joe, it made up a warm and happy welcoming party. Margaret and John and others had prepared a wonderful hot meal for us, with plenty of red wine and good conversation to go with it.

So we are very tired now, but also very well fed, happy and comfortable. Tomorrow, Margaret and Virginia will take us up to Milton where we will start the pilgrimage proper.

Pictures from today can be accessed on my Google Photos albums here


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On our (MacKillop-Woods) Way again…

Dear Reader,

Yes, the time has finally arrived for Sean, Josh and I to pick up our hiking stocks, shoulder our packs, tie on our shells, and head off on pilgrimage once more.

It has been three years since we started from St Mary MacKillop’s birthplace in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, on 28 March 2016. We have walked over 1000km since then, via Bairnsdale, Orbost, Bombala, Eden, Narooma, Batemans Bay and Ulladulla.

This Sunday (Palm Sunday) Sean and I will catch the rail-replacement bus service (grrr) from Southern Cross Station all the way to Narooma where we will stay with Margaret, our host from last year.

The next day, Monday in Holy Week, Margaret will drive us to Milton where we will recommence our walk. Josh is catching the bus down from Sydney, and will walk from Wandandian, meeting us on Tuesday in Sussex Inlet.

Our schedule is:

Monday 15:                          Milton to Conjola (11.9km)

Tuesday 16:                          Conjola to Sussex Inlet (22.5km)

Wednesday 17:                    Sussex Inlet to Huskisson (19.3km)

Maundy Thursday:             Huskisson to Nowra (26.2km)

Good Friday:                        Nowra to Gerringong (31.7km)

Easter Saturday:                  Gerringong to Shell Harbour (28.1km)

Easter Sunday:                     Shell Harbour to Wollongong (29.1km)

Easter Monday:                    Wollongong (rest day)

Easter Tuesday:                    Wollongong to Stanwell Park (29.9km)

Wednesday 24:                     Stanwell Park to Bundeena (31.2km)

Thursday 25 (Anzac Day):  Cronulla to Kensington (27.2km)

Friday 26:                         Kensington to Tenison-Woods grave & St Mary’s Shrine! (21.7km)

Total of Fourth Leg (projected): 279km
Total of whole Pilgrimage (projected): 1276km

(Me: We are waiting to hear confirmation of the brass band and ticker-tape parade welcome when we arrive.
Conscience: This pilgrimage isn’t about you!
Me: Sorry, I got carried away with the emotion of it all…)

We hope to be at St Michael’s Nowra for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday and at All Saints Shell Harbour for the Easter Vigil. On Divine Mercy Sunday Sean and I will be at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Please check daily here on the blog to see where we are, how we are faring and what trouble we are getting into. I will be tweeting at @scecclesia also.

Already we have had a shaky start, with Sean having a bit of a bung knee and me battling to keep a cold at bay.

So please pray for us, as we will for you!

Here’s a little pic of Sean and me at St Mary’s statue at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, across the street from where she was born and where we started in 2016, and a full map of the MacKillop-Woods Way from Penola to Sydney.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the Jordan B. Peterson “12 Rules for Life” tour in Melbourne, 13 February 2019

This article was first published by Melbourne Catholic

Dr Jordan B. Peterson is a 56 year old professor of psychology from the University Toronto, and last night (Wednesday 13 February) it seemed to me that he was the oldest person in the Melbourne Convention Centre even though it was filled to its 5500 person capacity.

About half the crowd were the young men that legendarily flock to hear Peterson. They were a diverse mob, sporting suits and beards and tattoos and yarmulkas and even clerical collars. The other fifty percent seemed to be their mums, dads, wives, sisters, girlfriends, and so forth – but the main point is that this was a young audience (even the mums and dads). If you had this demographic turn up to mass on Sunday you would have no fears for the future of your parish. There was a sense of fraternity and trust in the air. The people were respectful, kind, friendly and happy to chat to strangers in the line up at the door. Each one had forked out $90 to come and hear someone giving a 2 hour lecture. “Entertainment” like this proves one thing: people don’t mind long sermons; they just want to hear someone worth listening to and something that makes sense to them. 

And there is more than just a touch of the bush preacher about Dr Peterson. He has come proclaiming a kind of “gospel”; and even though it isn’t exactly the Christian Gospel, a fair substratum of his message is based on the biblical narrative. In fact, on his podcasts and YouTube videos Peterson regularly strays into religious territory. One of the things he is famous for is his lectures on the psychological meaning of Old Testament book of Genesis. His lecture tonight is peppered with quotations from the the Gospels. Recently he defended the validity of the religious viewpoint in a series of four 3 hour live debates with Sam Harris, one of the “four horsemen” of the New Atheism. In particular Peterson is attracted to the Christian conviction that “the Word became flesh”, and that redemption comes through suffering. 

