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.