MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Amalgamated Posts of the First Leg

Well, now that we are home, I have been able to upload the final picture galleries for our last few days on the first leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage. Sean and I caught the 7:50am coach from Bairnsdale early on Sunday morning to Sale (a bit disappointing, as the train was being repaired). We arrived in Sale in time to attend the 9:30am mass at St Mary’s Cathedral (led by the dean, Fr Bickley). We explored the Port of Sale area and tried to look for evidence of the original rail station. We had lunch in the theatre cafe (where I had a glass of local Lightfoot & Sons wine), and then got back on the 2:15pm train to Melbourne. The ride home was a curious experience of seeing our pilgrimage in fast rewind!

So now that the photos are all uploaded, here is a list of links in chronological order for you to look back over the whole pilgrimage from Fitzroy to Bairnsdale. I would very much welcome contact from anyone who would like to learn more about the route we took, the accommodation and other logistics, should you wish to follow in our footsteps.

For those who want to know, our original Google Earth measurement for the entire leg was 320km. My GPS measurement came in at 366kms. So Sean and I have decided to call it a round 340kms.

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day One
(Easter Monday, March 28: Fitzroy to Wantirna South)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Two
(Easter Tuesday, March 29: Wantirna South to Emerald)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Three
(Wednesday, March 30: Emerald to Tynong North)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Four
(Thursday, March 31: Tynong North to Drouin)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Five
(Friday, April 1: Drouin to Yarragon)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Six
(Saturday, April 2: Yarragon to Moe)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Seven
(Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3: Moe to Traralgon)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Eight
(Monday, April 4: Traralgon to Cowwarr)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Nine
(Tuesday, April 5: Rest Day in Cowwar)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Ten
(Wednesday, April 6: Cowwarr to Maffra)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Eleven
(Thursday, April 7: Maffra to Munro)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Twelve
(Friday, April 8: Munro to Lindenow)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Thirteen
(Saturday, April 9: Lindenow to Bairnsdale)

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Endorsement of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage from Bishop Patrick of Sale

I returned to the office this morning to find this waiting in my pigeon hole:

Endorsement by Bishop Patrick of Sale

A very pleasant surprise. Here is a scan of the pilgrim passport with Bishop Patrick’s seal upon it:

Pilgrim Passport with the Seal of Bishop Patrick of Sale

We still have plenty of walking to do in the Sale Diocese before crossing the border into Canberra-Goulburn, so we are very thankful to the Bishop of Sale for this encouragement.

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Thirteen (End of 1st leg)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Pilgrimage Day Thirteen (Original route in red, alternative route we took today in blue)

MWW Pilgrimage Day Thirteen (Original route in red, alternative route we took today in blue)

Endings are hard. The end of a pilgrimage is, I think, especially hard. John Cooney said to me the other day that he always found arriving in Santiago a bit of an anticlimax at the end of the Camino. I can understand why many go on to Finisterre after Santiago – they just can’t stop. I guess I could go down to the lake tomorrow morning and throw my sandals in…

Actually, we still have a bit of a journey to go. When we arrived in Bairnsdale this afternoon there was a wedding just finishing at St Mary’s, so we didn’t want to bust into the party. Instead we went down to the station (it closes on Saturday at the odd time of 16:40, and we arrived at 16:10) and bought our tickets for the train journey back home tomorrow. I am rather looking forward to this, to travelling back along the path we walked in reverse. We followed the train line for much of the way here. It really is the lifeline of Gippsland. There is an odd symbiotic relationship between walking trails and trains too. When we were not actually following the line, we were often walking on trails that used to be railways. On the first day we walked along the Waverley line, then along the Ringwood-Belgrave rail trail, then along the Puffing Billy line for a few days, before meeting up with the Sale/Bairnsdale line at Garfield and practically following it to Moe. Then there was the Yallourn Rail Trail, and from Traralgon the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail before we met up again with the Bairnsdale line at Stratford and virtually followed that through to here. When we start up our pilgrimage again, we will be on another rail trail for three days to Orbost.

But for the moment, this is the end of the line. Fitting then that we had our final meal at the Grand Terminus Hotel near the station. A very good meal of lamb cutlets. Reasonable price – in fact I thought it was very cheap when I paid the bill. As we were walking away, I realised the problem – our drinks had not been added to the tab. Sean thought I should take the attitude “the Camino provides”, but I went back and paid for them. I didn’t want to end the pilgrimage feeling guilty. As Arthur Dent said, I would be “all cross and wouldn’t enjoy it”.

We are staying tonight at the Presbytery at St Mary’s in Bairnsdale. I had arranged this with Fr Peter Bickley, a long time acquaintance like John Cooney through the Sale Diocesan Ecumenical Affairs Commission. Peter has been chairperson for as long as I have worked for the Archdiocese. When we began planning our pilgrimage, Peter was parish priest here, but he was shifted at the end of last year to become the dean and parish priest of the Cathedral in Sale. Thankfully, his successor in Bairnsdale was also an acquaintance – Fr Michael Willemsen. Fr Michael kindly honoured Fr Peter’s offer of accommodation. As it turned out, when we arrived, Fr Michael had already left for the overnight stay in Omeo where he is saying mass this weekend and won’t be back till tomorrow afternoon. However, Fr Peter was back in town as the celebrant of the wedding we saw this afternoon as we arrived. He was watching the Adelaide vs Richmond match on television in the lounge room when we arrived and were shown to our rooms by Fr Siju, one of the assistant priests of the parish. We had half an hour or so to catch up and talk about the pilgrimage and other news before Fr Peter needed to leave for the wedding reception. Before he did, he kindly granted us a pilgrims’ blessing.

Earlier, on our way back from buying our tickets at the train station, Sean and I had gone into St Mary’s to sing the Regina Caeli at the Lady Chapel, to pray the commemoration of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and to give thanks to God for the safe conclusion of this, our first leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way pilgrimage to St Mary’s shrine in Sydney. St Mary’s is a very suitable place to end this first leg of our pilgrimage; in fact, it would be a suitable place to which to make a pilgrimage full stop. It isn’t an official shrine or anything, but the building itself is something of a tourist Mecca thanks to the work of an itinerant artist many years ago. It is sometimes called the Gippsland Sistine Chapel and you can see the source of the inspiration. It isn’t Michelangelo, but it is impressive. The Church is currently undergoing extensive renovations at a great cost. The building is aging in all departments, from its floor to its walls to its ceiling and the frescoes themselves.

From the beauty of the man-made sanctuary, let us turn to the beauty of the sanctuary not made by human hands, namely God’s own creation through which Sean and I walked today. Last night at the Lindenow Pub, Sal advised us that the better road to walk to Bairnsdale would be on the north side of the Mitchell River Valley rather than on the main road into town. Despite it being hillier and slightly longer by a couple of kilometres, we decided to take her advice and are glad we did on every level. The full distance of the new route was 21kms by Google Maps, but 23.8 by the GPS. Our planned route was to be only 17kms.

We left Lindenow rather later than usual because today would be a shorter day. Sean went off in search of a coffee as is his want, and surprisingly he found a city-style cafe that had just closed down the day before. The gay couple who ran the cafe had sold the business and were “taking a gap year”. Despite no longer being open for business, Sean managed to talk his way in and to get two takeaway cups of coffee out of them, one for him and one for me – the last coffees they were to make in their cafe. Despite the closure of their business, they had actually sold it to new owners, so the chances are that future pilgrims may be able to get their dose of caffeine there still.