For about a year now, Peterson has been travelling the world giving sold out lectures based on his self-help manual “12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos”. Tonight he had just enough time to talk about rule number one: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”. Yes, his rules all sound like that. Another one is “Set your own house in order before you criticise others” and “Always tell the truth – or at least don’t lie”. And “Don’t disturb kids when they are skateboarding”. 

Peterson focuses his message on the importance and potential of the individual in a free society. He declares himself an enemy of tyranny, whether fascist or socialist, on the left or on the right. Tonight though, he had his eyes set on demolishing the postmodern doctrine of Foucault that “power is everywhere” and that all social relationships are based on power and oppression. 

If that were the case, he said, our societies would not function. When power becomes the basis of relationship, societies crumble. Bullies in the playground don’t have friends. Corrupt businesses do not succeed. Instead, what works is when the relationships are built on trust and reciprocity. Yes, there are hierarchies in society, but these are based on skill and competence, not power. The successful plumber is the one who fixes your broken pipes. 

It is true that the world is competitive and unequal, but we accept that some people are better at business or their profession than others, just as some are better artists, athletes, writers and musicians. Inequality doesn’t matter so long as we treat each other with dignity and live in a reciprocal relationship of trust with one another. In fact, history teaches us that it is usually when powerful forces attempt to impose their “one great idea” for a Utopian equality of outcomes that the real hell breaks loose. 

Basically his message was upbeat. The human race is not going to hell in a hand basket. We are eradicating diseases, world poverty is decreasing, there have been no wars between western countries for almost 75 years. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t hard. He told the story of his father-in-law caring for his mother-in-law for 15 years as she slowly died with dementia, and how the whole family gathered around her bed in the nursing home when she finally passed away. “And because we all cared for one another and took responsibility for one another and loved one another,” he said, “it was no picnic, but it wasn’t hell.” 

“It was a tragedy, but God only knows what’s inside you, this capacity to confront potential and to turn tragedy into something good. And maybe that would be the purpose of your life; not to be happy, because there are problems to be solved, but be happy after you have solved the problems.

“So I looked at dark things, and I learned that the light is more powerful than the darkness and each of us is capable of remarkable things. That’s what makes us in the image of God, that is what gives us our intrinsic value, and the idea that we have intrinsic value is the bedrock presupposition of our state. Are we gong to question that? Or are we going to live it out? Better to live it out. Thank you.” 

There was still time for half an hour of Q&A (and, btw, Dr Peterson will be on ABC TV’s Q&A on February 25). One of the questions he was asked was: “With all your success, with crowds like this turning up to hear you talk for two hours each night and with 3 million copies of your book sold, what keeps you humble?” 

“Well, I’m married,” he replied.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How do you empirically defend Human Rights?

I was driving to work this morning, listening to Tim Keller speak on the topic “The Closing of the Modern Mind”, on The Veritas Forum Podcast at New York University (3 March 2018). Yesterday, at ACU, I was teaching Catholic Social Thought to first year students, and explaining the idea of the innate dignity of every human being. I had to point out that this Judeo-Christian idea was based in the belief that a divine, personal Creator had made human beings in his own image. If you are not religious, I suggested, you might want to ask yourself why you believe that human beings have equal dignity, and why they are worth more than (for eg.) rats.

So I had to pull over and stop and listen when I heard Tim Keller ask the question: ‘Why should we believe in Human Rights?’. And I spent the next half hour transcribing what he said. I could just have bought the book he was quoting from (Alan Dershowitz (2002). Shouting fire : civil liberties in a turbulent age. Boston : Little, Brown & Co.]  but according to Amazon that costs over $100 and is only available in hardback. So here is the transcript of Keller summarising Dershowitz. It makes astonishing and thought provoking reading.

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” W.K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief (1877)

His point was that you should never believe anything unless you have empirical evidence for it. And the trouble with religion is that as soon as you make religious claims, there’s no way to prove those things, so they’re best kept out of the public square.

There is probably not an epistemology course in the country [the U.S.] taught by any philosophy professor in any accredited university that would actually give you that thing to read and say “That’s my view”, because it’s pretty widely understood now that most of the things we hold dear – most the things we believe, most of the things that we believe that mean the most to us – could not be empirically proven.

I’ll give you one example: Human Rights.

Alan Dershowitz in his book “Shouting fire” asks this question: What if you come to a country which says ‘Why should we believe in Human Rights?’ And if you don’t just want to say ‘because I feel Human Rights are good things’, if you want to say something more powerful than that, what do you say?

