I just remembered, as we were walking out of Bacchus Marsh yesterday, the old saying among Melburnians: “From here to Bacchus Marsh”. Well, I know how far that is now.
Another thought that has often been in our minds on this pilgrimage is the story of Jonah’s arrival in Nineveh, that Great City, which took three days to cross (Jonah 3:3). The extent of the Melbourne metropolitan area, if you were to walk from Belgrave to Caroline Springs (as we have done) is about 2.5 days walk. However, if you wished to walk from the farthest Eastern edge of the Archdiocese of Melbourne (let’s say the edge of the Bunyip National Park the other side of Gembrook) to the farthest Western edge (let’s say the boundary of the Ballan Shire around Ingliston), it will take you about 2.75 days walking in both directions, about 5.5 days. We’ve done that now too.
While we are on statistics, yesterday’s walk from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan also clocked up another diocese that we have walked from end to end: in total (in the order that we did them): Sale, Canberra-Goulburn, Wollongong, Sydney and now Glorious Melbourne herself. By the time we reach Penola we will be able to add Ballarat to that list.
I rose yesterday (yes, I’m writing this on the morning of Friday 4 October, and these events took place on Thursday 3 October) feeling a little bit worse for wear after the big push the day before from Caroline Springs to Bacchus Marsh (almost 36km). Fr Patrick kindly offered to repeat Maria’s offer from yesterday – to take our packs to Ballan for us so that we could walk with only a daypack. Josh borrowed the backpack that Maria gave me yesterday, Sean has his lightweight daypack that he had brought with him (I need one of those), and I figured that if a I put all the stuff I didn’t need in my backpack’s cover bag I could take my pack with me with only 1/3 the weight. This worked out well, and I think it is a process I will be able to use in Spain next year if Josh and I ever use one of those services that carry packs for you from town to town. If.
Patrick said goodbye to us at breakfast (“I’m going over to the church”), and we finished packing and set off. Mass was to be celebrated at 9:30am, but we thought we needed to be leaving before that. On our way out of the presbytery, we thought we would stop in at the church, and found the cleaner doing the vacuuming in the narthex. We were about to go into the church and she warned us “Try not to make any noise – Father is hearing confessions”. I didn’t know that this was what he was “going over to the church for”, but I availed myself of the opportunity to be shriven as I had not had the chance before leaving from Melbourne. A happystance.
Fresh and new and leaving my burdens at the Cross of Jesus, I set off with Josh and Sean to the local Coles where we bought bread, kabanosi, cheese, cucumbers, bananas and apples for lunch. We stowed these in our packs and set off again on the path along Werribee River. This was a delightful walk with which to start the day. We crossed the Halletts Way Bridge and turned South onto O’Learys Way which led up into the new housing estates South of the town into an area known as Maddingley. There we turned East on McCormacks Road which led up the hill to the top of the plateau and the start of Ironbark Road. From the River up to the top of the hill was 3.5km and a rise from 118m up to 262m. This is quite a climb, but easy to do at the start of the day and not too strenuous. While it appears that one has reached the top of the hill by that stage, in fact by the time we arrived at Ballan we had climbed another 240m to 500m elevation. But this was over another 19km and was hardly noticeable. [As an aside, it was funny how many people said to us that it would be “uphill all day” walking from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan. I had to remind them that we were not taking the Freeway…]
From the top of the hill, we had one of our last glimpses of Melbourne in the far misty distance on the horizon. At the top of McCormacks Road, we crossed a bridge over the railway line which was passed through a deep cutting underneath us. We turned right into Ironbark Road to the North West towards the locality of Ingliston. The railway line ran through the cutting for about another kilometre before it finally reached the same level as the road. All the rock and other material from the cutting had been heaped up between the railway and the road with the result that anyone on the road could not see the view into the valley. On top of one of these mounds of rock was a survey marker – a sure indication of good view. So, being part mountain-goat, I set off to climb up to it. Probably a mistake. I was just wearing sandals and socks today, and the rocks were not entirely stable on the side, and there was lots of long grass growing over them (snake heaven!), but the pinnacle was too much of a temptation. At the top, my phone told me I was at 300m, and I had a full 360 degree view all around.