We left Altar Ego after a good breakfast – I had made a couple of sandwiches out of the toast bread to take along today as there were no towns between here and Bairnsdale. We went via St Claire’s Church where we sang the Regina Caeli and prayed the Commemoration of St Mary as well as a collect from the Itinerarium for pilgrims. There were bees buzzing in the blossoming gum trees in the yard of the church, and in the other trees on the road out of town.

We very soon found that the main road on which we had planned to walk (the C601 Bairnsdale – Dargo Road) was very busy indeed and quite unpleasant to walk on. So we were glad to turn off on our revised route onto Windmill Road which became Settlement Road towards the end. This straight piece of sealed road is largely a connecting point for the vegetable farms and so carries farm machinery, tractors, utes and trucks, but not in high volume. It was relatively quiet. We walked past alternating fields of dairy cattle and vegetable plots (I recognised potatoes, corn and carrots).

About four kilometres out of Lindenow, you reach a cross roads in which Settlement road takes a left hand turn to the north towards and across the river (the other two roads are Thatchers Road leading south and Soldiers Road continuing East). The Mitchell is crossed via a one lane bridge, and then Settlement Road climbs up the northern embankment of the Mitchell River valley. Two kilometres after the cross roads, you take a right hand turn to the East into the Wy Yung – Calulu Road, which takes you all the way along the northern ridge for about 11kms through Ellaswood to the C603 Bullamwaal Road at Wy Yung. You then take the Bullamwaal Road south into Bairnsdale.

This was an extraordinarily beautiful route, which transformed what would have been merely the last final section to our destination into a hike worthy in itself of venturing out on such a sunny day. Again, the road was not very busy. It seems to be a favourite with motorcyclists leisurely taking in the scenery and young fellows in four-wheel drives going very fast to wherever it was they had to be. But most of the time it was quiet and peaceful. The scenery was astounding, whether looking north to the mountains (it appears that this side of the valley was in the foothills), or looking south over the valley. By Jensons Road, which we went down a short way, it was possible to see the tower of St Mary’s in the far distance, and the lakes on which Bairnsdale is situated.

We stopped for our lunch on top of a hill in Ellaswood, just outside a farmhouse in the shade of some pine trees. We had climbed up onto the verge of the road to get a view of the valley. Before long, the lady of the house came out to see where the voices she could hear were coming from. When we told her that we were walking, she offered to get us both a cup of tea, an offer we gladly accepted. When she returned with two mugs, we introduced ourselves properly and explained what we were doing. Gwen and her husband run beef cattle on their farm over looking the valley, right next to a vineyard that stretches out over the bluff (nb. Added footnote from Sunday – I’ve just had a glass of Lightfoot & Sons Chardonnay in a cafe in Sale – and it turns out they are Gwen’s neighbours – we should have Calle in and got a bottle or two – it’s good stuff). She also filled Sean’s water bottle for him. It is kindness like this that is a gift when you are on pilgrimage.

When we arrived at the intersection of the Wy Yung – Calulu Road and the Bullamwaal Road, I rang Fr Michael to say that we would be about another hour before we arrived and where we were. He asked if we were ringing from the Wy Yung Pub. “There’s a pub?”, I asked, my attention immediately engaged. “Yes, a very good one, make sure you drop in”, he replied. I added that this would probably mean a slightly later arrival, and we set off again with renewed energy in search of this watering hole. Not far down the road, there it was, perched on the edge of the bank looking out into the valley. This was a welcome sight! Inside we found half a dozen friendly locals and a young fellow behind the bar who cheerily pulled us a couple of pints of James Squire’s pale ale. There were two large television screens above the bar – one playing the Adelaide vs Richmond game and the other playing the St Kilda vs Collingwood game. He had an unusual foreign accent, which I mistakenly thought was Irish. We asked him how long he had been working here, and it turns out that he was the publican. He – Anthony – and his young wife Jacquie bought the pub some years back and have made a real go of it. Anthony is in fact French, and was born in Paris. Jacquie on the other other hand is from Lakes Entrance, a niece of a well known priest in the diocese who died only recently, Fr John Allan.

We rolled out of the Wy Yung pub and hit the road for the last few kilometres of our pilgrimage. I think in the end we picked the best way to enter into Bairnsdale. The road led down into the valley and over the Mitchell River, and then immediately to the left of the road, the path went along the riverfront. This was a leafy green and shaded entry into town. When we came up onto the street, we were in just the right place to enter Pyke Street and head toward the Church and Train Station.

The rest of the story has already been told. It is now almost 11pm and we plan to leave by 7am in the morning.

I wondered if I would get emotional toward the end of the journey. Perhaps if there had been some really good hymns and singing at the vigil mass tonight I might have got a bit teary, but the mass was said without any music at all. Still, as we said the prayers together and wished one another the peace of Christ, there was a deep feeling of thanksgiving in my heart for all who made the journey possible.

I am thankful to all our benefactors along the way. Those who billetted us: the Focolare Community in Wantirna South, Deacon Mark Kelly, the parishioners at St Joseph’s in Emerald, Fr Bernard Buckley in Traralgon, Fr Harry Dyer in Moe, John and Judy Cooney in Cowwarr, and Fr Michael here in Bairnsdale. I am thankful to all the establishments who gave us food and shelter: Peppermint Ridge farm, Yarragon Motel, Macalister Hotel, Altar Ego Church Stay, and countless pubs, cafes and bakeries along the way.

I want to thank all friends and family who contributed financial support to this venture. It is never cheap to go on a two week journey, even if your mode of transportation is on foot! Your support has made it possible.

Above all I want to thank my pilgrim companions, Sean and Josh. I started off planning to do this journey on my own, marking my 50 years of life and the Josephites’ 150th anniversary of their founding. But it was so much more special doing it with companions who shared the experience and will share the memories. By God’s grace we will reunite to continue this pilgrimage in the future.

And finally I want to thank my family, Cathy and Mad and Mia, who have given me leave to walk out the front door and go wandering. It was Cathy’s encouragement that first confirmed in me the intention to do the Aussie Camino two years ago, an intention which is now flowering into something completely new.

I admitted to Sean today as we crossed the Mitchell River and climbed up the hill on the other side that I am a hopeless romantic. I long to fill my life with adventure and heroism – but there is precious little opportunity for that in today’s world. As we return to daily life, the truth that we must face is that the very mundane life we lead travelling from day to day is in fact, if approached in the right spirit, an adventure, and the constancy of a pilgrim – who will not be frightened off by “hobgoblin nor foul fiend” – is required in every moment of our Christian life in community with others.

I will close this long final post with the words of a Lisa Mitchell song I heard just the other day:

Not all who wander are lost.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Twelve

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Twelve

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Twelve

Today we farewelled Cowwarr for good, as John Cooney drove us back to Munro for our second to last day of walking on this first leg of our pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. I left a donation for the continued upkeep of the Parish House in Cowwarr and any future pilgrims along this route are encouraged to do the same. The future of the house is not certain; and at present it is a perfect stopover place for travellers looking for a place of spiritual significance and natural beauty to stay a night or two.

John dropped us at the very spot that we were picked up, and we set out walking along Sinclairs Road, a good gravel road/track that runs right along the railway line from Munro to the next old siding town, Fernbank. The trail is only used by local farmers to access their properties, so we only met two vehicles on the whole way. Like our walk along Freemans Lane yesterday, it was silent and peaceful, with nice bush land around us and farmland to the sides.

