Distance: 18.25km. Total distance 144.25km.
Okay. I would have liked to have achieved a lot more than that distance today, but the thing about pilgrimage is that you have to take it as it come and make adjustments in your expectations as you go along.
It had rained fairly heavily and constantly overnight, but the morning was clear. It was a big job packing up this morning at the Old School House on Lower Bendoc Road. Two differences between this leg of the pilgrimage and previous legs are 1) that we are doing a lot of our own cooking, which means less spare time, and 2) that we are carrying a lot of extra gear and therefore the morning pack is not quite as quick. Add to that that we ran out of gas half way through boiling water for a cup of tea/coffee and made the snap decision to include a visit to Delegate for a cup of coffee, and it made a very late start once Paul dropped Seán and me back at the 5km point on Craigie Road again at 11am. Still, the visit to Delegate was very pleasant – we visited St Joseph’s Church and the Tourist Information centre and gallery (the attendant didn’t know anything about this history of the Josephites in Delegate, but there was a Josephine school and convent there from the 1920s, and think Mother Mary may even have visited once – I have to recheck the information that Archbishop Prowse sent me). If anything, Delegate is more “The Shire” than Bendoc is, with very many quaint old timber cottages and shop fronts – all the more quaint because they are occupied by locals who have lived there all their lives. If Delegate were closer to any capital city it would have been bought out and gentrified years ago and filled with cafes and bookshops. We fell to talking tot he local mechanic, telling him about our pilgrimage. I observed that we are about half way between Melbourne and Sydney – that you could hardly get further away from either. “And that’s no bad thing,” he commented.
We ordered coffees at the local cafe and general store – “large” out here means about 1/2 a litre! The shop has a curious attraction: a large collection of Chip-a-chup tins of various sizes collected over 25 years by the proprietor. The gallery/tourist information centre was in an old bank. The attendant claimed that Delegate has more amateur historical researchers per square metre than any other town in NSW. And just to prove it we found on the shelves a history of the Old School House at which we had been staying. We asked for and received a stamp in our pilgrim passes. Even if we didn’t walk to Delegate, we thought that it should be included as a destination on the MWW.
Enough sight-seeing, we needed to get walking. Paul drove us back to the 5km point down the Craigie road, dropped us off and then went back to Bendoc to hand in the key for the OSH at the pub. We finished the last stretch to the main highway (only vehicle we passed was a parked 4×4 driven buy a young man who said he was from Rochester in Victoria and who was working up here for a while – he had a tiny 14 day old puppy sleeping on a cushion on the passenger side of the seat!), and then turned toward Bombala. This stretch of road had heavier traffic than anything we had experienced since leaving Orbost – a car every 3-5 minutes, but there was a wide verge on the side of the road on which we could walk. One thing about walking in the countryside – you get to smell all the smells. That’s really nice when you are walking through a pine forest for example, but pretty nasty when you are walking past roadkill on the side of the road. Kangaroos and wombats smashed to bits – some almost petrified from being out in the heat for years and looking like some kind of prehistoric fossil, but others rather more “fresh” and disconcerting (no wombat should look the way one poor specimen ended up a the bottom of the ditch).
If we were looking still for the Lord of the Rings analogy for the area through which we were walking, we were now in Rohan, the rolling grasslands of the horsemen. And indeed there were horses – and cattle and sheep and more pine plantations.
Before very long at all, in fact, after walking only 7kms, we came to the spot that Paul had designated as our lunch stop. It was a marked fireplace stop on the Little Plains River just alongside the bridge on the Delegate side. Although the “fireplace” has seen better days, the situation is a pleasant place to stop for a picnic. I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the cold water. Paul was just starting off for a short ride as we arrived, and had returned again by the time we had finished our food, so we left together. He drove on towards Bombala where he was planning to do some riding and we set off intending to do the final 20kms into town before sunset.
Along the way, I changed the stoppers on the bottom of my walking stocks. I should have done this ages ago, and it was especially necessary now that we were walking on sealed surfaces. It is an oddly significant moment. Every worn pair of rubber ends means a certain distance of hiking covered. Not sure what that distance is, but I can remember wearing through a set on the Aussie Camino the first time I did that.
As we walked along, the sky behind us in the west was particularly ominous. At first, because we could still clearly see far into the distant western mountains behind us, I thought that we would escape any possible showers. But then there was both a sudden drop in air temperature and a pick up of the wind. I could see around me falls of rain to the south and we began to hear loud thunder rumbles. Just as I came up to the bridge over Aston Creek, I decided that it would be better to put on all my wet weather gear sooner when it was dry than later in pouring rain. I have a pair of gortex pants and a poncho that goes over everything. I changed my shoes for sandles (which will dry quicker) and tied my shoes to my backpack under the poncho. I put my phone and ipad inside snaplock plastic bags (a cheap waterproof cover – you can still operate them through the plastic). All this done, I headed off, the wind flapping the poncho like a flag.
