“Jerusalem is built as a city…” – Psalm 122 (121):3

Currently our JCMA text reading group is reading Karen Armstrong’s history of Jerusalem. We had quite a lively discussion on this, and will continue it next month after Easter/Passover when we meet on April 10.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine had contacted me on the weekend with a question about a verse that is used as a communion antiphon in the Mass for the 4th Sunday in Lent, a verse that is relevant to our discussion of the significance of Jerusalem for the three Abrahamic Faiths.

The verse in question is Psalm 122 (121) verse 3,which, in the New Revised Standard Version, reads:

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together. 

My friend is a devotee of the Latin mass, so he was trying to make sense of the text in Latin. That reads:His problem was with the phrase highlighted, which he found hard to translate. I showed it a member of our JCMA text group, whose teaching career was in the Classics, and she too thought it was strange. It is something like “whose sharing/participation is in itself”.

It is worth keeping in mind that Jerome made that translation from the Septuagint (LXX), which is a  Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures done in the 3rd-1st Century BC. The LXX reads:The phrase there appears to something like “whose sharing/participation of it [is] towards/upon the itself”.

Here are a few more current English attempts. The Grail Version of the Psalms (which the Catholic Church uses in its daily prayer and also currently in the Service of the Word at Mass) reads:

Jerusalem, built as a city,
strongly compact.

In the current English translation of the Roman Missal (the book used for Mass), the Communion antiphon (translated from Jerome’s Vulgate) reads:

Jerusalem is built as a city
onded as one together.

However, Jerome also did a translation from the Hebrew text – as he possessed in the 4th Century in any case – and that is different again:

Hierusalem quae aedificaris ut civitas
cuius participatio eius simul

You will notice – even if you can’t read Latin – that there is a slight difference from the earlier translation, but the word “participatio”, meaning a communion or a sharing – is still prominent. A translation might be “of whom its participation [is] the same”?

Now, I know you are all asking, what is the “original” Hebrew text? Keeping in mind that the Masoretic text is not necessarily more ancient than either the Vulgate or LXX we have:

My rudimentary Hebrew was not good enough to translate that second phrase, so I asked my friend Rabbi Fred Morgan for his input. He replied that he would translate it as:

“Jerusalem (re)built, in which there is a joining together.” The Hebrew has echoes of groups of associates or companions being brought together once again, following the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple. So it could refer to the gathering together of the tribal groups in social (or national) harmony after the exile. Would be nice today to extend to all religious groups coming together in companionship.

And to which let all the people say: “Amen”.

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Plans for the 2018 leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage

Sean, Josh and I are currently planning the next section of our MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage (click here for more information), this time from Eden NSW to Ulladulla NSW. Our schedule will be as follows:

Monday 16 April: Travel Melbourne to Eden

We will be staying overnight with parishioners belonging to the Eden Catholic Parish.

Day 1. Tuesday 17 April: Eden to Merimbula (31.33km)

Starting at Our Lady Star of the Sea, Eden and walking to St Peter’s, Pambula, via the Nethercote Road and then to St Joseph’s Church in Merimbula. Staying with local parishioners.

Day 2. Wed 18 April: Merimbula to Tathra (23.95km by Coastal Route)

We will stick fairly close to the coast for this walk (unless prevented by creeks that block our way) going past Wallagoot Lake and arriving at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Tathra by the Kangarutha Track. Staying with members of the local parish.

Day 3: Thursday 19 April: Tathra to Murrah (29.41km)

Following the Tathra-Bermagui road as far as Murrah Hall. Staying the night at Bermagui (we will need a lift!) with local parishioners.

Day 4: Friday 20 April 2018: Murrah to Central Tilba (31.87km) via Bermagui

Starting off again from Murrah Hall and walking back through Bermagui (visiting Our Lady Help of Christians), we will take the Wallaga Lake Road and Bermagui Road to Central Tilba. We are staying at a B&B there.

Day 5: Sat 21 April 2018: Central Tilba to Narooma (20.18km)

We are planning a bit of a rest in Central Tilba in the morning (perhaps visiting the local market) before walking to Our Lady Star of the Sea at Narooma via the Punkalla Tilba Road, Ridge Road, the Old Highway and Wonga Road. The Narooma Parish is helping with accommodation.

Day 6: Sunday 22 April: Narooma to Bodalla (21.84km)

After Mass at Narooma we have a shortish walk along the coast to Dalmeny, a short stretch on the Princes Highway, then through the forest on Mitchell’s Ridge Road and Whittakers Creek Road, before heading back on the Highway and to St Edmund’s Church in Bodalla. We are staying at the Bodalla Arms Hotel overnight.

Day 7: Monday 23 April: Bodalla to Moruya (31.5 km)

Faced with a full day of walking on the Princes Highway, we have decided instead to take “the road less travelled” from Bodalla to Moruya, via Bumbo Road, through the forest on Western Boundary Road and Little Sugarloaf Road, coming out on Wamban Road to Sacred Heart Church, Moruya. The local parish have offered us the use of the Moruya presbytery for the night.

Day 8: Tuesday 24 April 2018: Moruya to Batemans Bay (31.89km to the Church at Batehaven)

We will take a coastal route this time, via Granite Town, Broulee, Bevian and Burri Roads, and Old Grandfather’s Road into Batemans Bay. Members of St Bernard’s Church will put us up there.

Day 9: Wednesday April 25 (Anzac Day Holiday):

A rest day at Batemans Bay.

Day 10: Thursday 26 April: Batemans Bay to Kioloa (29km from Bridge, 34km from church)

We head along the Princes Highway until we pass Durras Lake, and then head in towards the coast on Mount Agony Road and the Old Coast Road to Kioloa, where we are staying at the Kioloa Beach Holiday Park.

Day 11: Friday 27 April 2018: Kioloa to Ulladulla (28.91km)

On this day we pass out of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese and enter into the Wollongong Diocese. We walk from Kioloa to Ulladulla by Murramarang Road to the mouth of Willinga Lake, then follow the Willinga Lake Walking Track to the mouth of Reedy Creek, then along the coast to Termeil Creek, and the Tabourie Village Track to the Tabourie Creek when we return to the Princes Highway into Ulladulla. We will be staying at the parish house at Milton on this, our final night on the leg of the pilgrimage, and hope to catch up with parishioners from Ulladulla.

