Distance home to Boronia by car: 538km (6hrs 20min driving)
It is a fact often overlooked that in the centuries before the transport revolution, when people went on pilgrimage, their journey was only half finished when they reached their destination. They then had to turn around and make their way home by the same means by which they had arrived. We, on the other hand, have speedier means of transport to bring us home; nevertheless, it was still a 7.5hour drive (including breaks) for Paul. Seán and I were immensely grateful for his kind willingness to do this. Especially given that we left Eden after a rather full morning.
The day dawned sunny but still very windy. We rose early and breakfasted with the Sheppards before going around to the Hall. We wanted to have a good look at heir collection and displays before mass, as afterwards there was to be a morning tea and we wanted to make a timely start for Melbourne. The parish has made a good set up, with lots of informative displays, especially focusing on Flora MacKillop who died in the shipwreck of the Ly-ee-Moon 30 May 1886 – almost 131 years ago – at Greencape, off the Port of Eden. I was particularly struck by an original portrait of Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney and Australia’s first Cardinal. Moran visited St Mary in Sydney a few days before she died. When he left, he expressed the opinion that “I consider I have this day assisted at the deathbed of a saint”.
Following our time in the Hall, we went down to the church – Our Lady Star of the Sea – for the 9:30am mass. The altar of the church had been designed to incorporate the prow of a whaling style ship pointing out of the front. Striking indeed, but it struck me as the most effective way to prevent ad orientation celebration of the mass that I had yet encountered! The Vicar General, Fr Tony Percy – and his Labrador dog William the Conqueror – were visiting the parish to fill in for Fr James, the parish priest, who was away at the time of our visit. Fr Tony asked me to say a few words about our pilgrimage before the mass, and then spoke about St Mary during the homily. He also remembered Fr Paul Gardiner SJ, the postulator for St Mary’s cause, who died a few weeks ago. I remembered that Fr Gardiner was the priest at Penola on Palm Sunday 2014 at the end of our first Aussie Camino. On that occasion he blessed the hiking stocks that I still use and have used all the way on this part of the journey.
After the mass everyone present posed for a photo together with us in front of the altar. This is one of my favourite pictures of the whole journey. We also met Hilaire Alba, an artist who had painted a portrait of St Mary MacKillop which was installed in the church, and who had just finished work on an Our Lady of Lourdes grotto outside in the grounds of the Church which is to be consecrated in the next few weeks. We all went up to the hall for morning tea, and while there, a reporter from the Eden Magnet came to get a more in depth story on our pilgrimage for the next editio of the paper. His name is Zach Hubber, and he is studying to be a teacher at ACU in Canberra. In the meantime he is working part-time as a journalist. He asked very intelligent questions, showing an understanding of what pilgrimage is all about. [His final article can be viewed here. It also turned out, when I returned to Melbourne, that Zach is the nephew of Brenda Hubber, who works next door to my office in the Cardinal Knox Centre as the Archdiocesan officer for Migrants and Refugees.] Zach took photos of us outside the Hall, also with the two Sisters of St Jospeh, Sr Brigid and Sr Bernadette. (Sr Brigid, by the way, grew up in the Towamba Valley, near Burragate. She returned to Eden some years ago to care for her centenarian mother before her death.)
Now it was time to say goodbye. It was just after 11am, and we thought we might catch an early lunch at the famous Boydtown landmark, the Seahorse Inn. Back in November 2014, when I first travelled through this area on my motorcycle with my brother and a mate from the Christian Motorcycle Association gathering in Stanwell Tops, we stayed at Boydtown Caravan park. We asked the proprietor whether there was somewhere to eat nearby and he said that there was a hotel down the road which we could reach by walking out onto the beach and turning right. We followed these directions, but when we got onto the beach, there were no signs of civilisation. Strongly doubting that we had heard correctly, we none-the-less turned right and walked about 200m down the beach – to come face-to-face with the most incredible country pub I have ever seen. You can read about the history of the Seahorse Inn here.
So the Inn was always on my list to visit when we were in Eden again, and I was glad to find that Seán shared this desire. I believe that Paul had been there before with his wife Frances, but was agreeable to the visit. We entered the bar and inquired about getting a light lunch, but the kitchen was not to be opened until 12noon, which was a bit of a wait and we were eager to get on the move. However, they had Grand Ridge Pale Ale – from Mirboo North – on tap, and neither Seán nor I could pass this up, despite the early hour of the day, so we each had a schooner (Paul, as our driver, was restricted to a coffee). We then headed back out to the car to get under way. But as we did, Seán spotted the old ruined Anglican Church on the hill – a feature about which I was completely ignorant until then, but for which Seán had been on the lookout. The ruins were on the top of – yes, you guessed it – another bloody hill, and a big one at that, and Seán was half way up it already. Well, it looked like we had another bit of sight-seeing to do yet. In truth, I needed little encouragement. Paul resigned himself and followed after us. It was quite a struggle to get to the top of the hill on which the red brick ruins were perched. From what I can gather, the church was never actually used, and burned down in bushfires in 1926. The surviving ruin has a rather picturesque and gothic appearance, although the effect is rather spoiled by the wire mesh fence erected around it.
By the time we finished photographing the church, it was after 12 o’clock, and Paul decided that since we were still here we might as well return to the Inn and have lunch. I am very glad that we did. Seán and I both ordered the mussels in broth for $17, expecting that we would probably get half a dozen each. Instead we each received a mound of mussels in their shells – I counted about 2 dozen each. They were fresh and delicious. As a result of this generous lunch, I found myself falling asleep in the back seat of the car for the first hour of our journey home, waking only when we arrived in Orbost. From here on we were driving driving past places where we had walked last year. It was a strange experience knowing that we were covering in one day the distance that had taken us 25 days to walk. We stopped in Nowa Nowa at the Mingling Waters Cafe (a great spot to stop – it is a tourist attraction in its own right apart from the excellent food) for afternoon tea, and in Sale at MacDonalds for dinner. I mentioned that I had been listening to John Cleese’s autobiography – read by the author – and Paul suggested that I put it on for us all to listen to as we were travelling. It provided good humour and also an interesting accompaniment on the long journey home. We got into Melbourne at about 8:30pm, and dropped Seán at the train station, before heading around to my place to unpack. I thanked and farewelled Paul – who is leaving next Wednesday for Italy and his 6-week bike tour from Sicily to Lake Como – and that was the end of the pilgrimage for 2017.
Personally, arriving home is one of my favourite parts of going on pilgrimage. The familiar, seen through eyes grown accustomed to the unfamiliar, is immensely comforting. Nevertheless, no matter what level of nirvana or spiritual enlightenment one may have achieved on pilgrimage, day-to-day concerns instantly impinge themselves back into your life. In my case, I arrived back to find that my wife had gone to be with a friend whose husband had had a heart-attack, my youngest daughter was out with friends, and – of course – remembering that my oldest daughter had recently moved out of home. As a result, my homecoming was like that of the man in the fairy-tale: the first one to welcome me home was the dog.
Later, I tweeted: “Well, I’m back”. I thought I was quoting Bilbo Baggins from the ending of The Hobbit, but a quick bit of research proved that the quote comes from Sam Gamgee upon his return from seeing Frodo off at Grey Havens. But in The Hobbit, I found the following verse from Bilbo:
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.