I was perhaps 500m ahead of Seán at this stage. More thunder and wind. Then ahead of me, Paul came driving up in the car: “Get in,” he said, “The rains about to come and the information centre at the Mary MacKillop house will shut at 4pm” (it was now 3:30pm). I wasn’t quite certain about this, but did as he bade me and we drove on down to pick up Seán. No sooner had Seán got in the car, than the first large drops of rain began to fall. Paul explained that he had gone into the Information Centre at Bombala and discovered that the house next door had been the Josephite Convent and that St Mary MacKillop had stayed there in 1899 and again in 1901. But it was shutting for the weekend and if we wanted to see it we had to go now.
So I resigned myself to the fact that today was going to be a very short walk and that we would have to make it up tomorrow. Nevertheless, I am glad that Paul was thinking on his feet, otherwise we would have missed a major Mary MacKillop site/sight on the pilgrimage. The old convent was next door to the Lavendar and Platypus centre (yes, a bit of a strange mix), and the attendant directed us to the convent where we could see the room in which Mother Mary stayed when she was here. They are still setting the room up, and hoping (with the support of the Sisters of St Joseph from Sydney) to get more significant pieces with which to decorate Mother Mary’s room.
The rain really started coming down now, and Paul took us around to Queen Street where we called in on Sister Theresa rsj at the Convent. The Convent had once been a private hospital before it was bought by the Joeys, and now Sister lives there alone as the local pastoral associate. She kindly received us and made tea and ham sandwiches for us. We didn’t really need the sandwiches, as we had had a big lunch and were about to go out for dinner, but the bread was really fresh, the ham delicious and the tea very thirst quenching. We talked to Sister Theresa about the pilgrimage and other aspects of our devotion to St Mary and about the history of the Josephites in the area and about her own work with the parish and the local Catholic primary school. She was interested to hear that I was an ex-Lutheran pastor, and pulled out a copy of The Tablet which had an article on Martin Luther. She also had a copy of the Eden Magnet in which the story by Liz Tickner had been published – it was good to see it in print. We said we were looking forward to worshipping with the local congregation in the morning. I knew it would be a service of the word with Holy Communion as Fr Mick is away in Nigeria, and I jokingly said that I could preach the homily if she liked. She wanted to know how long I would normally have preached in the past, and I said 10-15 minutes. “Oh, too long – five is enough!” I countered that it doesn’t matter how long you preach as long as you are able to hold their attention.
After saying our goodbyes we went around to the presbytery on the other side of the street. Paul had already dropped off most of the gear and we sorted ourselves out with rooms. There are only two bedrooms, but there is an office in which I have set myself up with the blow up mattress. Seán did his washing and I had a shower and my first shave since Monday morning. We then got ready to go around to the local RSL Club for lunch, when there was a knock on the door. It was Sister Theresa saying she had talked to the other members of her team and they decided to ask me to offer the “reflection” after the Gospel tomorrow after all! So I have prepared a short 5 minute homily, which should do the trick!
The RSL is quite a nice spot – a bar with a separate restaurant that does a simple menu with mains from $16.50 to $26. I had the seafood basket and the other two had the pork medallions. Both were excellent. The beer on tap was various, including Cascade, Toohey’s Old, and Lazy Yak, so we were happy with that. We thought we might return there tomorrow night.
Back at the Presbytery I did my washing and hung it out on the line – the rain had cleared up and a mist was coming through. There was also still a strange flickering in the dark sky like the reflection of lightening somewhere in the distance. I think we will have a clear day tomorrow. Seán is very keen to see a bit of the town after the service tomorrow, so he has decided not to do the last 9kms into town. I, however, will get Paul to drop me there after the service is finished and then I will walk back to the presbytery for lunch and we will then walk on as far as we can get to Cathcart before nightfall. The next two days, Monday and Tuesday, to Towamba is less than 50km in total, so it should all average out okay. Michael Sheppard at Eden rang tonight to ask if we were all still on target for arriving on Wednesday night, which I confirmed. He said that he would like for us to go out for tea, and that some other members of the parish might join us. I look forward to that.
Anyway, it is now midnight, and I have finally managed to get up-to-date with this blog. It will be much easier writing tomorrow night now that I don’t have to keep casting my mind back 48 hours in the evening.