Well, there are only four things to say.

One is you can do what Martin Luther King said, which is all human beings have inherent equal human dignity because they are made in the image of God. Now, Dershowitz says that for him, he is an atheist, so he just can’t go there, so he can’t say that.

He says the second thing you’d say is, well, Human Rights are natural, you can say you see them in nature. He says the problem with that is if you actually look at nature it is kind of violent. The strong eat the weak and that kind of thing. So it’s a little hard to get the idea of inherent dignity of every human being from nature.

He says the third thing you could say is that we create Human Rights, we just get together and we legislate them. He says the problem with that is if Human Rights are the creation of the majority, then they’re useless, because the whole point of a Human Right is to take the right of a minority and put it in the face of the majority and say ‘You have to honour rights of my people’ or ‘my client’. If they are created then they can be uncreated, and that means they’re useless.

So he says, what is it and what do you say?

Here’s what you have to say: We just know they’re there. Human Rights are discovered, not created. They have to be there otherwise they are useless. Why are they there (and they are)? We don’t know, but they are.

And when Dershowitz says ‘I know that if somebody comes to me and says ‘That is just what you white, western, individualistic people say’, well, that’s a problem, but I just know that this isn’t something from my culture, they [Human Rights] are just there. And then he says, ultimately, most of the human race now believes that they are there and that’s why we know they are there.

But the real problem, of course, is as he said: Is it is really true that what the majority of human beings think is right is necessarily right? No!

So in the end, can he prove Human Rights? Can you empirically prove them?

No. It’s a faith leap. It is a leap of faith. It is an assumption. There’s as much evidence for human rights as there is for God. (In fact, I think there is probably more evidence for God than for Human Rights.) But that’s another lecture.

The point of the matter is that they are both non-provable empirically, and they’re not self evident and therefore we are ALL bringing non-provable beliefs – more intuitions and convictions – into the Public Square, and we ought to let them come and let everyone talk about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2018 – Day Twelve and Travel Home (28 & 29 April) – Milton to Melbourne via Ulladulla and Eden

We rose early on Saturday morning as Fr Michael had invited us to join him in celebrating mass at 7:30am in the Milton Church. It was just the four of us, and we incorporated Morning Prayer in the service. Fr Michael celebrated the mass in a peaceful way and invited us to join in the reflections on the readings and in praying at the point where we would normally have the prayers of the faithful. 

He actually gave us a little bit of admonition about the way we talked about our journey to others – to have the humility to remember that many of the people with whom we are so excitedly sharing the joys and hardships of pilgrimage don’t have the time or financial freedom to be able to undertake such a venture. This was fair enough – although pilgrimage does not have to be on the scale that Josh, Sean and I are doing it, just as you don’t have to take two months long service leave to go to Santiago in Spain. If a person has the determination and devotion to undertake some kind of pilgrimage, God will, I believe, give the opportunity. I’ve done all sorts of pilgrimages: I’ve flown to St Peter’s in Rome, and flown and bussed to Jerusalem. I’ve walked a week pilgrimage to Penola from Portland with the supported Aussie Camino, and I’ve done one-day walks on foot from my parish Church in Boronia to our St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Heck, just going from your front door to your parish church can become a pilgrimage if you undertake it in the right spirit! 

But I had a realisation of my own during the mass. In the prayers, Fr Michael prayed for us to have courage to complete our journey – and I suddenly realised that what I really needed here and now was not the courage to continue the walk but the courage to return home and face my daily life and work again. Don’t get me wrong – I dearly love my family and my job at the Archdiocese – but there are so many many things in daily life that demand one’s attention and which can become sources of anxiety and fear, that I know I will truly miss the simplicity of the straightforward challenge of walking 30km each day. That, more than anything else, is the real attraction for me in pilgrimage: the simplicity of it all. At this point, I might just throw in a book recommendation – in fact, I think I have already mentioned it in my report of the first day of this section: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce (2012). It is a novel about a man who undertakes a walk from one end of England to the other to “save” a friend dying of cancer. At one point on his walk, Harold muses on the the “simplicity of it all”. And he is right: if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there. As Michael Leunig added in one of his cartoons, you might want to sit down and have a little rest every now and again, but just keep on heading toward the horizon. “That’s how you get there.” I am glad that our return journey will take a full two days. I need the time to process my return.