Day 12: Saturday 18 April 2018.

Journey home.

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Answering a question: “How to live best alongside Muslims in Australia?”

I was asked recently to write an article for a Christian congregation’s monthly newsletter. The editor wanted me to answer the question “How to live best alongside Muslims in Australia?”

Clearly the question isn’t posed in the way that I would have put it, but nevertheless, I had a go at answering it in the limited word space I was allocated. I didn’t have long before the deadline, so what follows here is not the best researched or even the most thoughtful reply that I might have given, and clearly there is a lot more that can and must be said. But I hope it is a start for the conversation we need to have.

I have also since found myself coming back to it – especially to the two Jordan B. Peterson quotes. If there is any need to apologise for quoting Peterson (not once, but twice!), I will simply defend myself by saying that I was thinking about the question set for this article while listening to/reading his material, and these two quotations seemed apposite to the point under discussion.

You can read the article here.


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A Sacred Pilgrimage

We had our monthly JCMA Text Group meeting today. Sometimes we choose a genre to focus on, and sometimes a theme. Today was on the theme of “Journey”, as a number of members of our group (including myself as SCE blog readers will know) had been travelling. I chose J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Road goes ever on and on”, and included Michael Leunig’s “How to get there”.

Helen brought along a poem that is included in the Union of Progressive Judaism prayer book by Rabbi Alvin Fine, “Birth is a beginning”. It is read in Progressive synagogues at the Yom Kippur evening service. It seemed to encapsulate a great deal of my own reflections on pilgrimage and living life as a pilgrimage. I reproduce it here:

Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey:

From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
And then, perhaps, to wisdom;

From weakness to strength
Or strength to weakness –
And, often, back again;

From health to sickness
And back, we pray, to health again;

From offense to forgiveness,
From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude,

From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding –
From fear to faith;

From defeat to defeat to defeat –
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage.

Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage –
To life everlasting.

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The MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage





An Australian pilgrimage trail in honour of St Mary MacKillop and her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods.

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

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MacKillop-Woods Way 2017: Mary MacKillop Hall, Mass and Travelling Home from Eden

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

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.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Nine (26 April) – Towamba to Eden

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

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Nine (26 April) – Towamba to Eden NSW

Distance: 30.84km. Total Distance from Orbost: 252.34km. Total Distance from Fitzroy: 690km.

I woke before dawn on the last day of the 2017 leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way to make a visit to the facilities outside. Coming back into the hall, I thought I saw large spiders on the door, but they were in fact moths. Back inside I crawled into my sleeping bag again, but heard rustling from the others which indicated that they were both awake too, so we switched on the lights and began to get packing. There was a sense of excitement about completing the walk, but also a kind of resignation: aches and pains had to be borne and overcome just for this one more push over the mountain.

And the walk into Eden from Towamba is one of the longer days on the Way, and also one of the more challenging, as there is a rise of over 300m to climb up to Nullica Hill before coming down the other side. My small blisters from the day before had been reabsorbed on my toes but the little one on my right heel was still there, so I bandaged my feet up with sticking plaster to be on the safe side and determined to walk in my shoes rather than change to my sandals half way through the day as had been my practice so far (I think it was my sandals that gave me the blisters yesterday).

The morning was fine – no sign of the predicted rain or wind – and we were packed and on our way at 7:45am. Paul dropped us at the Towamba turnoff on the other side of the river and headed off toward Eden for a day of cycling. The school bus passed us on the road, as NSW was back to school today following the Easter Holidays and Anzac Day. Within five minutes Paul was heading back in our direction, waving the key to the hall at us as an explanation for his unexpected return.

The road begins climbing out of the Towamba River valley almost immediately. There are some lovely last views of the valley on the way up the hill. The road alternates between sealed and gravel, but everywhere is wide enough for two cars to pass. The traffic was quite light, despite the fact that we were back walking on a business day. The road serves only as an access road from Eden to Towamba – there are no other places along the way, so everyone coming and going are locals. It is about 30kms to Eden, and after 7km from Towamba at Mitchells Creek until about 11km at Ben Boyd Road the road does the whole 300m climb in one constant hit. It isn’t as steep as Big Jack Mountain Road, but it is steeper than the Bonang Highway at any point. So we really felt it in my knees by the time we got to the top. Then the road levels off for a while as the road goes along a ridge in which it is possible to see views on both sides of the road. To the south is the very large Mount Imlay at over 800m.

Early on going up the hill, you pass a track called The Snake Track; we had considered it as an alternative route that would take us down to Boydtown on the highway (where there is a caravan park at which we originally thought we might stay until we found out how expensive the cabin was). It is 5km further to the highway than along the Towamba Road, and while both tracks have an overall descent of about 100m, Snake Track has 594m of climb to 691m of descent, whereas the main road is 361m climb to 469m descent. In other words, don’t be tempted to take it. In any case, just the name of it should be enough to put you off taking that route. Out of interest, we didn’t see one live snake on the whole trip, although Paul claims he drove over one on the Bonang Highway on the first day.

We stopped for a rest where Ben Boyd Road joins the Eden Road from the North (it exits the Eden Road again toward the South a kilometre or so further down the road). I checked my feet and all seemed well blister-wise – the bandages were working. I noticed that we were back within phone range, so I rang Cathy, Josh and my parents (in that order) to check in with them after the three days that we had been out of contact. Michael Sheppard, our host for our stay in Eden, also rang to ask if we were still on target for 5pm, which I confirmed.

After eating some fruit, we got going again. The temperature began to drop and the sky darkened quite suddenly – much like it had a few days earlier on our way to Bombala. So I stopped again to put on my wet weather gear – and it almost instantly brightened up again. That’s how wet weather gear keeps you dry when you are walking: after you go to all the trouble of putting it on, the sun comes out.

I took so long putting on my gear that I became separated from Seán by quite some distance. As I came up to the point where the road passes Nullica Hill (about 2kms from where we had stopped earlier on), Paul drove up the road. He was bringing an offering of coffee (a large flat white for me and a large double shot latte for Seán) and cake which he had picked up from a cafe in Eden. But had he not passed Seán further up the road? No. How odd. So I rang him and found that he had stopped too, and I must have walked right past him. This was the second time on the road that we become separated, and then walked right past one another when we were trying to catch up again (the other time was just before we got to The Gap on Day 3). It happens very easily, and if you don’t have phone contact can be a worry. I thought about this later and realised that one piece of equipment we should have brought along is a whistle each for us to blow to locate each other. Paul in fact confirmed that when he goes bush walking with his friends, they each take a whistle. Good idea.

