On all our journeys, there comes a point where you get into the swing of things, and everything settles down, and life becomes good – at least for a while. It is a point where you are happy to keep on walking, enjoying being alive, feeling yourself attached to the countryside you are walking through, generally one with the world. At this point you would be content to keep on walking forever. You even find yourself enjoying the company of your fellow pilgrims!
Yesterday (Saturday) was such a day for us. The weather was just right: overcast, cool, a light drizzle every now and then. The countryside was as green as the Irish landscape that many of the original settlers would have known well. The traffic on the roads was light and often non-existent. There was a community hall to stop at for morning tea, a pub perfectly placed for lunch, and a parish church open for prayer. Bill had offered to drive the bulk of our luggage to Ballarat for us, so we were walking with day packs. And we only had about 24km to travel. What was there not to like?
I read this morning (Sunday) an account of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians. The strict order has an unusual feature: regular “rambles” together as a community in the countryside. Here is what St Bruno had to say:
“I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation… I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields. One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees…
“Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life. It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut.”
All of this, I could strongly identify with as we were walking to Ballarat. Unfortunately, it was Josh’s last day, as (due to personal constraints) he has to return home on Sunday. But we made the most of it.
As we were preparing to leave from Ballan, Bill offered to drive our luggage on to Ballarat for us and deliver them to our destination. This was an offer that was accepted with alacrity. It would make it the fourth day on this journey that we have walked with just day packs. It is an interesting thing that no-one ever offered to do this for us on our whole walk to Sydney, but on this walk all our hosts so far have done us this kindness. I think Maria at Caroline Springs started it, and as each host has received the delivery of our bags they decided to replicate the offer. It has made a great difference to our enjoyment of the pilgrimage this time. I have worked out that I can use my backpack as a day pack if it is lightly packed (it is an AARN which weighs hardly anything in itself) while putting all my unneeded gear in my backpack cover bag for transportation. If I need to, or get the opportunity to, I will use this system for the Camino next year too.
Noel arrived at 9am to ferry us back to St Patrick’s Church in Gordon which was our end point yesterday and our starting point today. Photos were taken and farewells made. Bill and Colleen have been the most hospitable of hosts. Actually all our hosts on this Leg have all gone beyond our expectations in their generosity to us. It was very fresh and cool when we set off from Gordon along the Old Melbourne Road. We stayed on this road the whole day, walking via Dunnstown, until we got near Ballarat, when we diverged onto Clarkes Road and Coulsons Road.
We skirted around Black Hill, and stopped at the Millbrook Community Centre for morning tea (Colleen had packed fruitcake for us – pity I didn’t have a thermos of tea to go with it). The Community Centre was a bit sad and neglected, but from what I could see inside, there was a functional kitchen and there were also toilets outside that were open.
The traffic was very light, so we were usually able to walk on the road. The occasional small bridge had no verge, but as there was no traffic to speak of this was not a problem. We were walking between the two railway tracks – the old track to the north and the new track (put in about 15 years ago according to Sean) to the south. Mount Warrenheip was always in front of us as a marker for our journey.
We arrived in Dunnstown at about 12:30pm, and entered the Shamrock Hotel. The woman attending the bar was trying to get the fire going with some old cardboard Guinness packs – not very successfully. So after Josh bought us a bottle of Cascade Light each and we had ordered our meals (burger for me, steak sandwich for Sean, Mixed Grill for Josh) and the bar woman had gone out to the kitchen to cook them, I remade the fire and got it going nicely. There was no one else in the pub at this stage, so apart from the TV above us playing the horse racing, all was quiet and restful. I was a bit surprised because I thought that on Saturday there would be a bigger crowd. But football season is finished, and, as I found out later walking past the oval, cricket had begun, so I guess there were not so many crowds in Dunnstown for Saturday now. The food when it came was excellent. Towards the end of the meal a few others started entering the pub, but now we were ready to go again.
Across from the pub in Dunnstown is St Brendan’s Church, which we were pleasantly surprised to find open for both viewing and prayer.
Walking up the road past the mountain, we were greeted by many very friendly dogs coming out to see who was going past. We could see Kryal Castle nestled on the north side of the hill. The road is descending from here into Ballarat. We came in around the back way along the railway – Josh was amazed that we were so close to a city and still it felt so rural. We crossed the railroad on the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road Bridge, and walked down the new Arthur Kenny Avenue of Honour. This AoH commemorated all the boys of the Ballarat Orphanage who served in World War I. We decided to change our route a little to divert to the Eureka Stockade and visit the memorial there. It is interesting that the memorial tablet commemorating those who lost their lives at the stockade (unveiled on the anniversary of the rebellion in 1923) commemorates both “the heroic pioneers who fought and fell on this sacred spot, in the cause of liberty, and the soldiers who fell at duty’s call”. I have always felt that, despite our political disagreements, Australians could never have a “civil war” against each other, because we have always had the ability to see both sides of an argument. Or we are just too bloody apathetic. One of those.
We now headed towards our abiding place for the night. Fr Justin Driscoll had offered to put us up for the night either at the Cathedral Presbytery, where he had been living until recently, or at St Alipius’ Presbytery in East Ballarat where he had just been reassigned. As it turned out, we were to stay at the latter. This building is, I am sorry to say, infamous as the site of some of the worst abuses against children in the history of the this dreadful scandal. I certainly felt some unsettlement at the prospect of staying there, and I know Josh did too. When we arrived, I asked Justin how he felt about living there. His answer was simple: “It wasn’t the building’s fault, and there are great things happening here in the community.” There are ribbons tied on all the cast iron fences and gates both here and down at the Cathedral where we went to Mass this morning. This manner of commemorating the suffering of the victims will continue for many years, I believe. Noel had told me that St Alipius’ Presbytery was the one building his wife wanted to see demolished, and I know others feel the same way. But many countries around the world manage to move forward despite painful pasts of war and wickedness, and I pray that the time will come when we can do this too. That doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean incorporating the knowledge of past crimes into our understanding of our history and present identity in such a way that we come to own it as a part of us. Does that sound wrong? It is hard to express these feelings.
In any case, Fr Justin made us feel very much at home. He had another engagement for the evening, so we went out to the Munster Hotel for dinner. We had “Irish Stew” – perhaps the first time I’ve ever had stew as a menu item. It was very good pilgrim food. Josh’s friend Daniel came to join us. The conversation was spirited, but I was tired and it was I who broke up the party at about 8:30pm. We went home and retired to our rooms. I put a load of washing on for Sean and myself and hung it out to dry. The evening was quite warm and I expected that by morning the clothes would be ready to bring in.
Back in my room, instead of writing up this journal, I did some marking for my uni class (I still have twenty essays to have done by Thursday night!). The others were fast asleep and Fr Justin had not yet returned when the doorbell started ringing insistently. I had no intention of answering it, and the next thing is that the nocturnal visitor started banging on the back door near my bedroom. She was shouting out too. I then heard windows and doors rattling all around the house as she was trying to get in. It was really a bit frightening, but I reflected that such must be a very common experience at presbyteries. Eventually she gave up and went away. I put out the light and fell asleep immediately. It was only 10:30pm, but I knew that we would lose an hour overnight as Daylight Saving was beginning this weekend. There was to be an 8am mass at the Cathedral in the morning that we were going to try to get to, so we would need to be up at 7am (equivalent of 6am) anyway.
Total distance for today was 23.7km.
And here is a map.