That was made somewhat easier by the fact that our whole journey today was literally going backwards, including the strange case of the only 7kms on this pilgrimage that we have covered in the wrong direction: from Milton back to Ulladulla. The issue here was that the distance from Ulladulla to the next port of call along the road past Milton at the start of next year’s journey would simply have been too far to walk in one day, but it would be manageable if we knocked off the distance between Milton and Ulladulla this year before going home. As Josh had to be at the bus stop across from the Marlin Hotel in Ulladulla at 11am to catch the coach to Sydney, we all resolved to walk the distance back to Ulladulla with him.

Time was a bit short when we set off, so there was no stopping for sight-seeing in Milton, which is a pleasant village and one in which I would like to spend a bit more time. We walked straight past the Milton bakery and their famous pies, although the smell was tantalising. Spurring us on was the fact that it had begun to rain, not heavily, but steadily. At first we thought it might just be a passing shower, and so didn’t put on all our wet weather gear, and by the time that it was obvious that it was not going to stop, our trousers were wet through. So we pushed on, keeping a good speed so as not to spend longer in the rain than necessary, trying to avoid the running streams of water on the side of the road to keep our shoes dry. This was a hopeless cause. After an hour in the rain my shoes were full of water and the rain was dripping off my new Central Tilba hat. (I am happy to report that the hat suffered no damage from getting so wet – a benefit of having been made of polyester rather than natural fibres that would have lost their shape.) This was one section of the Princes Highway in which the verge is fairly wide, but despite being almost entirely built up all the way from Milton to Ulladulla, with homes and businesses either side of the road, there was no footpath upon which to walk until we got right into Ulladulla itself. 

We came down the road past the Church, and straight into the arcade where the public toilets were situated. Josh went in to change into dry clothes from his back pack, while I waited outside for Sean to catch up. Out of the rain, my  hiking trousers began to dry out, but my shoes and socks were clearly going to stay very wet. We accompanied Josh out to the bus stop, and before very long the coach had arrived. As it was still raining, we said our farewells, and he got on the bus. He was sitting on the other side out of our view, so we didn’t hang around in the rain, but went back under shelter as the bus left. 

I had a plan in mind, and as Sean went across the road to a cafe overlooking the bay for his morning double shot of coffee, I nipped across to the Vinnies op shop next to the church. I was in luck: a pair of slip on shoes for $4 (almost brand new) and a pair of socks for $1 (brand new) in my size. I put them both on immediately after purchasing them, and put my wet shoes and socks in a plastic bag and into my pack. Feeling like a new man, I returned to Sean at the cafe where we had a pot of tea and some eggs on toast. Now with warm food in my tummy and dry shoes and socks on my feet, we crossed through the rain back to the public library on the other side of the road. Here was a warm, dry place with comfortable lounge chairs and electric sockets to recharge my phone and iPad. Sean read the newspaper while I worked on my blog until it was time for us to catch our own bus to Eden. It was still raining, but we had dried out more or less. The bus was a little late, arriving just before we were due to leave at 2:20pm, and we were glad to get on and to settle down for the journey.

There is nothing much to tell about the ride, except that we stopped in Batemans Bay to grab something to call “lunch”. Nothing much was open, which surprised me, as it was a Saturday and still the last weekend of the school holidays, but we did manage to get a pie at a nearby ice cream shop. It tasted okay, but I later on I began to feel quite ill. I thought at first it was just motion sickness from the bus, but I think it was this pie that did it. I was a bit off colour for the next 24 hours. The ride on the bus was not smooth – the road was windy and up and down, especially from the highway through to Tilba and down to Bermagui and across to Bega. 

We arrived at Eden at about 7:15pm, and Mike Sheppard was there to meet us. It was a bit of a homecoming to arrive back at Mike and Judy’s. They had invited the two local Josephite sisters, Sr Brigid and Sr Bernadette, to join us for dinner. It was really nice to spend the time with our hosts and their guests in this comparatively quiet dinner. We reviewed many stories about our pilgrimage and  heard many other stories from the sisters. Sr Brigid had grown up in Eden, and Sr Bernadette in Sydney near St Mary’s tomb. It was not a late night – we were tired, and the sisters were going to come and pick us up early in the morning to take us to mass at Pambula, so we said our good nights and headed to bed.

We were up in the morning early again – it would take me over a week after getting home before I was actually sleeping through the night till dawn. The sisters arrived to pick us up and drove us to St Peter’s Pambula for the 8am mass. The service was taken by the parish priest, a Samoan, and accompanied by guitars and good singing from those who attended. We enjoyed talking to the parishioners afterwards and letting them know about our journey. We caught up again with Dr John Liston with whom we had met when we came through two weeks earlier, and with another experienced pilgrim of the Spanish Camino. He and Sean had much to talk about. The sisters drove us back to Eden, all the while pointing out to us local features and places on the side of the road. They drove us down to the bay in Eden to see the memorials to the various ships that had been a part of Eden’s history, including the ship that St Mary’s mother was on when it met its end. 