Anyway, Paul went off to collect Seán and when he got back we sat down to our coffee and cake and the rest of our lunch which Paul had brought with him. It felt a little like cheating to be drinking a coffee brought up from our destination before we got there, but what the heck! I was surprised that it was still quite hot, despite having been made 10 miles away. We ate quickly because it was now starting to rain lightly. After packing our leftovers back into the car, Paul drove off and we resumed our walk. Almost immediately we noticed that we were on the other side of the hill, and caught a glimpse of what we thought might just have been Eden through the trees. In accordance with tradition, we stopped to pray and give thanks to God that we could see our pilgrimage destination. But we might have been mistaken.

About 7km from the Princes Highway the sealed road began again and we continued our slow descent down the hill. After a while we came to another turn off, this time for the Nullica Short Cut Road. It is a short cut to Boydtown, not to Eden (if you are heading to Eden it will increase your walk by 1.6km including a good stretch of the Princes Highway), but it does avoid a very big hill after crossing Nullica River. At this stage the phrase “Not another bloody hill” was becoming well and truly entrenched in my conversational repertoire. There comes a point when you really can’t face another degree of “up”.

Finally, finally we made it to the highway. In fact, we were making very good time – it was 3pm, and by my reckoning we had only 4kms to go (I was wrong on this – even by the main road we had 5.5kms), and so I rang Michael Sheppard and texted Paul saying that we would be at the Mary MacKillop Hall in about an hour’s time at 4pm. As it turned out, I was quite wrong about this. The main reason was that we wanted to do the last few kilometres into Eden on the Bundian Way, which we had located on the map along the foreshore around the bay into Eden.

So we were now on the Princes Highway, and in case we had forgotten why we chose to walk the long way around from Orbost to Eden, we were now definitively reminded: traffic. Lots and lots of traffic and very little room to walk on the side of the road. The bridge over the Shadrachs Creek – single lane in each direction – had no space for pedestrians. This was somewhat surprising given that the bridge is the only way to cross the Creek from the Eden Beachfront Caravan Park (where we caught our first glimpse of the Tasman Sea) to the township of Eden. When you walk a lot, you become aware how very little consideration road-makers and town planners ever give to pedestrians. Having successfully crossed the bridge without being hit by passing cars and trucks, we walked in the bush for a bit to avoid the road. It was then that we came to a track which I thought was a driveway, but which seemed to be leading somewhere. In fact, it led down towards the shorefront, and became a rough track through the bush down to the beach of Quarantine Bay. I think we had found a section of the Bundian Way which had not yet been developed or signposted. When we walked down onto the beach, I dipped my hand into the waves and made the sign of the cross. We had made it from Melbourne to the Eastern shoreline of New South Wales.

On the other side of Quarantine Bay Road, we found the proper start of the recently developed initial section of the Bundian Way. We could tell that the development was recent, because the fresh wooden information boards had no information on them yet. The track was well marked though, and there were seats along the way and many well situated lookouts over the bay. Also a circular stepped structure which appeared to have been designed for indigenous educators to tell stories to school students and other visitors. Seán called it “The Dreamtime Globe Theatre”. This little section of the Bundian Way is winding and interesting with many good views of the bays (you can see the Seahorse Inn at Boydtown from one lookout) and of Eden itself. Discounting our earlier possible sighting of Eden from Nullica Hill, we now knelt down and said an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be in thanksgiving. I am actually very glad that we could finish our pilgrimage on the Bundian Way. This trail is obviously of great significance to the local community and the original custodians of the land. It is far more ancient than any Christian pilgrimage path anywhere in the world. We might have been the first people to ever walk this section of the MacKillop-Woods Way, but thousands of generations of aboriginal people had walked this trail from the coast to the highest mountain on the Australian mainland.

We came out onto Bungo Beach at the bottom of Ida Road Drive. Which. Is. A. Hill. A very big hill. “Not another bloody hill,” I exclaimed. From the beach it is a 60m climb over 0.75km up to Mitchell Street, the main road into Eden. The sun was setting as we walked down the street entering into Eden. We passed the National Timber Workers Memorial to our left, took note of the location of the VLine bus stop which we will make use of next year, and took a selfie outside the Halfway Hotel. Seán then spotted the Tourist Information office, and suggested that we should go inside to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The wind had been blowing hard against us as and it was with some relief that we entered the shelter of the office. When we explained who we were, the lady behind the counter recognised us from the newspaper story in the Magnet and happily obliged with giving us a nice Eden whale stamp. Another visitor to the office also recognised us and made the usual expected exclamations about how far we had come and gave words of encouragement. I bought two souvenir magnets for the fridge at home – one had a map of Victoria with Eden on the far right and the other matching one was a map of southern NSW with Eden on the bottom. They may a good pair, covering all our journey, and I decided to get three extra sets, one each for the other pilgrims, including Josh.

I now received a text from Paul saying “Where are you? There are people waiting”. Our final journey into town had taken us more than twice as long as I had anticipated, but it was just after 5pm when we struggled up (yes) another hill on Calle Calle Street until we could see the white spire of the Church in the distance. On the way we passed the Catholic Primary School – but oddly with a big “sold” sign outside. I wondered what the story behind that was? Just past the War Memorial we saw the open doors of Mary MacKillop Hall, the official pilgrimage destination for St Mary of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese.

Inside, waiting for us out of wind, was our driver and fellow pilgrim Paul, Michael Sheppard and other members of the Mary MacKillop Hall Committee and two resident members of St Mary MacKillop’s order of the Sisters of St Joseph, Sr Bernadette and Brigid. Tea and scones and cake too! All were very welcoming. The hall was clearly filled with a great deal of information about St Mary’s life, but at this point we were too exhausted to take it in. After the refreshments we said goodbye to the Sisters until tomorrow (when we would return to the Hall for a closer investigation and to the Church for Mass) and Michael took us around to his home where we would be staying the night. Michael and Judy’s home was well set up for welcoming us – we each had beds and a bathroom to share downstairs in their home. We showered and changed into fresh clothes and, feeling somewhat restored, we went upstairs to sit and relax and talk with Judy and Michael for a bit. They then drove us around to the Great Southern Hotel for dinner. Other members of the Mary MacKillop Hall Committee joined us – Michael and Bernadette, Ray and Chris, and (just to make it easier for us to remember names) another Michael! The locals also gave us a lot of helpful information for the next section of the journey and asked us to keep in touch with them as our plans took shape so that they could assist us further. It was really wonderful how they all welcomed us and we had great conversation, laughter and food for the evening. We were one of the first to arrive in the bistro and the last to leave.

