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.