MWW2019 Leg 5: Day Four (4 October 2019): Ballan to Gordon

Having fallen asleep immediately last night, I was up at 7am this morning working on my journal for yesterday. Sean joined me and worked on his own journal for a while. At about 8am, Bill and Colleen came in to serve us breakfast, and Josh made his appearance. He kept up conversation while I finished off writing. Sister Kathleen popped in with the key for the Gordon Church (so that we could see inside), and we explained to her about the MacKillop-Woods Way.

We set off at 10am and headed around to the Post Office for a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The family at the post office became excited by the mention of St Mary MacKillop as their daughter (who was helping out in the post office during her school holidays) went to St Mary MacKillop Primary School in Keilor Downs. Apparently they had been given holiday homework to get an interesting photo and tell a story about it, so they thought that a photo with three Mary MacKillop pilgrims would do the trick nicely. So after stamping our passports, we posed outside the post office. They printed off a copy for us and put it in a post office folder for safe keeping.

We set off then for Gordon via the Bostock Reservoir. We went down the Old Geelong Road, then onto Shaws Road. At this point we really felt that we had entered a green and pleasant land – proper pilgrim territory. The day was quite cool (especially compared to yesterday) and overcast, with only a slight breeze, which made for comfortable walking. The gravel road led past mobs of sheep grazing in green paddocks, and went downhill towards what my map tells me is “Moorabool River East Branch”. There had been some talk of a mineral spring near the Reservoir, but I was not expecting what we found. Just on the north side of the road as you enter the Reservoir grounds, right where you cross the river (which is really just a creek), is the Ballan Mineral Spring picnic ground with shelters and tables. A small staircase leads down to a landing at the level of the river on which there is a pump operated with a hand lever. When you pump the handle, the spring water comes out. The inscription on the pump says

“Ballan Spring is a sodium bicarbonate natural mineral water or “soda water”. It is quite gassy water with high chloride, sodium and zinc levels.”

It tasted very good, and the spritzig quality made it very refreshing. It has quite high levels of magnesium too, which was good for sore muscles. We tipped out our drinking water and refilled with this.

The walk through the Reservoir park was very nice indeed, through mainly pine forests on a decent track. I took a wrong turn at one point on the other side, which had us wandering around in a bit of boggy land. This also led to my second encounter with a snake – however this one did not move and was wound at an odd angle, and might have been dead. But its eyes were open and looking at me, and that was enough to make me change route very suddenly. Somewhere in the forest we also completed 100km of the journey.

Then we were back out into the open country again and onto the Old Melbourne Road for the rest of the way into Gordon. Nothing extraordinary happened on this last 5km journey into Gordon. There was some traffic on the road, but not too much to be a bother, and was quite nice walking. There was a bit of rain at this point, but only spitting. Enough to get out my poncho and throw it over myself and my backpack. This seemed to work quite well.

The temperature was dropping as we entered Gordon, and we headed for Gordon Bleu, the restaurant in the old hotel that was (for a while) the convent for the Missionary Sisters of Charity. According to Joe Donegan’s 2011 book In God’s Hands: a history of the Parish of St Patrick’s Gordon, Victoria, “The Dwyer family donated the hotel and ground to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, hoping that it would be an asset to the Gordon Parish. Some suggestions were to make it a refuge for homeless and alcoholic men, another was a respite home for mothers and children. It was sometimes a retreat house of the Missionaries of Charity nuns. Mother Teresa stay there a number of times. Her presence was of little interest to the parishioners of Gordon, as caring for underprivileged children or alcoholic men was strange to them. A welcome mass was celebrated for her in 1973… The Missionaries of Charity sold the old hotel in 1980.”

Today, the old Hotel is owned by Sal, a native of Yemen, and his partner, and is called (rather imaginatively) “Gordon Bleu”. It is a very comfortable and enjoyable place to have lunch or just a cup of coffee. Sal had tried for a while making a go of the business having it open for 5 days a week, but in the end found it necessary to be open only on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. I was luck to have called in Sunday week ago on my way back from Ballarat, and Sal gave me his number and said he would be about the place today, even though the restaurant would be closed. If I gave him a call, he would make us coffees and get us lunch. In the end, I didn’t even have to use his number, because he heard us as we arrived on the verandah and came out to welcome us inside. It was just starting to rain again, so it was wonderful to get inside. He had the heaters on and immediately made us coffees while he prepared our lunches: middle-eastern style meatballs with rice and salad. We relaxed on the couches as he prepared the food. It was there that I found a copy of In God’s Hands, and began reading the history of the local parish. Later on, Colleen presented us with a copy signed by the author – apparently the last copy available for sale!

Sal was a great host and his food was lovely and satisfying. It was with a little reluctance that we decided to push on, as we wanted to get to the Church on the other side of town. I rang Noel to ask him to meet us at the Church, and we headed off. On the way, I saw a number of really interesting shops in the street, including an antique store called “Shambles” and a hat shop in the old Anglican Church. Both are run by a husband and wife team Sheina and Bob (I noticed a B&B called Sheina’s Cottage just down the road, which I expect is their place too). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at the hat shop, and was astounded to find the interior absolutely full from floor to mezzanine ceiling with all varieties of hats (and some nice Harris Tweed waistcoats too). I met Sheina and we  discussed deerstalkers for a while, before I thought I had better catch up with the others.

Heading back out out on the road, I could see that Noel was just arriving at St Patrick’s and was meeting Sean and Joshua. I caught up and used the key Sr Kathleen had given me to go inside to look around (see photos). The presbytery next door had recently been sold (it may become a B&B?). There were some stone crosses in the garden beds, and I wondered where they might have come from. “Up there?” said Josh, pointing to the spire. I later read in Joe Donegan’s book that the cross from the spire had fallen down in 1927 “without causing any damage”. That explained one of them, at least…

Noel drove us back to Ballan. By this stage it was bitterly cold and rain was starting. Colleen had the fire going when we got in, and Bill came in from the shed to join us. Colleen had washed all our clothes and they were drying on the hanger near the fire. We sat down and had some cheese and biscuits and a glass of port and a cup of tea. It had really begun to rain outside now, so we were glad to be warm and dry inside. It reminded us of our time in Tostaree in Gippsland three years ago in October 2016, when, after walking half a day and settling into our accommodation, a huge thunderstorm broke. We expect that there will be more rain on Monday, but we can cope with that one way or another.

After an hour or so of conversation together, Noel said good evening and headed off. We arranged for him to return at 9am in the morning to take us back to Gordon. I worked at the dining table on this account for an hour or so as Colleen prepared dinner. More enjoyable conversation and lots of stories took place over dinner: salmon and chips and pie for dessert. Although it was only 7:30pm, I excused myself and retired early. I am really very exhausted, even though today was a comparatively easy day. I think the last few days are catching up on me. No matter – there is only one more big push and then we have a day off in Ballarat on Sunday.

Full distance today was 15.5km.

All photos for today are here.

And here is the map:

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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