Back at the Sheppard’s home, we did not stay up but went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Eight (25 April) – Other side of Burragate to Towamba

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

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Eight (25 April) – Other side of Burragate to Towamba

Distance: 16.58km Total: 221.15km

I woke just a bit before dawn and went outside to see pink skies. Red in the morning… and all that. I had slept fairly well, but Seán said he hadn’t got any sleep at all because his air mattress was too thin.

We all got going quite quickly, so that after a quick breakfast and a cup of tea Paul was driving us back to the point 15kms from the Towamba turn-off the other side of Burragate. Seán was feeling a little seedy – he blamed it on mixing beer with wine last night, and so was moving fairly slowly. I was keen to move as fast as possible to avoid the rain. A few spots began to fall just as Paul dropped us off, and so to save bother I pulled on my wet weather gear trousers and poncho, and put my iphone inside its waterproof protective cover (a snap-lock plastic bag!). As usual, this worked like a charm to ward of the rain. Interestingly, as we walked back to Towamba, we noticed puddles in the potholes on the road, and were told that over one millimetre of rain had fallen to the south of us. However, despite a few drops, we were completely clear of rain for the rest of the journey, getting into Towamba just after noon.

Or rather I did. Seán was quite some distance behind me. After the end of Big Jack Mountain Road in Burragate (a village which had a number of interesting features to divert the avid photographer – such as the line of novelty post boxes) we became separated once more. I moved along at a nice pace, but after a little while one of my toes began to hurt, so I stopped for some footcare. I wore my sandals only on today’s walk, on the idea that if it rained, they could easily dry out (much more easily than my shoes). However, I think this, in addition to the strain on my toes coming down the mountain yesterday, led to a small blister on one of my smaller toes on my right foot and another small blister beginning to form on my heel on the same foot. After applying bandaids to the affected areas and putting on an extra sock, I set off again.

There was still a lot of mist around in the valley which actually hung around all day. I couldn’t quite work out why, as it was quite warm and also rained a little. About 7kms from Towamba, Paul road past on his bike. We took some pictures of each other, and then he road on to Rocky Hall while I kept on toward Towamba. It was a welcome sight to come over the hill and see Towamba in the misty valley ahead.

Along the way, I had been listening to the piano music of Dustin O’Halloran and Joel Beving, which really suited the countryside and the misty/rainy weather. I have a little rechargeable bluetooth speaker which connects to my iPhone, and on which I can play my music out loud as if I had a soundtrack going to my walk (I was always rather keen on the idea from the Amy McBeal show about everyone having their own soundtrack to their lives). Yesterday I listened to Penguin Cafe Orchestra walking through Rocky Hall and Andrei Krylov in the forest coming down the mountain. On Sunday I had listened to the hymns of Katherine Jenkins and Maddy Prior. (Other artists on my pilgrim playlist over the last week have been Loreena McKennit, Iron & Wine, the Bryan Ferry (Jazz) Orchestra, Lenka and Angèle Dubeau.)

Around 11:30am I crossed the river into the village of Towamba and climbed up the hill to the Hall. On the way, I passed the Anglican Church (now used ecumenically) and a little cottage next to it (which had just been sold – although no one I spoke to knows how much for). At this point, Tony and Joy Ovington drove past in their ute and stopped to say hullo. The Anzac Day march had gone off well, marching from the Church to the Hall. Many of the folk were just finishing up there with morning tea and scones, so if I hurried I could share in these bounties. Also, they warned, the weekly spinning group is up there under the verandah. That was intriguing.

Walking up the hill I met a man and his son walking down from the Hall. The son was wearing his great-grandfathers medals from the Second World War. We stopped and chatted a little and then I kept climbing up the hill. I passed a little cottage with a sign out the front “free tea and coffee”. I thought “I bet Seán can’t resist that.” I pushed on up the road, and walked up the drive to the hall to find it all as Tony and Joy had said. The next hour or so was spent happily chatting to the locals and all who had come from the march and for the spinning group. Among the people we met were a pentecostal pastor-couple from Pambula, Rob and Robyn Nelson. We fell to talking and exchanging information about the area and possible places to stay along the MWW which we had missed (including: The old school house in Craigie, The Old Nurses Home in Delegate, and the Rocky Hall Preschool – which is used five days a fortnight and is available as accomodation on the other days). We swapped information and plan to catch up again next year as we head north from Eden.

Also among the folk there was Kaye, who was working in the “library” in the hall, sorting donated books. After an hour or so, it began to rain in earnest, and I thought it strange that Seán had not yet arrived. I expressed some concern and Kaye offered to drive me off to look for him. Just as we were heading past the little cottage with the “free tea and coffee” sign, Kaye said “Is that him?”. I looked back to see Seán exiting the house with a large something under his arm. “Yes, it is”, I answered and we turned around and bade him get in out of the rain. He had been to visit Vickie, the resident of the little cottage, and she had loaned him a fold up foam mattress to use as a bed. “And she is an artist and she has invited us to come back at 3pm for a cup of tea”, he announced. Of course, had we been just a minute earlier, we would have driven passed and missed him and then been totally mystified as to his whereabouts.

Back at the hall, one of the spinning ladies kindly offered us her lunch which she didn’t feel like eating – corned beef and veggies! Seán and I heated this up in the microwave – it was delicious. Seán then had a bit of a lie down on his new bed and caught some sleep while I worked out our finances for the journey. In all to this point it has cost us around $1000 in total, which is about $50 a day for Seán and me each, or $33 a day if you count all three of us. Not bad – but due to a lot of generosity in terms of accomodation.