Arriving in Fernbank we met a local woman, Jill, who pointed out to us that we could continue along the railway from Fernbank along Pearce Street which eventually connected with the Fernbank-Lindenow Road. I met another local, Paul, with whom we talked about walking as he was going on a three day walking trip with his son in the near future. then we had a look around town. The Catholic Church, one of the most prominent buildings in the hamulet, has been converted into a very nice home, and the Uniting Church (St Margaret’s) had only just recently been sold and was being converted into a holiday home. We sat and ate our picnic lunch on the steps of the Hall. The hall had a bit of a verandah on it, which you could camp under at a pinch, but there are no public toilets. Water is only available from the rainwater tank down by the CFA shed.

Leaving town by Pearce Street, we were again in quiet bushland until the track met up with the sealed bitumen road to Lindenow South. This was not at all a busy road, and had a good verge on it even when traffic came along, so was pleasant walking. There is no track on this section along the railway, and you have to follow it all the way into Lindenow South. The plains gave way to low hills along this stretch.

Entering Lindenow South you come first to the Football and Tennis grounds. There are ample spots here for a camper to find shelter without a tent and very good public toilets. It also has a little general store, which Sean tells me was well stocked with cold drinks but little else. The local cemetery is also on the road north of town, and so I popped in there for a look and a prayer for the holy souls.

But we were pushing on to Lindenow (pronounced -oh rather than -ow) proper which was still four kilometres away. There are a couple of ways of getting there after you cross the railway line. I took the direct root on the main road. After crossing several hills you come down into the broad valley of the Mitchell River that appears to be used for vegetable farming. Lindenow is built upon the souther bank of this valley, and affords some quite dramatic views. The road leads down into the valley, and then you have to climb back up again into the main street.

I was really exhausted by this point and was glad to have made it into the post office / general store by 4:40pm to get a stamp in my pilgrim passport. Sean was some way behind me, so I went around to our accomodation which is just across the main road in Ross Stweet. Altar Ego Church Stay is a new B&B run by David and Robyn, converted from the old Anglican Church (currently the Uniting Church and Anglicn Church share the brick church across the road). It has two rooms available, both set up for couples rather than groups of travellers, although there is an adjoining door if you wanted to hire the whole place. Sean and I had booked the “Queen Room” at the back for $140 a night with a $10 extra charge per person for breakfast provisions (cereal, bread, jam, vegemite, fresh fruit, milk, yoghurt). It is a one room layout, with bed, shower, toilet, table and sink area all in the one space. Very contemporary in design and aimed at comfort. We missed a microwave oven, which might be useful for some travellers (I like to heat up my cup of tea when it has gone cold), and we took turns going outside when the other was using the bathroom (really, I don’t think that even if Cathy and I were going to stay here together we would want to be on display when going to the toilet!). Still, much more comfortable than sharing a tent!

When Sean arrived, we cleaned up and showered and shaved before going over to the local Lindenow Pub for dinner. This is a really nice place, with very friendly staff. The proprietors are Shane and Sal (? – I think I got those names right). Those staying at the Altar Ego get 10% off food and drinks. The pub values its heritage and has a underlying Irish theme. There is Guinness on tap (we each had two pints), and the food is excellent and moderately priced. I had leek soup and beef and Guinness (natch) pie with mash for $30 all up. While we were waiting for our dinner, Sal showed us around the dinning rooms pointing out the pictures on the wall showing the heritage of Lindenow and of the pub, and some original artworks of the local scenery. I very strongly advise future pilgrims to put this establishment on their itinerary. Unfortunately the Pub isn’t set up for accomodation.

Today was another good day for praying along the way, quite and peaceful. I am feeling totally relaxed, although with the end of this leg of the pilgrimage in sight I am wondering how long this feeling of well being will last when I return to the real world where the daily pilgrimage is to work and back. Pope Francis’ Post Synodal Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, on the Joy of Marriage and Family Life, came out tonight. In it, he describes marriage and family life itself as a journey, a Camino, a pilgrimage. I am wondering if there is a way I can approach my daily life in the same way that I am approaching this pilgrimage. Yes, there are a thousand little things to plan along the way, but you keep your eyes on the eventual destination, and realise that wherever you are in terms of the present problems you are passing on to other things. At the same time there is the need to appreciate the present moment, to look at the scenery, to feel the ground beneath your feet. In terms of marriage and family relationships, that is the valuing of every moment. And again, on this pilgrimage, I have had to live at close (sometimes like tonight very close) quarters with my pilgrim partners Sean and Josh. You can’t walk together if you are at each other’s throats all the time. You have to constantly show your better virtues to one another rather than give vent to your weaker side (as Pope Francis says of marriage in his letter). So I think there is plenty of food for thought along these lines as I return to the so-called “real world” on Sunday.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

I am a day behind in my write-ups of the pilgrimage – I was so tired last night (Thursday night) that I went straight to bed at 8:30pm and Sean had to wake me at 6:30am this morning.

So – travelogue first then “inner stuff”.

We were staying at the Macalister Hotel in Maffra on Wednesday night. The rooms are cheap – $40 each, including basic breakfast of cereals and toast – but the food in the dining room is expensive and nothing to write home about (steaks at around $35, cheapest dish was flake and chips at $20). The really nice thing was the lounge area, which had a gas heater for us to dry out our clothes by, and was a comfortable place to have a cup of tea and write up my blog. When I went to bed, I had blaring Sports TV going in the outdoor area of the pub outside my window, but I didn’t really notice it once I put my earplugs in. I must have fallen asleep almost immediately.

We woke to sunshine and clear skies. Maffra is an interesting town with a lot to check out. We found the Catholic Church, a large red brick construction with an imposing double story presbytery on the side and a bell tower on the lawn in between. We knocked on the door of the presbytery, but Fr Darren wasn’t answering. We found out later that all the priests of the Diocese of Sale are on retreat this week. Maffra has many historic buildings that are worth checking out, and Sean was keen to get his morning cup of “really good coffee”. After coffee, we checked out the sugar beet museum (open on the first Sunday of each month between 10 and 2pm, so you have to be lucky). Heading down the Main Street, we came to the Maffra Motor Inn (aka the Motel), where Fr Ken of the Anglican Ordinariate and his wife Carmel are the proprietors. Ken was very happy to talk about our pilgrimage and to learn more about it. He had heard what we were doing, as he had been out at Cowwarr to celebrate the Annunciation Mass on Monday and again there only the previous morning for Weekday mass at 10am – unfortunately we missed him both times, but John Cooney told him about his guests. The Motor Inn would be a good alternative place to stay for any pilgrims coming through. Before we left, Fr Ken gave us his blessing – a very good way to set off.

We soon got back onto the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, and the last leg took us through to Stratfort on the river Avon. The area we were walking through was largely cattle and irrigation land. I was staggered at one piece of irrigation machinery which, rather than usual 5 sections of sprinklers, had as many as 14 all in one piece. Eventually, just outside Stratford, we arrived at the point where the Rail Trail met the current working railway. At one time in the past, both railways were operating, and you can still see where they once joined.

Stratford is a really pretty little town, and the river on which it is situated is also very beautiful. I was surprised to find a large store selling Turkish ceremics, carpets and other paraphernalia – it felt like being back in Istanbul. We went around to look at the Catholic Church, and back to the bakery for lunch. There was an Historical Car club from Bairnsdale having their monthly morning tea run in town, which provided additional interest. We fell to talking with a woman at the bakery from Sale – Anne – who claimed to have been cured of cancer by St Mary MacKillop. We popped into the post office for a stamp on our pilgrim passports, and then headed out of town.