They dropped us back at the Sheppard’s, and we had time for a cup of tea before having to be back at the bus stop and getting on the 11am bus for Melbourne. I cannot express how thankful we are for the help that Mike and Judy and the people of Eden have given us – it has been a great base for us over the last two legs of the pilgrimage. We may return again next year, depending on how our travel plans work out to get back to Ulladulla, and Mike said we would be welcome. 

So now began the long journey back through Gippsland to Melbourne. Going through the “bushy end” of Victoria along the Princes Highway we once again were convinced that we could never have walked this way from Orbost. Although it was difficult making the arrangements to get from Orbost to Eden via Bombala, it was definitely the right way to go, and gave us a much richer – and safer – experience than we would have had had we travelled along the Princes Highway. We stopped in Cann River for a food stop again – Sean was looking forward to visiting the cafe we had visited on the way through two weeks ago. For the past fortnight Josh had been ribbing Sean about a rack of novelty glove puppets that were displayed for sale in the store under a sign which said “Don’t touch the puppets”. Of course, Sean *had* touched the puppets… To pay homage to this jocularity, Sean was looking forward to buying one of the puppets on our return journey just so I could then photograph him handling a puppet next to the sign which explicitly forbade this behaviour. Unfortunately our fun was spoiled by the fact that the sign against puppet contact had been removed. In disgust we went to the cafe across the road and had our coffee there.

There was time to wander about the town a little. Sadly, the rather magnificent Cann River pub is closed – it would have been nice to have had the last beer of the pilgrimage there. But the church was open, and that was a good consolation prize. (Readers of this journal will note that in the tradition of medieval pilgrims taverns and churches have had an equally major role to play in our travels.) St John’s is an Anglican Church, but it serves as a joint Anglican-Uniting congregation. With the autumn leaves, the dark brown wooden walls and red roof of the church made it look like something from a 19th Century American New England landscape. 

Back on the bus and now heading to Orbost and then to Bairnsdale. Normally we would have changed onto the train at this point, but as with the last time we travelled home this way at the end of our first leg in Easter 2016, the bus took us all the way to the station at Sale where we boarded the train. On the bus, I had heard the man behind me having a phone conversation with a friend in Caulfield arranging his visit. I vaguely wondered to myself whether the man was Jewish (Caulfield being a popular Jewish area in Melbourne) but thought nothing more of it. But Sean began a conversation with him at th Station at Sale and discovered that he was from Western Australia and had been to the Mimosa Rocks National park (we had walked through this on our trip) for a Buddhist guided walking meditation retreat. And yes, he was, at least by birth, Jewish, although he was not religious and did not keep kosher. So we ended up spending the rest of the journey to Melbourne sitting with Basil, as was his name, and talking of our various experiences related to walking, spirituality and the environment (he was a professional activist and promoter of environmentalism). As he was spending a few days in Melbourne, I extended an invitation to him to come and visit me in the following week at my office for a cup of tea and a tour of the Cathedral – which he did, together with Sean, the next Wednesday.

So the time went very quickly, and before we knew it the train was pulling out of Packenham and heading to Dandenong where I was to disembark and be picked up by Cathy. The final parting of the ways for the pilgrims came, and I said a rushed and awkward goodbye to Sean (he managed to hit his head on the rack above his seat – a change, because to this point of the journey it had been me hitting my head on things) and I found myself out on the platform on a cold Melbourne evening waving them off. Cathy arrived soon afterwards and it was a short 20min ride and I was back home.

So there it is. It took me about a week to settle back into the office. Strangely, it was only after this first week back that I started dreaming of the pilgrimage. And also it is now, in the second week since our return, that my body has begun to feel really physically tired. But my thoughts are constantly returning to our journey, and to our plans for the future.

Saturday Morning statistics
Planned distance: 7km
Measured distance by actual route (Gaia maps recording): 7.36km
Distance by iPhone Health data: 9.6km
Steps by iPhone Health data: 12,319 steps
“Flights climbed” by iPhone Health data: 9 floors (some of these were real stairs at our accommodation!)
Up and Down (Gaia maps recording): 7m (-81m) – note that if doing this in the right direction it would involve a steady climb upwards.
Highest altitude: Milton Church 95 metres.
Beach walking? No
Highway walking? Yes, all the way
Hours on the road: 1 hr 20 minutes
Distance covered from Eden: 307.28km
Distance covered from Fitzroy: 997.28km 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment