We Once again we are at the end of our pilgrimage for the time being – we arrived at Orbost at 6pm this evening after four days of walking having covered 103.5km.
So, backing up to yesterday, we had a very friendly and convivial dinner at Tostaree Cottages, served by our hosts Vicky and Greg Geddes in their communal dinning/lounge room along with a group of three retired couples making their leisurely way on their cycles along the trail from Orbost to Bairnsdale. This was the end of their first day on the trail. Unfortunately for them, they were caught in the start of the rain that afternoon, but like us they were now glad to have found a warm and dry shelter for the night. The experience of sharing our stories and meal and conversations together was very much like what I expect it would be like to stay in an auberge along with other pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Vicky and Greg were excellent hosts, and the meal of roast meat and vegetables and pasta dishes and lasagna and salad, followed by fruit salad and ice cream. I had dropped off some beer and wine on the way through the other day, but Greg had a well stocked fridge and bar in any case. Conversation continued after the meal around the large fire place seated in comfortable couches. It was about ten o’clock by the time we said goodnight and crossed the short distance from the dinning shed to the cottage through a pitch dark and windy night to our beds.
That night the wind and rain continued, but by the time we got up in the morning, the sun was shining and the wind had stopped. Vicky had brought over a basket with bread and cereals and jam and vegemite and fruit and such, so we had a good breakfast. We said goodbye to our hosts at about 9am and headed back out onto the trail. It was a brilliant day and I began walking on my own at first, listening (as is my custom) to the Divine Office on my iphone. Then we walked together for most of the rest of the morning.
We were headed for Waygara, about half way along the trail to Orbost, where we had been invited to lunch with a local family on their farm. When we were planning this section of the pilgrimage, one problem was what to do for lunch each day. We solved that problem on the first three days by buying lunch at the previous town to take with us, but there are no shops in Tostaree to stock up our supplies. As it was, Vicky would have happily made us a cut lunch, but I didn’t know that when we were planning. I looked at the half way point and saw a number of dwellings at a place called Waygara and googled to see if I could find anything there. What turned up was a website for the Waygara Animal Farm, and on that page was a reference to a planned Rail Trail Coffee Stop. It was last updated in 2011, and I wondered if the plans had come to any fulfilment. I sent an email to the “contact us” address and received an email back from John, the owner of the farm, saying that no, the planned cafe didn’t come to fruition, but we would be welcome to come and join him and his family for lunch in any case. Just confirm this entirely unexpected offer of hospitality, Sean and I called in last Friday to check that this arrangement was still okay. Now, having confirmed that it was, we were walking up the track, past the old saw mill shed to their front door.
We were greeted by John’s son Tom and very soon the rest of the family came and welcomed us too. John and Ruth have eleven children. Their eldest son is serving on a mission boat and their eldest daughter has married and is living in Adelaide, but the rest of the family live on the farm, where the children are homeschooled and assist with the family business which is to provide mobile “petting farms” for schools, shows, fairs, parties and fetes etc. They brought out tables and chairs and we sat out on the lawn for lunch. As the tables were being Set for lunch, the younger children brought out baby rabbits, goats chickens and guinea pigs to introduce to us. Josh and Sean were highly amused – in their opinion I go to mush as soon as any small furry creature is offered to me for a cuddle. I acknowledged my weakness, but stressed that the furry creatures in question must have four legs at the most. By this stage, the table was groaning with food, and John asked God’s blessing on the meal. I responded by praying for him and his family and thanking God for their gift of hospitality. The great treat at the centre of the table was a full urn of Kombucha – a slightly effervescent drink made of fermented sugared tea, a bit like ginger beer. Very refreshing. After lunch, daughter Carrie and her younger sisters showed us around the farm and introduced us to the other animals – including alpacas, miniature ponies, the herd of adult goats.
In all we spent about two hours with this wonderful Christian family and their menagerie before heading off once again on the track. What with last night’s companiable dinner and today’s hospitable lunch, I feel that we have really had a true “camino” experience.
We still had quite a way to walk – it took another four hours to get to Orbost. Sean was going slower now – he had not been feeling well all day, and his muscles were giving him trouble. While we kept in touch by phone just to ensure that he was okay, Josh and I walked on together. We came to the end of the rail trail still almost 6km from Orbost. At this point, the old rail crossed the flood plains of the Snowy River on a low wooden trestle bridge – the longest of its kind in Victoria. Like all but one of the surviving trestle bridges on the trail, this one was impassible to any kind of traffic, and so the trail ended just before reaching it. (We need to appreciate how fragile these remnants of yesteryear are – we passed one gap on the trail that had been spanned by a trestle bridge until it burned down in the 2011 bushfires. Several of the old trestle bridges at Yarra Glen burned down in the 2009 fires. See them while you can!) The actual Orbost station platform still exists and can be seen from the path on the south side of the Snowy River – they never did get around to building a rail bridge over the Snowy. As it is on private land, the platform is inaccessible, and I was further offended by the fact that the owner of the land had chosen to use it as a dump for a huge pile of old tyres.
We crossed “The Mighty Snowy” (as Josh said, the adjective is obligatory, rather like “Marvellous Melbourne”), which after the recent rains was indeed flowing “mightily”, but I am led to understand that this is not always the case. Since the Snowy River Hydroelectric scheme was put in place and much of the Snowy was damned and harnessed for electricity, the flow has sometimes been so reduced that in summer the Snowy is more a series of puddles than a river.
By this stage we were really feeling the strain of the distance we had put in. Thankfully, it was a short walk across the football field and up Browning Street to come to St Colman’s Church right on the dot of the park 6pm. The church being closed, Josh and I stood outside the church and recited the Angelus. We then entered the Presbytery, drank a bottle of beer each and hit the showers (or, in my case, the bathtub).
Sean arrived about half an hour later, and after showering we headed up to the “Top Pub” for dinner. Sean and I had given the bottom pub a go last Friday night, and despite very friendly service and helpful conversation, the food (we both bangers and mash) had little to recommend it other than being not too expensive. At the top pub, we struck an imaginative “Mastralian” menu (ie. Maylasian/Australian), and once again very friendly services, but were once again disappointed with the result. Josh ordered a steak, which he said was fine, but Sean and I both had the mixed seafood which was almost inedible (I know it wasn’t, because Josh ended up eating both our pieces of fish). Maybe when we come back next year we will self cater.
I was too tired to write up the blog then, so left it till the next day. Talking with Josh tonight, he is of the opinion that the section from Bairnsdale to Orbost should be regarded as part of the “first leg” of the pilgrimage rather than the second. It is true that as things have turned out, it has been good to do the whole Fitzroy to Orbost walk in two stages. Just as St Mary’s Bairnsdale was a natural conclusion last Easter, so Orbost is a natural conclusion geographically. It is the last point along the journey eastwards in Victoria. From here on in, we head north until we cross the border between Bendoc and Delegate. Also, we have shown that it is possible to walk the whole way from Fitzroy to Orbost without assistance, whereas the next leg to Eden will require a backup driver. So at the moment, I am just calling it 2016 Part II.
If you want to see today’s pictures, here they are!