Not on the main highway though! Our route took us north on the Briagolong Road (C494), and then branching off onto the Stockdale Road. The Stockdale Road is very quiet, but there are still a few vehicles. If you like, there are horse trails on both sides of the road that you can walk on. Sean preferred this, but I was a little wary of snakes, and just walking in sandals and socks did not afford me much protection, so I walked on the road. When we arrived at the turn off to Freemans Lane (the next part of our route), I sat down to rest at a bus shelter and wait for Sean to catch up. It was then that I became aware that, perhaps for the very first time on our entire pilgrimage, we were in a spot where there was absolutely no vehicles or engines to be heard of any kind. It was completely silent except for crickets and birds.

The roads from Stratford had thus far been sealed bitumen roads, but now we turned onto a narrow gravel side road called Freemans Lane. This was absolutely idyllic. After wandering through farmland for a bit, we came down the hill into a forested area – some hardwood plantation and some natural bush reserve. I think this would have to have been one of the most peaceful sections of the whole pilgrimage. Not wanting to pass up a prayerful mood, I got my rosary out and prayed a round of the glorious mysteries for all my intentions on the journey.

The silence was broken by a kid on a trail bike just at the end of the reserve as we made our way into Munro. Munro was a “problem spot” for us in planning the Pilgrimage as there was no accomodation there and we could not locate a Catholic household to put us up for the night. John Cooney had graciously offered to meet us there and take us back to Cowwarr for the night. So, as planned, he was waiting for us outside the little Anglican Church when we arrived. We wanted to explore the hamlet a little more before heading off, and try to meet some locals. I spied a couple getting into their ute and trailor across from the Church on the north side of the Munro Hall, and went over to introduce myself to them.

They were the right people to speak to. David and Maureen are on the Hall committee and they said that they rent it out for $50 a night for functions. Sometimes cyclists come and camp on the hall grounds, where there is a sheltered barbecue area, toilets and fresh water in the rain water tank. I asked about pilgrims using the hall itself to camp in. At first they were a little hesitant – “How many people are we talking about?” – when I answered “No more than two or three at a time”, they said that that would be no problem at all. I have their details and gave them mine and will get in touch with them again once we get back to Melbourne to confirm any future plans. At the very least, Josh will be wanting some accomodation when he comes through later this year.

So John drove us back to Cowwarr. Sean and I had invited John and Judy out to dinner at the pub as a thank you for their generosity, but John had a pervious engagement leading a Men Alive scripture study group in the parish hall, and he felt obligated to that commitment. So Sean and I went around and met the Polish publican at the Cowwarr pub and ordered Osso Bucco for dinner. It was about $33 for a main serve, but it was a filling and delicious meal, with garlic bread and chips as sides.

Going back to the Parish House, I called into the Hall where the bible study was taking place. The men were just saying their closing prayers when I arrived. However, John introduced me and asked me, as they said to St Paul, “Have you any words of encouragement for us?” I did encourage them, and said how important it is a) for Catholic men to meet together and support one another and b) how good it was that they were reading and studying scripture together.

Then back to my room to bed and sleep came at once.

Now a little bit of inner stuff. As I mentioned, the silence in the post-Stratford section today was absolutely astounding. It struck right to my core and put me in a very prayerful frame of mind. I was happy to switch off my music and just let the silence sink in. All I could hear was the crunching of my feet on the gravel. Because the track was so isolated (and I was walking several hundred metres ahead of Sean) there was a real sense of being alone in the presence of the Creator.

I won’t write any more now – Sean is trying to sleep and since our present accommodation is one open plan room I need to put out the light.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Ten

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Day 10

MWW Day 10

I called my wife Cathy when I got settled into the Macalister Hotel at Maffra this afternoon. She said that she had been following my blog, but that she was disappointed: “There’s nothing of what’s going on inside – this is supposed to be a pilgrimage, and it just reads like a travelogue!”

Fair cop. The fact is that I often write up my day’s journal late in the evening, eg. after dinner with our hosts, and am so tired that I am falling asleep writing. I am determined to record details of the walk in case anyone should wish to follow in our footsteps (?), and I often don’t have the time for the deeper reflections.

On the other hand, if you ask “What is going on inside?”, the answer is “Very little.” And for me, that says a lot. Usually I have a constant stream of thoughts and concerns and anxieties jumbling about in my head, but out on the road this past week and half, there is nothing: just the business of walking. Eg. How far to the next town, how high is that next hill, what would be the best road to take, get-off-the-road-there’s-a-car-coming – and today – it’s bloody wet, wet, wet. I have also cut out aimless things that usually fill my head when nothing else is happening: listening to podcasts, learning German on Duolingo, playing Words With Friends, etc.

Sure, I am praying. I have a number of people in need for whom I am making this pilgrimage, and from time to time their names spring to mind and I say a quick prayer for them. I say or listen to the divine office when I can, pray the Regina Caeli and the commemoration of St Mary MacKillop when I remember, go to mass when we can. I’ve said the rosary once, and I sing hymns as I walk. I have a natty little Bluetooth speaker that I link to the music collection on my phone, and set a play list going to provide a sound track to my walking for the day. For instance, Maddy Prior’s “Sing Lustily and with Good Courage” is one favourite album, and the ABC’s “For the God who sings” and a number of tracks from Glenstal Abbey. But I also listen to secular music such as Iron & Wine, Lenka, Lisa Mitchell, and – today – Bill Douglas.

The latter suited today very well as it called to mind England: green, misty and wet. As I commented above, it has been raining. The first really wet day of the pilgrimage, and I expect the last.  If Cathy will excuse me, I will give some travel details and then come back to the “inner” stuff.

We left really early from Cowwar – about 7am – with the aim of heading off the rain that we knew was coming. 8-15mm was forecast, mostly falling from noon onwards. As I sang the Regina Caeli by the grotto of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, I felt the first drops. We had to take a detour onto the public road from the old railway route just before the Thompson River, as there is no bridge there. This added a little to our planned distance, but we rejoined the trail at a lovation called “Dawson”.

A light rain fell for a few hours, and then became more consistent as we entered Heyfield and had coffee at Cafe 3858. It was a fairly trendy joint, and very popular with the locals. The owner said he had been in Heyfield for 6 years, having come from the city originally. We were making good time, but about 5km out of the next township – Tinamba – the wind whipped up and the rain began bucketing down. My plastic poncho was doing a good job of keeping me dry up till then, but now the wind and rain was getting in on the sides.

Tinamba is a really tiny place. As with most of the towns in this area, there is a general store which doubles as a post office and that is just about it. But just as Glengarry has the bakery, and Cowwar has their pub, Tinamba has the Tinamba Hotel, which serves up some pretty fancy dishes. If you are coming past this way, check that they are open, because like the pub in Cowwar, I think it is only Wednesday to Sunday. It was a very welcome stay for a couple of wet and bedraggled walkers – but I think we might have been a bit of an embarrassment for the establishment. We were asked if we had a reservation when we arrived, ano luckily they were able to fit us in. It was quite busy for a Wednesday lunchtime. The couple next to us had come up from South Gippsland for the day to have lunch here. They had a set menu of about three or four choices of entree, main and dessert, and you could have a two course meal for $30 or a three course for $40, with a glass of beer or some other drink thrown in.

With a hot meal and a schooner of ale inside us, we headed off onto the trail again. Before leaving, I found a small length of handmade string in my pack (which Anna and Anthony Krohn had been used to tie up my 50th Birthday gift of a copy of Belloc’s Path to Rome), and used it to tie in the sides of my flapping poncho. This made me look utterly ridiculous, but also kept me drier than before. The rain was still coming down but the wind had fallen off. It was 8km to Maffra, and I wasn’t mucking about. I got there in under one and half hours.

I took few pictures along the wa, despite some very gorgeous scenery, because I didn’t want my iPhone to get waterlogged. The only drawback of this section of the trail is that it runs alongside  the main road. You wouldn’t have wanted to be walking on the road today. It was extraordinarily busy and the cars and trucks were throwing up water spray. The noise was constant.

Thankfully the Macalister Hotel is the first place you come to as you enter Maffra via the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. I paid for our rooms ($40 each for a single room, with share bathroom and lounge facilities and DIY breakfast), and waited for Sean to catch up. We set the heaters going and set our clothes drying. Then I made a big pot of tea, and sat down in the lounge to call home and do this write-up.

So, back to inner stuff. A pilgrimage isn’t a holiday, and it isn’t a tourist trip either. You don’t have a lot of time or energy left over from your walking day (8 to 10 hours in general for us) to do anything else than concentrate on getting to your next destination, making sure you have enough food and water and money etc. At least we don’t  have  to worry about bandits along the way as pilgrims of old did. There is much conversation with your pilgrim partners, and there are  times when you just walk alone. There are a lot of practical decisions to make – but they are all little things. No “big issues” cloud the horizon. You pay attention to your body and (especially) your feet. You pay attention to the weather and the ground you are walking on. You might say hullo to the cows and curse the trucks. You might stop at a cemetery and pray for the departed souls.

Is there spirituality in this? Yes, I think so. One of my blog readers seat me an email at one point saying:

All you are doing mate, is going for a long walk, nothing more, nothing less.

To which I replied:

Well, that is what a pilgrimage is – but it is more in that it is aimed at a destination. In this case, the destination is the Shrine of St Mary MacKillop in Sydney. That is an indulgenced “long walk”, so then it is something “more” than just going for a walk. The spirituality of pilgrimage is an ill-defined thing, and so it is open to the definition of those who do it. We have the blessing of the Archbishop of Melbourne, so that is something.

And he replied:

Well, I have to admit, that is an excellent response.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Nine (rest day)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

And so we are having our ninth day as a rest day at Cowwar. I slept very comfortably last night indeed. I did wake a number of times, but had not trouble getting back to sleep. It was so quite – I had no need of earplugs. I only got out of bed this Tuesday morning at 8am, so that was virtually a full 12 hours sleep. After breakfast, I went into the Church to say the office of readings and morning prayer, and then spent the rest of the morning just editing photos and writing up yesterday’s report, sitting first on the verandah and then moving out under the trees on the big front lawn.

Today was meant to be about 29 degrees Celsius, and while it is warm I don’t think it has quite made it to that yet (It has just gone 3pm). It would have been a very warm day for walking. On the other hand, tomorrow, as we head off for Maffra, the weather report is predicting 5-15mm of rain throughout the day. I am not looking forward to that at all. However, Sean says “Be a man – be a pilgrim” and that to have just one day out of rain in two weeks is pretty good. He said he once had two months of rain out of a three month walk on one of his Camino jaunts in Spain…

The plan is that we will walk to Maffra tomorrow where we will stay at the hotel, and the day after walk on to Munro where (due to a complete lack of any kind of accommodation) John will pick us up and bring us back here for Thursday night. This will have two benefits: First, we need not carry our full pack all the way to Munro – we can leave our sleeping bags and other paraphernalia behind here. Secondly, we will finally get to sample the wares at the famous Cowwar Hotel!

We went for lunch with John and Judy at noon, going via the Post Office and General Store to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The General Store is really a bit light on with regard to food supplies, but you can buy some bits and pieces there such as pies and other, and other camping supplies. OK in an emergency, but you wouldn’t want to have to rely upon it.

We walked down the road to the Cooney’s home – which is the old Josephite Convent. This is our first real historical encounter with St Mary’s order since leaving Melbourne, although I am sure that we passed many other places associated with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart along the way without knowing it. Next door to their house was the original location of the Josephite school. The School house was relocated next to St Brigid’s Church on the other side from the Presbytery, and is now used as a parish hall. That is where we are going for dinner tonight.

John showed us around the house, which they bought from the Order at auction more than 30 years ago. They have not radically altered the building since buying it, and many rooms, such as the old Chapel which is now a lounge room (and sometime granchildren’s play area) retain their character. We met their little ginger kitten Benson who was as friendly as the rest of the Cooney’s. Judy served dinner of meat pie and roast vegetables followed by preserved nectarines in the dinning room, and John regaled us with stories of the history of Cowwar, his days in the airforce (a little story about flying Cape Barron geese from Flinders Island to King Island – his home town), his work for the Catholic Education Office and most importantly his stories of his own days on the Camino de Santiago. He got out his old pilgrim credential to show us. It was a very enjoyable afternoon. In return for their hospitality, Sean and I have invited them to join us for dinner at the Pub on Thursday night.

Just as we were leaving, John told us that the Rail Trail does not yet cross the Thompson River, and suggested an alternative route following the road south of the river to Heyfield. I was a bit surprised by this news, as nothing I had so far seen about the trail suggested that it was not complete all the way through to Stratford. When I got back to the Presbytery, I did a bit of investigating. The on-trail signs we photographed yesterday show a short section as “shared road-trail section”, and looking up the Trail website we found that travellers on the trail will be diverted before reaching the Thompson River along a public road that leads west onto the Cowwar-Heyfield Road (John had suggested going east), then north on the Cowwar-Seaton Road over the Thompson, and then east again on the Heyfield-Dawson Road until reconnecting with the Trail once more about half way to Heyfield.

So this afternoon I spent crunching the photos up onto the blog. Finishing that I went for a bit of a walk around the town to see how much of it I remember from my time here over ten years ago. Back home I rang my parents and then Josh rang in to see how we were doing. Then Sean and I went through our packs to decide what we needed to take for the next two days and what we can leave behind. Finally, I sat back down out in the shade on the lawn and did my sums for spending on the trip so far, drinking the last can of beer in the fridge.

Then this evening we went across to the church hall for the Seniors Singles Dinner. This was an enjoyable affair with about twenty guests and another half dozen serving. Most of those doing the serving were, as one put it, “eligible” to be sitting at the table – certainly Sean and I were not! However, John O’Brien asked me if I would speak for ten minutes or so on what we were doing, which I did gladly. There was a door prize raffle, and I was asked to draw the winning ticket. As I opened the folded piece of paper, I double checked first to make sure that it wasn’t mine (that would be embarrassing). I called out “A80” and Sean said “That’s mine!” The prize was a box of chocolates which we shared among the assembled guests. It was good talking to the locals and hearing their stories and sharing their jokes. The menu was corned silverside and veggies for the mains, and a whole range of different desserts, including bread and butter pudding and apple pie and a big cream cake. There was a glass of sherry to wash it all down with too!

The building we were eating in was the old Josephite school house, which had been hauled onto the back of a truck and carried in one piece from alongside John Cooney’s convent to its present position alongside the Church. Apparently the truck got stuck at one point along the way. John O’Brien, who was telling us the tale, had also been a student of the Joey’s in this very building. There was a roll of all the sisters who had taught in Cowwar  on the wall. An impressive legacy.

So now time for bed. We can already see the band of rain coming through from South Australia on the weather app on the iPhone. We want to leave early to try and stay ahead of it as much as possible, but we have resigned ourselves to getting wet…


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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Eight

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Pilgrimage Day Eight

MWW Pilgrimage Day Eight

We made a good early start on our eighth day of walking from Fr Bernard’s presbytery in Traralgon, calling in first to the Church to sing the Regina Caeli in front of the icon of our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and then to say the prayers in commemoration of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop at her image. Traralgon city centre has some impressive buildings, in particular the Post Office, but as it was only 8:15am, it wasn’t open and so we were not able to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports.

The morning was crisp and cool, but the sun was shining and continued to shine all day with clear blue skies. In summer this would normally have meant very warm weather, but today there was a cool breeze blowing, and so the conditions were almost perfect. The country air out here is fresh and clean – a real tonic to inhale deeply as we walked.

We were looking for the start to the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, on which we will be walking for the next few days, and which we would walk today as far as Cowwar. We found it a couple of kms out of town along the main road lined with agricultural, building and machinery businesses. The beginning did not look very auspicious; just a track on the top of the old mound where the railway used to be. About 1km up the track however, we discovered the “official” start to the trail began on the outskirts of town rather than from the main road. From here on the trail was good gravel, straight and level. The walking was effortless today, and the surface very clean. I was wearing my sandals and thick white cotton socks (my preferred footwear on this journey – gives real freedom to the feet – the socks don’t have to be white, they just are) and by the end of the journey my socks were almost as white as they were when I left.

The land around us was flat, green and broad, with cattle grazing in the paddocks under the shade of gumtrees. To the north were the towering mountains of the Alpine National Park, up beyond Walhalla and Licola. Against the blue sky they were blue-purple silhouettes, growing fainter with distance till the highest and most distant mountains were almost indistinguishable from the sky itself. It would be nice one day to walk in them thar hills, but not today.

The trail crossed numerous billabongs and creeks, inc lauding the Latrobe River. In many cases the old trestle bridges had been preserved and were utilised now as bridges for the trail. These cannot be appreciated from the trail itself – you have to go down alongside the creek or river to see them properly.

There are two townships on this part of the trail. The first, about a third of the way to Cowwar, is the town of Glengarry. As we came into the town, you see what looks to be three churches in the street – the first is the Anglican Church and the third is Collumbkille’s Catholic Church, but the one in the middle is the old Mechanics Institute which is being restored.

As we approached the Main Street, we saw the first of a number of veteran, pre-WW1 motor cars coming up the streets. We saw many more of these throughout the day – and motorcycles too – as there was a rally on nearby. This added excitement and colour to the day. Whenever we came to a road crossing on the trail, we would be sure to see one or two of these putting along. Perhaps we can add “veteran car” as an option for travelling the MacKillop-Woods way!

In Glengarry itself, there are a couple of attractions. On the trail is the old Glengarry Station house, nicely preserved and available for lease (according to a sign in the window). This two roomed building with running water would make a nice bunkhouse or B&B along the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail – It is a wonder this has not be considered by some enterprising person already.

The other attraction, and one not to be missed by the hungry pilgrim, is the bakery. Already in Trarlgon rumours were heard of this prize-winning establishment. The reputation was well deserved. The pastie I bought was perhaps the best I have ever had (and that is saying something for one who was raised in South Australia), and the lamb pie was filled with chunks of lamb and vegetables. While sitting at the table outdoors, a fellow joined us and we began a conversation. I asked if he was a local, to which he ummed and ahhed a bit and then said he was from Mirboo North – a town in the Strezlecki Ranges to the south from here (perhaps most famous today for the Grand Ridge Brewery and as a motorcycling Mecca – the roads around the town are great riding). In any case, he has a little food shop there, and he was coming to the Glengarry Bakery to pick up his consignment of pies and other goods for his shop. That is high recommendation indeed! In our conversation, we mentioned the Aussie Camino from Portland to Penola and it turns out that he himself is a South Australian – he used to be a butcher in Mount Gambier. Time was when he could remember back in the 80’s sending goods along the railway from Mount Gambier to Kalangadoo – the route that the Aussie Camino now takes.

The next town along the trail, about two thirds of the way to Cowwar, is Toongabbie. There is not much here in the way of provisions for the pilgrim, but there is a general store near the trail which provides some takeaway food, some basic groceries and liquor. I thought about buying a bottle of wine here, but decided against it on the basis of the existence of a very good pub at Cowwar. This turned out to be a mistake, as you will see. Nevertheless, I did grab some milk, weetbix, can of soup, packet of corn chips, some salsa and some chocolate (all considerably adding to the weight in my pack – but I am getting used to it now). John Cooney, our host in Cowwar, had said that there would be some food at the Old Presbytery when we arrived, but had not specified what, and I did not wish to be without the wherewithal to survive for a few days. Again, my planning could have been better in this regard.

Just before we got into Toongabbie, we stopped for a rest outside the Cemetery, which was sensibly located on a road called “Cemetery Road”. The tombstones indicated a local population going back to the 1870’s, and some of the very oldest grave markers were actually made out of wood, rather than stone. No traces of any writing on these boards remained, however. I love country graveyards, and wish that I could be buried one day in such glorious surroundings rather than in the vast impersonal necropoles of the city. I said the pilgrim’s prayer for the holy souls and we passed on our way.

The straight stretches of the Trail when it is lined with thick bush or open plains on either side often result in the effect of walking through a tunnel toward a distant and ever remote vanishing point, such that you don’t always have a very good sense of how far you have walked. This was the case as we approached Cowwar toward 4pm in the evening. About a a kilometre out, Sean spotted the hotel in the distance. We were very much looking forward to popping in for a pint at the end of our day.

Our arrival at Cowwar was marked by the old railway platform at the end of this leg of the trail. We turned down the Main Street to walk towards Church Street, and in the opposite direction coming towards us, I saw a figure in shorts and a wide brimmed floppy hat striding toward us. Coming nearer, I recognised the visage of my old friend John Cooney.

I’ve known John since I began working for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission back in 2001. He was the VCC rep for the Sale Diocese and on the Sale Commission with Fr Peter Bickley. John also was an early member of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association, and came to a number of our annual conferences. I had stayed once in Cowwar about 10 years ago as his guest while attending a VCC rural assembly in Sale. St Brigid’s Church in Cowwar, while still having masses once a fortnight and sometimes during the week (served by a priest of the Anglican Ordinariate) has not had a resident priest for decades, and so the large many-bed roomed presbytery is now used as a retreat centre. Nearby is Rainbow Creek, flowing past a lawned picnic grounds. When planning this pilgrimage, I was overjoyed to see that Cowwar was about half way along the Rail Trail, making it the perfect place to stop and rest for a day. I immediately contacted John, an pilgrim who has travelled the Camino de Santiago several times, and was assured that we would have a place to stay.

John took us down the Main Street and into Church street around to the presbytery where he settled us in. On the way we passed the general store and post office (which is nowhere near as well stocked as the one in Toongabbie, so it probably was a good idea to buy food there), and the pub. As we neared the pub, he said: “That’s not open today, it’s only on Wednesday to Sundays”!!! Doh! There’s another piece of information I should have picked up before leaving on the trip. We had been intending to eat at the pub, as well as get our alcohol supply there for the next few days. But we need not have feared: John later sent his son Anthony over with four cans of Carlton Draught and a quiche and salad made by his wife Judy. In addition they had left for us cereals and milk, coffee and tea, bread and jam, a can of soup, and some fruit, so we really had all we needed and more.

As soon as we arrived, I went into St Brigid’s Church to sing the Regina Caeli. The presbytery accommodation is not very fancy, but has everything a weary pilgrim needs: a choice of rooms and beds (from very hard to very soft), kitchen supplied with utensils and oven and microwave and stove, good showers – even a bathtub in the laundry, the use of which I availed myself as soon as I had unpacked. I then returned to the Church to say evening prayer.

After we had had dinner, which consisted of Judy’s quiche and salad preceded by the chicken soup I had bought in Toongabbie and washed down with a glass of beer, John, Judy and Anthony called round and we sat and chatted by the gas fire in the lounge for a while. They invited us over for lunch tomorrow. I asked what time we should come, and the answer was “Lunchtime”. Cowwar time is not as precise as Melbourne time! In the mean time, Sean had been doing a bit of investigating and had gone around to the old school hall (the school also no longer in operation). There he found Mary O’Brien laying out things for dinner. He introduced himself and found that she was preparing for the the Senior Singles dinner on Tuesday night. Moreover, if we wanted to, we could join them for the grand price of $8 each for the meal. Sean has accepted on behalf of us both, so that is our evening meal sorted. Time with the locals!

I didn’t bother trying to write anything on the blog tonight. I did the washing in the washing machine, and hung the clothes on the line on the verandah. Tomorrow is going to be quite warm so there will be no hassles with drying. Sean and I were so tired that we both retired at about 8:00pm. We were going to use our sleeping bags, but Judy insisted that we use towels and sheets out of the cupboard.

According to Google Earth, we travelled 27.2km tokay – the GPS put it at 30.5kms. We did a fair bit of additional wandering around, so that is not unlikely.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Seven

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.


MWW Day Seven – Original plan, not what I finally ended up doing (I’ll update this map when I have time…)


This is the road I ended up taking to avoid the busy roads

This is the road I ended up taking to avoid the busy roads

Day Seven! Astonishing to think that we have been going so long. So tonight we are in Traralgon, staying with Fr Bernard Buckley. But to start with our evening last night une’er Fr Harry Dyer OMI’s hospitality. We attended the Vigil mass, which was led by Fr Matthew, and Indian priest who is the assistant in the parish. There was a baptism of a young infant, which accounted for about 25% of the attendance. Most of the regulars were quite elderly. Fr Harry said that that is normal for the parish. After mass, the two priests took us around to the local RSL club for dinner (the Chinese restaurant was closed). Back at the presbytery, we spent some time over coffee and tea chatting before heading to bed.

It was the end of Daylight Saving last night, and it rather mucked my internal clock up. As a result I was away far too early – I thought. But the time went quickly, especially as I had to help Sean work out what he was going to do with regard to his worsening blister problem. In the end, we worked out that he should take the day off, go to the local after hours clinic when it opened at 2:30pm, and then get the train on to Traralgon. Fr Harry then offered to drive Sean to the Traralgon presbytery after the Divine Mercy devotions in the Church, as he was going to visit his sister who lives in that district for dinner in any case.

Josh made a sudden appearance at about 7:45am, ate a quick breakfast then disappeared out the door for the train station without saying goodbye. I was a bit miffed at this, so hurriedly finished packing my backpack so that I could catch up with him at the station before his train came in. I bade a hasty goodbye to Sean with full instructions to ring me and keep me posted on what was happening with his treatment, and rushed out the door. I caught up with Josh at the station. He hadn’t meant to leave without saying goodbye, but wasn’t sure where I was when he was leaving and was anxious to get the station on time. At least we got to say a proper farewell. He stayed in touch while travelling back to Melbourne, with a running commentary on all the places we had visited as his train zoomed past them. I in turn kept him updated on my journey by instant messaging photos to him. Telstra was having a “free data day” to apologise for their latest stuff up, and so there was no worries about the data involved in these communications. In fact, an article I read this morning recommended that one way of using the free data today would be to upload all your photos to Google Photos, an app of which I had not previously heard. It provides a full backup of all your photos to unlimited number for free! I’ll do that, I thought, and have been slowly uploading all 2600 during the day.

So I was on my way. The first part of the journey involved walking the Moe-Yallourn Rail Trail. It is a very good, well made trail, with very even terrain and dead straight for most of the way until it curves around the side of a hill where it meets the Latrobe River. It is about 8.5km from end to end. The problem I found with it was that the vegetation on either side of the trail was so dense you couldn’t see the surrounding country-side. Or the trail was sunk into a deep cutting with the same effect. But for most of the length of the trail, there are side tracks available for walking, which provide a better view.

When the trail gets to the Latrobe River, there is a sign pointing down to the rive and a rather difficult trail going down to a nice walk along the river. I took this, through groves of pine forest, and came out at the Yallourn Power station, with the huge cooling towers looking high above me. A very impressive sight close up.

From here on in the trail became more difficult. The only option from this point is to walk on the road. There is hardly any verge, and the road cuts through steep sides. On top of this, even on a Sunday, the traffic is rather busy. I didn’t like it at all. Thankfully, it is only about 4km to Yallourn North. There I visited the Catholic Church (which was naturally locked up), and bought some lunch from the Foodworks across the road: a quiche, a couple of Don kabanos, a box of blueberry muffins (going out cheap), and a bottle of Fat Yak beer. I took my little picnic back to the Church grounds to eat.

After this, I hit the road again, travelling out of town on North Road which became Brown Coal Mine Road (aptly named for the said coal mine which it skirted). This road was the same story as the road into Yallourn North: no verge and too much traffic. The prearranged route had me following this road all the way to Tyre. B—r that for a joke, I thought, and got out my google maps to find an alternative. In the end, I chose to turn off a the Tanjil East Road. This was slightly less busy than the road to Tyers. Still too busy though. So after consulting Google Earth again, I turned south onto Derham’s Lane, a gravel road leading south about 5.5km to connect with the Old Melbourne Road. There were signs up all the way along warning of approaching Log Trucks. Naturally on a Sunday this was not a bother, but if you are following this route, just be aware that there could be considerably more traffic on a normal weekday. I was tempted to take a shortcut on one of the Forestery trails, and started down one, before seeing a sign saying that unauthorised persons were not allowed in the area.The “area” was rather ill defined, but I decided not to press my luck. In any case, I would simply have run up against the large paper mill.

From the top of Derham’s Lane, I could look back west and see the Power Station directly in front of me and Yallourn North just off to the right. To the left I could see the hill around which the rail trail curved and Moe was directly behind that. I found myself wondering if I had made an error going to Yallourn North, but realised after a bit of consideration that it was either that or the M1 Freeway – there is simply no other getting around the huge open cut coal mine between Moe and Traralgon.

Once on the Old Melbourne Road, it was back to bitumen and traffic again, although not on the scale of the previous section to the north. There saving graces for this road (compared with the previous route): slightly less traffic (again), a wide verge on the road itself, anod the occasional side track parallel to the road. The latter could be either a logging track along the edge of the forest or a horse trail. In either case, you had to be careful, because sometimes there trails would come to a dead end (or a creek), and sometimes they would vere off in the wrong direction.

The Old Melbourne Road runs strait into town, meeting the town at Kay Street, which is a divided road. Between the two lanes of traffic is a lovely lawned garden heading for about 2kms into the town itself. A paved trail runs all the way along the centre of this garden down to the Catholic Church. The shiny bronze doors of St Michael’s Catholic Church stood open and beckoning.

Full distance walking today according to the GPS was 34.52km, while the estimate distance of the original rout was 32.9km. That makes it the second longest journey – the longest being the third day.

I went inside the Church, and immediately spotted Fr Bernard in the front pew listening to the band that was rehearsing for tonight’s mass. They were very decent singers and musicians, singing songs from “As One Voice”. After introducing myself to Fr Bernard, I asked if he would hear my confession, which he readily agreed to do. It is Divine Mercy Sunday, and as well as having certian things weigh on my mind on m walk today on my own, I also wished to gain the Plenary Indulgence for today’s devotions.

Sean had gone out looking at the local establishments, and returned for the start of the mass. The mass was very devotional, well attended (it was the third mass in the Church for the weekend) by a much younger group of people than the mass last night in Moe, and racially mixed. After the mass we spend some time chatting to some of the locals about their church and their service in the parish. Father then took us ack to his presbytery and settled us in our rooms. Never has a shower felt so good!

Dinner was apricot chicken with a nice glass of wine. We had an enjoyable conversation with Fr Bernard. His assistant priest does not live in the new presbytery, but uses the flat in the old presbytery, which is now the parish house.

Before retiring, I talked to both Josh – who is now safely home and already planning his next jaunt – and Cathy and the kids. Tomorrow we hit the road again for Cowwar, so an early start once more. No time to post the picture gallery tonight – check again in the morning.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Six

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW Day Six

MWW Day Six

We arrived at our destination early today, as the Yarragon to Moe part of the pilgrimage is the shortest on this first leg. It measured 17.5km on Google Earth and 19.95km by my GPS (which of course, takes into account all our additional wanderings). Because it was only a short trip to Moe, we were able to take our time this morning – a mini Sabbath. A bit of a sleep in, and then breakfast at the cafe next door, before returning to our motel room to pack up. A word to the financially challenged: Yarragon is right on the highway, and the price of food and coffee was bordering on highway robbery ($5 for a cup of coffee). But the food was good, can’t complain about that.

Josh was very interested to find out where his grandparents had lived in Yarragon – “right opposite to the Butter Factory, now a B&B” his mother had told him. No place fitted that description, but we were able to find the Presbyterian Church in which his grandparents were married – it is now a local crafts gift store in the front street. On leaving the motel, we went via the post office to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports, then walked around to see the local Catholic Church. St Jarlath’s (there’s one to look up in Wikipedia) was a very quaint church; it would have been good to have had the chance to go inside. When I got there, Sean was talking to some local fellow who had given him a hand made religious pamphlet – on close inspection, I identified it as Jehovah’s Witness. No wonder the poor fellow was confused by these Catholics doing a pilgrimage in honour of St Mary MacKillop – whom he thought he might have heard of.

We then headed out onto the road on the other side of the railway running parallel along the north side of the highway. I think it can be safely said that this section of the walk is not only the shortest, but also the least appealing. The road is dead straight, except for a slight bend to the north at Trafalgar, running along the valley plain with the Strezlecki hills running off to the south and slowly converging with the road as you approach Moe. The main four lane highway is only 50 metres or so off to the right and the railway is in between the walking road and the highway. The problem is that this backroad is well known to the locals, who seem to use it in preference to the highway – perhaps because they don’t need to be as cautious about their speeding. It isn’t exactly a busy road, but cars were passing us every minute or so, and getting more frequent as we approached Moe. There wasn’t much of a verge on the side of the road upon which to walk either. We took this route for the simple reason that there isn’t any other; at least not as far as we have been able to find.

The weather was dark and threatening rain for most of the morning, but it only rained for a very short minute or two. This bEgan exactly when Sean took his wet weather gear off, and ended precisely when Josh and I had finished taking our packs off and putting our wet weather gear on… Wet weather is expected again for later next week – most likely on Wednesday, but otherwise the forecast looks good.

When we reached Trafalgar, we called in at St John’s Church. The church wasn’t open, but we knocked on the door of the Presbytery and introduced ourselves to the Parish Priest, Fr Bernie Krotwaar. We told him what we were doing, and he was kind enough to let us use his toilet and to stamp our pilgrim passports. His parish encompasses Trafalgar and Yarragon and several other little communities either side of the highway. We stopped at the Criterion Hotel in Trafalgar for a beer and pizza, and then hit the road again.

There is a funny story to tell at this point. As we were leaving Trafalgar, just after passing the Holden Museum, a car drove past and pulled up in front of us, and two big lads (one wearing sunglasses and the other was sporting a magnificent Ned Kelly style beard) jumped out and accosted us. “Are you the guys who are walking to Sydney?”, they asked. Our fame has spread, we thought. “We’re Deacon Mark’s sons, and we have this bag to deliver to you.”

So now the back story before the punch line. Yesterday while we were in Mass at Warragul, Deacon Mark rang to say that Sean had left behind a “khaki bag”. Sean was a bit puzzled by this, so I texted Mark to ask what the bag was. It was a cloth bag, he texted back, that had been used to prop open a door. It wasn’t his, so it must have been ours. Today I had another text message from Mark to say that he was sending his two sons ahead of us to Moe to deliver the bag. Sure, OK. And we thought nothing more of it.

Now here were the two sons with the bag. None of us had ever seen it before. It was just a large cloth bag. Then I twigged to it. “That wouldn’t be the bag that the blow up mattress came in, would it?” Mark had produced this mattress, which he and his wife had purchased some time before but never used, for Josh to sleep on. That was indeed what it was. It wasn’t ours – it belonged to our host, but it was as unfamiliar to him as it was to us. A bit of a laugh, pose for a picture, and the guys drove back to Drouin and we pushed on to Moe.

Absolutely nothing of any event or interest happened along the rest of the journey. It was rather taxing simply because we had to watch out for traffic on the road all the time. Normally that would have been a simple job of listening for the sound of the approaching vehicle, but in this case, the noise of the highway just a few decimetres away completely masked the sound of the speeding cars and utility vehicles coming up behind us.

We were very glad to arrive at St Kieran’s and to meet Fr Harry Dyer OMI, who showed us to our rooms and made us a cup of tea. He has gone out to celebrate Mass tonight at Yalourn North, and Fr Matthew, who we met later on, is saying the 6:30 mass here in the Church next door. After that, they have invited us to join them for their Saturday night dine-out at the local Chinese Restaurant.

I’ve rung ahead to check that Fr Bernard at Traralgon is expecting us for tomorrow night, so that is all sorted. Josh has been down to check on the train time table for the morning and to buy his Myki ticket. Daylight saving ends tonight, and Josh has to be off at 8:30 or some such time, so we plan to leave when he does and to wave him off at the station before heading on to Traralgon. In contrast to today, tomorrow will be one of our longest journeys, but also should be quite picturesque, as we are following a rail trail for much of the way. We will also go very near the electricity generation plant.

The figures thus far for our travel, at the end of this first week, are 158.3km according to our Google Earth calculations before we left, and 182.03km according to my GPS tracker. That is quite a difference, but the latter figure should not be completely dismissed – the distance you actually walk on any route is always more than the direct measurement between the points. So if we called it a round 170km, you would not be far wrong. That would make it about 28km per day. We have been on the road for a total of 53 hours, making our pace (including stops for lunch and rests) about 3.2km/hour, which sounds about right. At this point it would make sense for Sean and I to have a rest, but we are planning a rest day at Cowwar on Tuesday.

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