At 3pm Seán and I went as promised to visit Vickie. She is an artist who is currently working on several portraits of aboriginal subjects. She has not been painting portraits for long, but she has a real knack for it. Her studio was warm, light and comfortable with a couple of hanging swing chairs to sit in as we watched her work on her current project. We then went inside for a cup of tea and an Anzac Plus biscuit, that is, a traditional oat Anzac biscuit with added nuts and fruit. The house itself is an original hand split timber building of two main rooms which has been extended over the years. She has peeled back the coverings of the walls to expose the original timbers – and often the original wall paper too. She has many of her artworks on the walls, but honestly I was more interested in the walls themselves which was a part of the history of the town. She is an authentically artistic spirit – even her cupboard of preserves and biscuit tins was arranged in an artistically pleasing way! Vickie was keen to talk about a number of spiritualist topics – angels and Kabbala mainly and her own philosophy which she has written up in a book (a copy of which she gave to Seán). I think I disappointed her a little, in being to conventional in my thinking. As we were leaving, she called us back to show us her sheep in the back yard. But as she did so, once again my attention was diverted to a new work of art – God’s sunset over the valley. The light was again utterly sublime and lighted up everything from the trees to the face of the mountain on the other side of the river. My heart lifted at the sight in just the same way as it did when I saw the rainbow over Florence a few weeks ago.

Back at the Hall again, Paul was already cooking up the beef curry. We spent an hour or so talking, drinking beer, and (at least in my case) writing up my blog before we had dinner. Just as we were finishing dinner and talking over the last half bottle of wine, there was a knock at the door and we had a visitor. I had met “Arch” (his surname is, apparently, Bishop, hence the nickname) at the morning tea after the march this morning. Living nearby, he had decided to come around for a chat. We shared our last glass of wine with him (the camino spirit?), and told him what we were doing. In return, he offered to demonstrate his own line of business: story telling and recitations of Australian poems. So he delighted and amused us with four renditions, including the Dyslexic Cinderella, the man who went to see the Pope, The Three Christmas Visitors, and a love poem of his own composition. It reminded me of the time on my third Aussie Camino when the husband of the director of the Mary MacKillop Centre in Penola recited The Man From Snowy River and other poems at the final dinner. We also looked at the map of Eden together and have discovered a short section of the end of the Bunian Way which will bring us into Eden by a more pleasant route than the main A1 Princes Highway.
It was ten o’clock when Arch left, and it was time for us to hit the sack. Tomorrow is the last day of this leg of the journey. My little blisters need rest and we need to get up early in the morning. One more day…

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Seven (24 April) – Cathcart to Burragate (Almost)

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

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Seven (24 April) – Cathcart to Burragate (Almost)

Distance: 31.59km Total: 204.57km.

Today was, without a doubt, one of the most pleasurable and scenic days ever ofn the whole of the MacKillop-Woods Way thus far. With the possible exception of the coastal walk over Cape Bridgewater on the Aussie Camino. The last day of the walk into Bairnsdale over the Mitchell River Valley was the best part of the first leg of the pilgrimage, but today’s walk surpasses that. The section from The Gap to Bendoc was really lovely, but again today surpassed it for sheer beauty. When I was a kid, my parents took me and my brothers for a holiday to Melbourne, and we visited the Fitzroy Gardens (coincidentally right next to where I now work at the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne). We were there in winter and the gardens were shrouded with mist. It was so quintessentially alien to my experience of the South Australian Mallee that I concluded, as a child may be excused for concluding, that this is what heaven must look like. Today I changed my mind. Heaven looks like the Towamba River valley around Rocky Hall/New Buildings. I have long thought that if I could move anywhere in Australia in my retirement, it would be to the village of Evandale south of Lanceston in Tasmania. Again, I’ve changed my mind. I want to live at Rocky Hall. I refer you to the pictures of today’s walk. And in doing so, I rest my case.

So we left Bombala this morning, returning the key to Sister Therese at the Convent. By 8:30am we were on our way in Cathcart. I had a goal today of surpassing our planned walk to New Buildings by at least 5kms, as we know that rain is coming tomorrow on Anzac Day and every kilometre further that we walk today would be one kilometre less that we have to walk tomorrow in the rain. As I said in yesterday’s post, you could spend an hour easily in Cathcart just going from building to building and reading the green and white information shields posted on the buildings. But despite the charm of this little village, we could not stay. Pilgrims need to get moving.
I went to switch on my audio Divine Office for the morning (what Josh calls my “prayer wheel”) and discovered that all my downloaded prayers had disappeared. As there was no internet access out that way, I decided instead to pray the rosary, which I had not yet done on this journey. I remembered in my prayers my family, Rachel, Oliver, Tom and Nigel, to whom I had dedicated this section of the MWW pilgrimage.

Four flat traffic infested kilometres outside of Cathcart we eventually came to the junction of Big Jack Mountain Road. It was with great relief that we turned down this gravel track heading south west toward the rim of the Monaro Grasslands. It really is rather strange, as there is a kind of “rim” of mountains around the edge of the plains, and then a great and constant descent. At the top of the rim we passed a couple of signs declaring the border between Bombala Shire and Bega Valley Shire (Eden). It was then that the descent began – and it went down in a serious way.

The first kilometre or so was sealed, but I think this was only because of the necessity of providing the needed traction on the slope. After that, the slope relaxed a little and the road returned to gravel once more, but it was still a demanding descent. The balls of our feet and our front toes did all the work, assisted by our walking stocks, in the attempt to stop us from sliding forward. Walking actually took, on average, a bit longer than it would on level ground, or even on an uphill incline, as we could not stride out the pace. But the scenery was fantastic. We were very high up at the start – over 800m, so we could see mountain peaks all around us. In some places the forest was quite dry, but in others it was covered with fern-trees and crossed with fresh water streams. We were passed by only three cars in the couple of hours we were coming down the mountain, all going up. Otherwise, the road was all ours. Occasionally we would get a glimpse of the mountains around us, which would give us some perspective on our elevation. Very occasionally, between the trees, we would get a glimpse of the valley below us. At one point the road enter the South East Forests National Park. The sides of the road were made of large granite rocks, occasionally looming in little cliffs above us. Small creeks ran down through the rocks and under the road in various places. The other feature of the walk down the mountain is audible – bellbirds piping away for all they are worth in every direction. It is a unique Australian bush sound, as unique as the sound of a magpie in the morning or a kookaburra laughing at you from a gum tree. This background music accompanies you all the way down the valley to Towamba – and perhaps (we will find out) beyond.

In all, we descended about 550m over 6.5kms. As we came nearer the bottom – that is, under 300m – we began to hear the sound of rushing water. The Towamba River comes out of the mountain alongside Big Jack Mountain Road and flows right through the valley to Towamba and beyond. For some reason the road to Eden doesn’t follow the Towamba River after Towamba but goes over the hill. Perhaps it is more direct, but one would have thought the river valley was the natural route. The river bed is very rocky and, at least at the moment, the river is quite shallow. After getting to the bottom, we saw, in many places, properties on the other side of the river that were accessed by fords or causeways rather than bridges. Yet the flood meters over these causeways indicate that at times of the year the river must rise to a depth of as much as two metres. Even a rise to a depth of 1 metre would, I think, make the river almost impassable as the current is very strong. Because the road through the valley crosses the river a number of times on causeways or very low bridges, any pilgrim following this trail would be well advised to check before hand the level of the river. I think that the current time – late summer or autumn before the winter rains would be best. Spring, with the melting snow, would be right out, and Summer would be too hot on most of the road. (Paul just told me that according to Tony Ovington in 2003 the river filled to 12 metres above the causeway entering Towamba!).

So you get to the bottom of the mountain, and there is the Big Jack Rest Area. Which we did. There is a picnic table, grassed area, access to the river and toilets. The word “serene” comes to mind. We sat down and had our lunch – a little early – here. I took my shoes and socks off and sat on a rock on the edge of the river and soaked my feet in the icy water. Setting off from there the first thing I noticed is that, although there was still bush either side of the road, that bush is quite densely populated (for this part of the world, at least).

The landscape down the valley into Rocky Hall was completely different from what I expected. Firstly, I expected it to be flat. It wasn’t. In fact, while slowly descending, it is up and down all the way to Towamba, and in some places, the incline was really very steep, even if the hills were not very high in general. The other thing that I wasn’t expecting was the sheer unadulterated glorious beauty of the combination of the river, the open pastureland, the Australian native forest and the autumnal colours of the introduced species. The afternoon light was shining from behind us over the mountain, so everything we looked at was in full sunlight, highlighting the brilliant colours. Every step brought a new vista into view, and I was stopping continuously to try to capture something of it with my iphone camera. Alas, not successfully.

Seán quickly lagged behind me as he was far more intent on taking photos than walking. Occasionally we came across odd sculptures that the locals had created on the road side in front of their houses, such as a strange wooden mushroom formations and a collection of decorated dressmakers mannequins. A few kilometres down the road from the bottom of the mountain, I came to Rocky Hall. The main building in Rocky Hall is the Rocky Hall Hall (sic). As I walked past, I noticed that there was quite a bit of activity going on inside the hall, and cars parked around the outside. I approached the main entrance and found a man wearing a beret (good taste) and a woman having a smoke. I said hullo and asked what was going on. “It’s our sewing and textiles group”, the lady (Sarah) answered. And inside was a hive of industry. We met Therese who was weaving cloth on an antique loom and Joy Ovington, the wife of Tony with whom we had arranged our accomodation in Towamba at the hall. Some of the ladies were quilt making, the beret-wearing gentleman was doing an embroidery of Leonardo’s Last Supper, and there was a large quilting-sewing machine out the back. I explained to everyone what we were doing, and some had read/heard about our pilgrimage already through the media. In addition there was a visiting photographer from the Shire Council who was taking photos of the group for Volunteer Week. By this time, Seán had also arrived, and the photographer asked to take our picture. We took a pose with a metre or so between us, and he said “Come on, a bit of affection perhaps?” Putting my arm around Seán, I said that this was the closest that we had got on the whole pilgrimage – “Usually there is up to a kilometre or more between us!”. Joy made us a cup of tea and we had rhubarb slice offered to us as well. It was fun talking to each of the artists and looking at their work. I expressed my fascination with the countryside and they all agreed (naturally) that it was heaven. “I may be headed for Eden, I said, but this is paradise!” There were pictures of the establishment of Rocky Hall on the wall of the Hall, and also some ecclesiastical furniture in the corner. “Yes, it was used as a church for a while,” one of the ladies said.

We got going again, although before long we were talking to more locals over the front fence of their lovely stone house. They had recently moved there, having found the house for sale on the internet. I will start keeping on eye out for properties for sale in Rocky Hall myself, I think. More scenic views to die for on the way out of the village. If there was snow on the mountains, it would have been almost indistinguishable from some alpine sight in Europe.

Paul caught up with us in the car a few kilometres out of Rocky Hall. While Seán was filling up his water bottle, I climbed up Cemetery Road to the spot after which it was named, ie. the Rocky Hall Cemetery. I thought to myself “Most people have to wait for the resurrection before they get to Paradise…”

The aim at this stage of the day was to get as far as possible before dark. The forecast for tomorrow is for rain, although not until later in the morning. So, I figured that the further we could get today and the earlier we can start in the morning, the less likely that we would be walking in rain. Seán was not keen, but I would not be deterred. So I pressed on toward “New Buildings”, the next little locality. Seán found out that “New Buildings” was named after the “new pub” built there a century or so ago and of which there is now only a few bricks left. Still, New Buildings is important because it is there that the road from Wyndham comes down to the river, and a handsome white wooden bridge connects Big Jack Mountain Road to the rest of the world. If you are walking this way with a back up driver as we are, check that the bridge is open and in good repair, as they were advertising bridge works. It is a long way via Eden or Cathcart to come back into Towamba.

The sun was setting now, and as I made my way out of New Buildings, a car stopped and a white bearded man kindly offered me a ride – the second time this has happened on the trip. I turned down the offer, although he warned that I would soon run out of light, assuring him that our driver would be along soon. Beyond New Buildings, the road leaves the Rocky Hall valley and enters another section of wooded land. It was just before this section ended that I came around the corner to see the car parked on the side of the road with Paul reclining on the grass reading. “Sleeping on the job?”, I called out. I asked him to go and to pick up Seán before returning to pick me up. “Tell him we can start from where I finish in the morning.”

So we were soon covering the next 16kms/10miles to Towamba in the car, to the Community Hall where Paul had earlier dropped all our gear. The hall consists of two sections – an large mud brick hall and stage set up, and a smaller section with a kitchen and large dining or lunch room. Out the side there was a small building from which we could hear music emanating. We went around to find David running the local radio station. We chatted for a while about the station and local life before heading back in to settle into camp in the hall.

Tony Ovington came around to meet us, and explained that we could set up our gear in the main hall because the Anzac Day march morning tea would use just the kitchen and lunch area. The set up here is fairly good. There are toilets and hot showers, a well set up kitchen with gas stove and oven, big fridge and microwave, plates and cutlery and glasses and cups and a few pans (not many of the latter though – we used what we brought). Electricity of course. The only thing missing was beds, so we had to use our blow up mattresses.

We cooked sausages and potatoes and veggies (the latter Paul made to his own recipe) for tea, washed down as usual by a few beers and red wine. We were down to our last few bottles, but realised that I had brought just enough to last us until tomorrow. We made a rather early end to the day, as we intended to do a dawn start in the morning.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – Aston Creek, Bombala, to Cathcart

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

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – from Aston Creek 9kms out of Bombala to Cathcart 16kms the other side

Distance: 28.73km. Total distance 172.98km.

I slept quite comfortably on the floor in the end room in the Bombala Catholic Presbytery last night, using the cushions from the couch as my bed. Seán and Paul had the bedrooms. I was woken at 5:30am by a digital alarm clock in the office next to my room. I stumbled out of bed to switch it off and was just falling asleep when it went off again. I pulled the batteries out to make sure that I could get back to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, I ran over my homily for the morning in my head. It soon put me to sleep – I hope it didn’t have the same effect on the congregation when I actually preached it!

So we were up and going by 7am, getting breakfast, packing for the day, doing washing etc. Seán had decided not to walk the 9kms we missed yesterday, but to do a sightseeing tour of Bombala after the service. I packed all my gear to do a full day’s walk. After breakfast, I went over to the church just as John and Anne Vincent were arriving to get things opened up. I will admit that I was surprised to see the interior of the Church – it is really quite beautiful. There was nothing distasteful about the space, and in fact it was quite suited to prayer and meditation. It was very warm in feeling and conducive of meditation and devotion. They had recently renovated the sanctuary, as a result of ground shift due to seismic activity. The main material was a local wood, with the altar, the pulpit, the chair and other pieces of furniture all carved from the same material. The high altar, quite attractive in its own right, was still in place and a small pulpit had been built around the lectern.

Sister Teresa began the service by asking me to say a few words about our pilgrimage. Then, after the Gospel, I was asked to give the reflection. It felt both familiar and strange to be back in the pulpit after so many years: it was a role that one the one hand immediately felt right (a natural fit you might say) and wrong (what am I doing here?) at the same time. I feel the same conflict when someone says to me “Why haven’t you been ordained like the Anglican convert clergy?” I know at least one person who is convinced that I have a vocation to the priesthood. I will tell you that that person isn’t me. That is a conflict that is somewhere deep in my heart and needs to be worked out at some stage. Probably if you asked most people with a vocation to priesthood why they are drawn to it, they might say something about the love of the eucharist and the desire to serve God’s people by administering the sacraments, but I would honestly have to say that the main attraction of ordination for me is the chance once again to publicly proclaim the Gospel – to be an evangeliser. But there isn’t much of a role for official lay evangelists in the Catholic Church – it is very much (and properly) understood that the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments belongs together.

In any case, here is a short précis of my homily (aka “reflection”) on today’s gospel from John 20:

  • Modern people like to have proof before they will believe something. Either they have to experience it for themselves, or there should be “scientific proof” for it.
  • We sometimes think that the ancient people were gullible: that lacking knowledge of science they would believe any fairy story that someone told them.
  • In fact this is one “explanation” that some people like to give for the story of Jesus’ resurrection: The disciples, being disappointed by Jesus’ death, told themselves stories about his resurrection to comfort themselves and then other people believed that these stories were really true
  • But that isn’t the way it happened at all. Ancient people knew as well as we do that dead people do not rise to life again. You put them in a box and you put them in the ground and they stay there.
  • The first disciples of Jesus knew that he had risen from the dead precisely because they experienced his resurrection: they saw him, they spoke with him, they touched him and he ate with them (see 1 John 1).
  • In demanding proof for what he could not see, Thomas was NOT an exception among ancient people. He knew the difference between “real and not real” (Quoted the poem by Thomas H. Traeger “These things did Thomas count as real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.”)
  • When John the evangelist wrote this story, he knew he was among the last of the eye witnesses of Jesus resurrection. He wrote the story for his his own people so that even though they had not seen, they might believe (reference to the Epistle from 1 Peter 1).
  • He also wrote it for us – we proud moderns who demand proof before we will believe – although had may never have imagined that what he wrote was still being read by believers 2000 years later.
  • He wrote this for us: That we might believe that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead, and that by believing we might have eternal life.

Beside feeling very honoured to be among the Catholic community of Bombala this morning (and the congregation was of a decent size) for the service of the word with Holy Communion, I and my companions were very impressed with the physical building of St Mary’s. It is not often that I enter into a Catholic Church building and find everything within it a) tasteful, b) conducive to prayer and devotion. The sanctuary had recently been redone in wood – the old concrete sanctuary being cracked like some of the walls from seismic activity in the area. The wood used, both for the flooring and the altar and the rest of the sanctuary furniture was all local, and carved by a local artist in a nice simple gothic pattern. The walls had been repainted a light cream colour which reduced the effect of the brown brick and actually complimented it. The original works of art around the altar and the stain glass windows and the 3-D relief stations of the cross are all of high quality. The church lacked a pipe organ – but that would have been icing on the cake. One particularly welcome feature was a recently installed stain-glass window of Mary MacKillop with the children of Bendoc.

After conversation with parishioners (unfortunately no church hall for a cup of tea), Paul drove me out to Aston Creek on the Bendoc-Delegate Road to drop me off where I finished yesterday at about 10am. As we approached the spot, we noticed on the south side of the road, hidden by bushes and on a rise, a little cemetery marked by a white cross. I probably would have missed this had I walked past in the rain yesterday, but this morning I took the time to explore it. We have visited a number of cemeteries on the Way, and I always stop to pray for the dead when we do. This was my first opportunity on this section of the walk. It was a pioneer cemetery, but still with some more recent graves in it. The oldest grave that I could find was of a bachelor medical doctor – a member of larger Scottish family in the area – who was born in 1811 and died in 1846. The epitaph reads “Be Ye Also Ready” – which would seem to confirm a death that was not only early but unexpected. Sobering thoughts for a pilgrim!

The walk into Bombala was through countryside that continued to amaze, especially with the bright autumn colours of the leaves (in particular the poplar trees) and the pretty creeks with yellowing willows on their banks. The road rises and falls between 770m and 690m, leveling out to 700m in Bombala. For the first time on the walk, a car stopped and offered me a lift! The kind couple from Delegate were astonished when I told them that I was doing this on purpose! The traffic continued to be quite light. Granted it was a Sunday, but as with yesterday, vehicles came past every 5 minutes or so.

As I entered Bombala I passed the High School which had the motto “Come let us reason together”. How very odd that a secular school should have a motto from the scriptures, I thought (Isaiah 1:8). A left over from a previous more faithful time, perhaps? I was listening to Mandy Prior’s hymns on my bluetooth speaker (on loud blast) and singing along, when I came across a couple in their garden and had to switch it off in order to greet them. They turned out to have been at St Mary’s for the morning service, so we were able to have a more extended conversation. They told me about plans for the establishment of something called “The Bundian Way“, following a 360km ancient aboriginal pathway from Mt Kosiuszko to Eden. I’ve since looked it up, and it goes down the mountain by crossing the Monaro Highway south of Bombala. It is very intersesting indeed, seeming to intersect with the MacKillop-Woods Way at Delegate and Craigie, but bypasses Bombala itself (which is a must on the MWW due to the association with Mother Mary!).

I lingered a little in the Main Street of Bombala which has many interesting features, before walking over the bridge (past the pleasant river-side road-stop, made stunningly attractive by the autumn leaves) and over the railway bridge past the restored, but disused, station. On the south side of the river is the old Olympia theatre (now gym) and a cafe with the distances to Melbourne (530km) and Sydney (520km) on it! From the railway station (the Old Josephite Convent is just down the hill to the right/east) I walked up to the old Court House, an imposing building overlooking the town from the hill, and finally up to St Mary’s and the Presbytery behind it.

Seán was waiting for me when I arrived and ready to go. I quickly hung out my washing to dry, ate the rest of the ham sandwiches that Sister Theresa had made for me last night (washed down with a mouthful of red wine) and an apple, strapped up my sore muscles behind my knee, and we set off again, this time for Cathcart. Climbing up the hill to presbytery and down again to cross the river adds about two kilometres to the treck, so while the gazetted distance from Bombala to Cathcart is 16km, it actually took us closer to 17.5km. This road is quite challenging for a number of reasons. Firstly, the traffic is greatly increased – a vehicles about every two minutes on average. Although it is a C grade highway, it nevertheless leads down to the popular destination of Pambula on the coast, and so a lot of the traffic was not local. It then links to the Monaro Highway in Bombala, giving a through way to the south or north to Canberra. But this alone would not have been a problem if it were not for the fact that the road itself often has hardly any verge. So we had to constantly keep an eye and ear out for traffic and switch to the other side of the road as it approached. The other challenge was the rather large hills that needed to be climbed, often with very steady and not very gentle slopes. According to my apps, the overall ascent for the 16km stretch was 232m with an overall descent of 164m, with two high points of around 820m. Still, the scenery continued to be stunning. The white wooden bridge over the Coolumbooka River is particularly attractive. At the top of the first 820m hill, outside the Yarandilla property, it is possible to see Mount Delegate in the far distance on the horizon, which we passed three days ago coming out of Bendoc.

Paul caught up with us on his bike coming down this hill. He had parked the car at Cathcart and ridden down the escarpment to Wyndham and back up again. He was headed back to Bombala and passed us again about 1.5kms from Cathcart. That is quite a ride – about 100kms and from an elevation of 820m down to about 250m and back up again.

We finally entered into Cathcart as the sun was setting at about 5:15pm. Along the way, I passed the first of a series of little green tin shields on which someone has painted a whole lot of historical information about Cathcart localities. The first one was marking a property as the first butchery in Cathcart (no date). The second one was attached to a decaying wooden church prominent as you enter Cathcart from the west as we did. This one proclaimed the old thing to have once been the Catholic Church, built in 1880 and closed 90 years later in 1970. It is now being used as a hayseed. As Josh commented in a text “Poor church, she lived long enough to see the Novus Ordo and die.” Yes. Sad. Seán got the best line though: “We’re 47 years late for mass!”

So, back “home” to the presbytery. First we filled up the tank of Paul’s car. I am amazed how cheaply we are doing this. Diesal is about 10c cheaper per litre than petrol and seems to go twice the distance. We told the woman at the service station what we were doing and she asked if we were doing it as a religious thing. Yes, and also as a challenge physically we answered (our bodies giving us a lot more trouble than our souls at this point). We told her we were staying at the Catholic Presbytery and she replied with a most effusive and glowing recommendation for Fr Mick. “If the Catholic Church had more priests like him it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is now”, she said.

Seán wanted to cook for us tonight, and I wasn’t complaining. The 28km I had done today had completely exhausted me. He cooked a pasta dish (with wholemeal spaghetti which I told him when he bought it that I really didn’t like), with bacon and cherry tomatoes and capsicum and feta cheese and beans in a cream sauce. It was very good. We’ve finished up all the cheap Pomeroy’s plonk and opened a bottle of 2009 red that I had bought with me. Paul then offered to do the dishes, and again I did not argue. I went to my room to try to get an early evening.

We want to leave at dawn in the morning. There is rain coming over the next couple of days and Monday will be the last fine day, so we want to walk as far as possible. We rang Tony Ovington at Towamba to tee up Paul to pick up the key tomorrow morning, so Paul will have the hall all set up for us when we finish our walk down the mountain in the morning. From what I can see, it will be a very steep descent within the first 10kms or so of Cathcart through the forest. Back into Mirkwood for a bit, before we get to Rivendell!

We will be out of range of internet until we arrive in Eden on Wednesday night. Also, the good folk of the Parish there are planning a night out to celebrate our arrival, so I doubt if this blog will be updated until much later in the week. But I will continue to take pictures and write up the story so check back on the weekend to see the rest!

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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