Back at the corner of McCormacks Road and Ironbark Road, we noticed a track on the other side of the railway cutting heading in the same direction. Sean said he thought that might be an idea to walk on that instead of the road, but I said that I had no idea where it led, so best not. Walking down the road, we began to hear loud banging noises on the other side of the rock heaps out of sight. I worked out what it was when I saw, over the embankment, a red flack flying. Looking on the map, it showed “Bacchus Marsh Rifle Range”. Good thing we didn’t go that way…
About 5.5km along the Ironbark Road, we came to the Werribee Gorge State Park. At this point the road winds around a bit and goes up and down a bit more. The road passes over the railway and then plunges down a bit and goes under it, under a grand iron railway bridge many metres overhead. Just before the bridge there is a track into the bush on the left that goes up to the level of the railway. Josh walked around to the other side of the bend on the road, but Sean followed me up the steep incline on this path up to the level of the track. This track then leads along the railway for another kilometre of so and would be a good option to walk. However, Josh was down on the road on the other side and we had agreed to stop for lunch just past the bridge, so Sean and I went back down to the road level.
We found a nice spot to sit under the trees and ate our lunch. It is always pleasant to have these little picnics while walking.
Then it was just a matter of putting on our packs and setting off again into the sunset – well maybe not the sunset yet, but definitely into the sun. It was quite a warm day – 26 degrees, which is pleasant normally, but when there is no shade and a stiff wind blowing it became a little trying after a while. The road for much of this section is only sealed in a single lane, so passing traffic tends to kick up a bit of dust which you then are left walking through for a minute or so until it clears. This is easy walking on the side of the road, but the few vehicles that go past are going at 100km/h and some of them don’t slow down for pilgrims.
We stopped for a short break under the pine trees at Ingliston (nothing there other than a bus shelter for the school kids) and then continued. I had done a bit of research and worked out that the border of the Diocese of Ballarat and the Archdiocese of Melbourne was the same as the old Ballan Shire/Bacchus Marsh Shire border (it’s all Moorabool Shire now), and the marker for that from the satellite map was a large area of bush land on the north side of the road. When we got to that point, I was a bit confused because there was not bush land. In fact, there were trucks and bulldozers and a whole lot of noise and dust going on like something from the side of Taylors Road in Rockbank. Where once there were trees, there were now piles of wood and rocks. What was going on? Surely they were not planting housing estates this far out of town? The answer came several hundred metres up the road when we saw the sign for the entrance to the Ballan Waste Management Centre. The waste management business was expanding. For the rest of the way into Ballan we had big heavy trucks going past us occasionally, kicking up dust at 100km/hr.
Aside from all that it was a relatively easy and pleasant walk into Ballan. We arrived in Ballan at 4:20pm. There is a lot of work going on on the railway crossings and bridges in Ballan at the moment, so a walker needs to check access and where the crossing can happen. We had looked up to find the location of the Commercial Hotel in the Main Street and decided to head directly there before heading around to our hosts for the evening. A young local saw me in my foreign attire and with my walking stocks and asked me: “Are you lost? Are you looking for somewhere?” No, I said, I’m just heading for the hotel. “We don’t have one of those here, or a caravan park,” he replied. I think I should have said we were going to the pub.
Which we were. We easily found the establishment wherein we could procure a refreshing alcoholic beverage, and Josh bought us each a pint of cider, which was just what the doctor ordered, or would have ordered if we had consulted one on the matter. We then went around the block to Bill and Colleen O’Reilly’s home. We were originally going to be staying with a friend of mine, Noel Gregory, who is a member of my Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) text reading group and who lives in the parish here. However, a family crisis had arisen and we had to change plans. A few weeks back, after Noel agreed to have us at this place, I received a phone call from Colleen who had seen the news of our pilgrimage in the parish bulletin. I had kept her phone number and so I was able to contact her and she and Bill were happy to take us in. They had two spare bedrooms and a motor home in which we could stay. When we arrived Bill and Colleen were out the front to welcome us. They brought us inside and asked what we would like first – the answer was simple: a shower. So they showed us to their bedrooms – and I was astonished to be shown the main bedroom. They had decided that they would spend the evening in the motor home and let us use all three bedrooms in the house. That IS hospitality!
Colleen had prepared a lovely dinner for us and had invited a neighbour, Lourdes, to join us as well. So we were six for dinner. Good conversation (as so often with our hosts), but we ended the night quite early as we were very tired. I was too tired to write up the day’s journey last night, so have just completed doing that this morning.
The journey from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan was 26.6km.
And here is a map: