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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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Five

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

MWW Day 5 - First Part: Drouin to Warragul

MWW Day 5 – First Part: Drouin to Warragul

MWW Pilgrimge: Day Five Part Two: Warragul to Yarragon

MWW Pilgrimge: Day Five Part Two: Warragul to Yarragon

A very early start in Drouin this morning. Deacon Mark had kindly offered to put our washing on, and had told us that his machine was supposed to be a combined washing machine and dryer. I was a little concerned about this, as some of our special gear is not really meant for the drying maching, but as it turned out the machine didn’t really dry it at all – although it was well spun. I expect were Mrs Deacon at home we might have had a little more success. In any case, Mark hoiked on the gas heater and we hung our washing in front of that, rotating it like a pig, duck, pigeon and rabbit on a spit, so that all was nicely done in time for us to pack and leave about 7:45am. I was still mucking about (Josh says “faffing” is the word”) with the picture gallery for last night’s blog write up, and Josh was keen to get to Warragul in time for the 9:30am mass at St Joseph’s, so he left at 7:35, just as the sun was rising. Daylight saving ends this weekend, so it was the equivalent of 6:30am in the real money.

Sean had headed off as I packed the last bits into my backpack, thanked Mark profusely for his great generosity, and headed off. The first section of today’s walk was brilliant, all green and  bathed in a sunny golden glow of dawn. Poetry is necessary for this description. There is a path all the way from St Ita’s Church and School in Drouin to the front door of St Joseph’s Church in Warragul called the Two Towns Trail. After going through some delightful wetlands, it curves up and runs along to Warragul with the highway on one side and open farmland on the other.  Only the farmland is fast disappearing. Before our very eyes, we were seeing fields transformed into suburbs (see pictures…).

Mass was celebrated by retired priest Fr John Divine. I was sorry that we didn’t get to meet the PP, Fr Herman, who is himself retiring in the next few weeks. Fr Herman was a class mate of Cardinal George and Archbishop Denis back in the day at the seminary. We did meet the parish secretary, Pru, who very kindly provided us with a parish stamp in  our pilgrim passports. She admitted that we were, as far as she knew, the first pilgrims ever to come through Warragul. I asked if Bishop Patrick was in, as it would have been nice to pop up to his office and get his blessing. Sadly, he wasn’t. I am praying for him and for his diocese as we traverse it from one end to the other.

We had morning coffee and brunch at Frankie’s, relaxed in the confidence that we had already knocked off one third of our journey, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Then shouldering our packs we headed south over the railway line to Bona Vista Avenue. On the way, I stopped at the Aussie Disposal store and bought a length of strap and a buckle for the front of my pack, to bring the two straps together across my chest. This totally reorganised the weight distribution thus offering a great deal of relief to my shoulders. Once out of town, the roads were considerably “up and bloody down” (as one of my fellow pilgrims expressed it), but albeit with extraordinarily beautiful views of the Strezlecki Range to the south and the Baw Baw mountains to the north. The road we were on was very much a backroad, with very little traffic and a bit of gravel at one point, but an excellent Camino route.

We were eagerly looking forward to arriving at the Darnum Pub, which looked very good on Google. As we approached, I saw the sign saying “Open 6 Days” and thought that it would be just our luck if Friday was the day it was closed. No, the sign said “Tuesday to Sunday” and today was definitely not Monday. However, the door was firmly locked and not a soul was to be seen within. Josh pointed out the fine print on the sign which said “Bar opens at 4pm”. Buggar.

So walked back to the “Tea Rooms”. You could get tea and scones there if you wished, but we had ginger beer and (I had) a nice Cornish pastie.  Hitting the road again, we headed across the M1 Freeway, onot the Shady Creek Road. Again we were assaulted by passing quarry trucks. Josh points out that they hardly hurt us, and it is true that we were not hit by any of them, however were we to have to share much of the road with these monsters, I would be rerouting our little Camino. Happily we soon turned off onto the quaintly named Little Moe River Road. This road finally led downhill onto the open plain on which we will travel basically from now on. “Bloody up and down” no more? Perhaps. We are in Gippsland, after all.

Along the way today, as always, we have had the fun of explaining our little pilgrimage. Perhaps the best encounter was witha member of the local Anglican Mothers Union who spotted us leaving Warragul and wondered what these three strange persons with the ski sticks and little cart were up to. When she encountered us again in the Darnum Tea Rooms, she could not resist coming over to enquire further. Along the road, farmers greeted us as passed – cows also cast a quizzical glance in our direction.

Today turned out to be the shortest day for travelling so far. Google Earth made it 26.7km while my GPS said 27.81km. We were on the road only eight and a half hours and arrived at the Yarragon Motel at 4:30pm. The Motelier had reassigned us to a larger room, so our accomodation is spacious and comfortable, although at $150 for the night is perhaps on the more pricey end. Okay for three people, and the room can in fact sleep a half dozen. A good dinner was to be had at the pub next door, currently being renevoated on the exterior, but fully functional within.

That’s about it for now. Short day tomorrow to see us into Moe. Josh’s last day with us before returning home to work. A bit of rain has been forcast, but seeing the state of the paddocks around here they could do with it. I noticed the farmers dry ploughing today with clouds of dust. We gave up that practice back home in Pinnaroo years ago, but they are obviously confident that the rain will come soon.

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MacKillop Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Four

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

MWW Day Four Part One

MWW Day Four Part One

MWW Day Four Part Two

MWW Day Four Part Two

It is always easiest to start these daily reports with where we are right now. And the lines have fallen for us in goodly places. We are staying with Deacon Mark Kelly in Drouin. Sadly, his wife Hilary is not with us, as she was admitted to hospital over Easter and is undergoing treatment at the moment. Mark has, nevertheless, been an excellent and most generous host. We had the great luxury of bangers and mash for dinner with good beer and red wine and fruit pie and ice cream for dessert. Being very weary after our 30.8km (Google Maps) or 32.75km (GPS) walk from Tynong North to Drouin, it was wonderful to be welcomed with such friendly kindness. Josh was very weary, and Sean is dealing with blisters.

The hill into Drouin was a bit of a killer – outside Longwarry, there is a 100m rise, and then there is another 50m or 60m rise up to Drouin itself. Drouin boasts the highest altitude railway station on the Bairnsdale line (138m), and I am told it is also the highest point on the Princes Highway, aka Highway 1, which circles Australia. St Ita’s Catholic Church in Drouin is, of course, on one of the highest points of town, and Deacon Kelly lives next door. A bit of a stretch at the end of the day.

So, going back to the start, we made a good beginning at Tynong North, with a “the same but different” menu for breakfast: instead of omelettes, we had fried eggs with the same fry up of silverbeat, mushrooms, tomatoes and leek as last night (but with additional garlic from Sean’s stock). With fresh coffee and tea, we were well and truly set for the day ahead.

The day was – for the first time on our journey – sunny. Although the warmest was only in the mid 20’s (Celsius), it was nevertheless a very different experience from walking in the cloudy cool weather we have had thus far. The morning was simply brilliant. Crisp and cool and glistening with sunlight, it is easy to see why the “Australian colours” are green and gold. To that I would add white and blue, as descriptive of the sky above us.

We followed a route that went “Tynong North Road, Mintern Road, Wright Road and Garfield Road” down to the M1 (Princes) Freeway. It was very beautiful, the only draw back being that there is a quarry in this vicinity, and there were big quarry trucks coming and going on the gravel roads. I had wondered last night as we were travelling towards our destination, why the local gravel roads had been water sprayed and who had done it (my experience is that councils are reluctant to spend such money). I realised now that this was to reduce the dust from the Quarry trucks, and must be a responsibility of those who run this enterprise. Given that for the rest of the day we were often on gravel roads being passed by local vehicles kicking up a billowing cloud of dust, I really appreciated this.

The elevations were all over the place at the start. I had expected that we would simply descend onto the plain, but there was no such simplicity. At least for the first 10km, we undulated between 130m and 60m, before fI ally reaching level ground at Garfield. As I said, the bottom of the Garfield Road took us to the M1. Crossing this was a little tricky, but no real hassle. There was a very good roadside path leading all the way from the freeway down to Garfield, obviously with the idea of attracting local walkers and bike riders. I wish more municipalities had this idea.

In Garfield we stopped at Brewsters coffee shop for an early lunch (it was after 12 already). There was a (very) chatty local woman in the cafe, but no other patrons, so we made ourselves at home and had a good meal to keep us going. We had our pilgrim passes stampede the Post Office next door.

Heading out of town, we started on the main road between Garfield and Bunyip. It was, however, much busier than I remembered it. Sean put his finger on the problem. The local towns are fast becoming satellite suburbs, and the increase in population meant that what were once sleepy backroads are now becoming congested with traffic.

At the first opportunity I diverted our pilgrimage to the other side of the railway line, and we walked on the much quieter Railway Avenue until we arrived in Bunyip. This was a mixture of gravel and bituminise surface, but the traffic was much less than on the main road.

At Bunyip we called in on the Butcher’s Shop Hotel, where Josh shouted me a can of Guinness to keep me going. Only cans and bottled beers were available as there was some kind of malfunction with the beer taps. We met the manager (who has a horse farm in Drouin) and the couple of the guests. These two guys were quick with information about where we should walk next but, as we have discovered by now, they were the directions of those who have never walked but only ever driven. The real “secrets” had already been divulged by Google Maps. There is a track that leads all the way through from Bunyip to Langwarry on the north side of the railway, although at times it is a bit scrappy. At Langwarry we met our two friends from the Bunyip Pub just pulling up to enter the Langwarry establishment…

We found a good way into Drouin, following Edgar’s Road and Old Drouin Road. The publican at Bunyip had warned us about “the Drouin Hill”, which we would have to climb. About two thirds through our journey, we came across said hill, which initially raised us from about 30m to 102m. This was only the start of our ascent. Once we got the end of Shillinglaw Road, however, there was some disagreement as to which way to go next. In the end, I recommended (perhaps wrongly?) going up Lampard Road to the Railway Station and Shopping Centre. This road was a repeat of the earlier climb, taking us at least another 50m higher. Maybe there wasn’t any option. I dropped in to the Woolworths to buy some cheese, olives and wine to give as a gift to our hosts, Mark and Hilary Kelly.

The rest of the story is told above. Mark has each of us sleeping in our own rooms and beds, for which I am very thankful. Sean and I put a load of washing on, and Mark and I talked while Josh retired to his blow up mattress in Mark’s study. For all other info see above. I’m falling asleep now writing this, so any other details will have to be entered later.

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MacKillop Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Three

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

MWW Day Three Part One

MWW Day Three Part One

MWW Day Three Part 2

MWW Day Three Part 2

Tonight we have arrived in Tynong North, just south of the Bunyip Forest near Cannibal Creek. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Josh says “Make sure you tell them we are all bloody buggered.” Done.

According to my original Google Maps measurements, we were supposed to have travelled 27km today. In fact, the GPS measurement (which is usually a little exaggerated) was 35.2km. I know for a fact that we walked 1km further than we originally intended, because the Cornucopia Cottage where we are staying was not at 540 Tynong North Road (Peppermint Ridge Farm, the home of our hosts, is there), but at 459 Tynong North Road. Still that should only bring it to 28km, and it was certainly further than that. Sore shoulders, feet, etc. and Sean has a nasty blister to deal with (May the Lord and all his saints preserve us from such disaster).

But we have real beds tonight, with nice linen and towels, a hot shower etc. and so we are feeling comparatively civilised again. We had prepaid for the cottage ($115) and for breakfast supplies ($10 a head extra: eggs, mushrooms, home-grown tomatoes, home-baked bread, butter, jam, milk etc.). Rather than carry extra food with us from Gembrook, we had planned to cook all that up for dinner tonight, and just have bread and jam in the morning.

But we made the mistake of thinking our accommodation was actually up at Peppermint Ridge, and called in at the Farm. While it was disappointing to be told that we still had another kilometre to walk to the cottage, it was a “happy fault” in that we ended up with extra supplies for dinner as well. Our hostess decided to give us another half dozen eggs, a bunch of silverbeat, two leeks and a bunch of parsley. So I decided to cook up omelettes for dinner tonight.

When we got here, we also found a bag of oven fries in the freezer (perhaps left behind by a previous guest?) so we bunged them in the oven to cook while we took turns in the shower (the first really decent shower I have had since leaving home). We ate these while I was cooking tea. I say “I cooked tea”, because I knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want either of my companions mucking it up. We had omelette stuffed with fried leek, tomato, silverbeat and mushrooms. Sean donated a small block of cheese, which we grated and added to the filling. With a slice of home made bread and a glass of red wine left over from last night, that was dinner.

So now that things have quieted down, it’s time to reflect on the day gone by. The accommodation at the Emerald church worked really well, but I still woke at 4am and was not really able properly to get back to sleep. After we had all risen and packed, we spent some time in prayer in the church before the blessed sacrament. Josh said his morning extraordinary form office, and I listened to Morning Prayer on the Divine Office app. (Josh calls it my “prayer wheel”). At the end, we sang the Regina Caeli, and headed off down to the local bakery for breakfast.

Then it was a matter of finding the trail. We entered the Emerald Lake down at the Nobelius Siding, and walked through the length of the park on the northern side of the lake. This was indeed a very pretty path in every way. We had little yellow arrows to point us the way, which reminded Sean of the Camino de Santiago. From the Emerald Lake Park, we made our way into the Wright Forest following the trail through to Cockatoo Creek. Wright Forest was quite a contrast to anything we had yet walked through, with little greenery and the only trees being tall Mountain Ashes. Coming into Cockatoo, the trail led past St Luke’s Anglican Church. While Sean and I were taking a closer look at the church, the pastor (that’s how he was described on the door), Rev. Owen Proud came around to see who was poking around. We introduced ourselves and chatted for a while about his ministry and the history of the parish.

We stopped in at the cafe at Cockatoo where I bought some water for my backpack bladder. I intentionally have not been carrying water if we could get it freely along the way, but now I knew we would be needing something for the rest of the day. The three of us had some argument about what route to take to Gembrook. We had been really spoiled by the beautiful pathways this morning, and Josh was convinced that surely there would be a trail along the Puffing Billy railway? Moreover he claimed to have found such a thing – a signed pathway just down the road from the shops. Only this trail, which started rather well, ended up taking us down the Pakenham road to the Josie Bysouth Reserve, on quite the wrong side of Cockatoo Creek. On the other side of the road, we found a track called Tymon Road, which took us through to Doonaha Road and back up onto the main Belgrave-Gembrook Road at the Fielder Railway station near the Whistle Stopover B&B.

This road had been a bit of a climb, and the climbing didn’t stop there. We headed up Fielder Road till it joined the main road at the top of the hill. By that stage the weather had begun to turn and it was drizzling lightly and blowing quite a cold fresh breeze. I took shelter under a roadside stall (with lots of lovely produce for sale – I would have bought up big, except I would then have had to carry it all day), and put the cover on my backpack. Walking now high along the ridge, it was possible to look across the valley and see to the north of us the other route that we had originally intended to take, Amphlett Avenue. Given how busy the main road was and how little room there was on the verge to walk, this would have been a greatly preferable option.

Several kilometres still from Gembrook, there is a point where the Puffing Billy line comes very close to the main road and passes over a bridge. There was a track leading under the bridge, and I wondered whether it might lead to a trail along the railway. No such luck. It was all long grass, and wet, and I was in sandals and socks. There were also signs up prohibiting cycling, riding horses or walking along the line on pain of a $200 fine. We rested then at the Gembrook sports ground, sheltering a little from the wind and drizzle and resting our weary shoulders. It was just on 12noon by this stage so we sang the Regina Caeli and then pushed on into town. Now there was a trail along the railway, along Station Street, which we followed.

There were workman on the railway, and we asked their task meant that the train was cancelled for today. No, they replied, it would be along in about 10 minutes. With this expectation, we completed our walk into Gembrook and entered the Station House. There was a fire burning there in the hearth, and we were invited by the staff to come and sit and chat. Josh kept watch outside for the coming train. We had a great conversation with the staff, who were very friendly, telling them what we were doing. I enquired about the Hotel in Gembrook – I had been told that it was closed but that it would open on April 1st, which, unfortunately, was two days away. The staff laughed. No, they said, it had been bought and was being refurbished, but it was taking years and no-one knew when it would be finally opened. They reasonably surmised that the people telling me it would be opened in a few days were having an early April Fool’s joke on me.

The Puffing Billy steam train finally pulled in twenty minutes late, to much excitement and photo-taking. One of the staff kindly offered to take a picture of all three of us in front of the train. We were then directed up to the Post Office to get our pilgrim passports stamped. There again, we had a great conversation about our plan to do the full pilgrimage to Sydney. The Post Office staff were familiar with the Camino de Santiago so we didn’t have to laboriously explain the stamping routine. We asked for recommendations regarding dinner, and were told the same thing the railway staff had told us: The Independent Restaurant and Bar does Argentinian style Spanish tapas style meals that are very good.

We took up this recommendation, despite the food being a little pricey. It was an order to share arrangement, and the food was really good, as was the special Coopers Independent Lager brewed just for the restaurant. Nice bread with a creamy cheese and olive oil, followed by Beef and Port Croquets, Beetroot in yoghurt, crispy potatoes, Chorizo sausage and Crumb-fried Black Pudding. All very nice. In truth, we could have done with a bit more food, as the rest of the day was still very long. According to my calculations, we had about 15kms still to go. I think in reality it was over twenty.

It was after 2pm, so we really had to step on it. We decided simply to head out on the Beenak East Road, which led around onto the Gembrook-Tonimbuk Road, instead of our original plan to walk down Red Road and the Avenue. In truth we were very tired of climbing up and down hill, and it looked like the Beenak road was the most inclined simply to go in a downwards direction! Once again, however, there wasn’t a very good verge, and we were mainly walking on the road. Sean’s Carrix couldn’t handle the walking off the flat surface very well, and this limited his options for the rest of the day.

Along the way, we passed two young blokes with their backpacks and tents. When we asked where they were headed, they said “near Bunyip”, which I thought made no sense as that was another full day’s walk from where we were. We don’t know what became of them, as we passed by and continued on our way.

This section along the Gembrook-Tonimbuk Road was actually unpleasant. One thing I do not like about the Christus Rex Pilgrimage is how much walking is done on the edge of busy roads, and that is exactly what it appeared this would be. While we must have walked four or five kilometres like this, once we were in the Bunyip State Forest, Josh found a side track that we could walk on (it was still unsuitable for Sean’s Carrix, unfortunately). He and I walked on this track, which ran parallel to the road, for some way, while keeping an eye on Sean’s progress on the road. But then, about 600m before the turnoff south, we came to Dawson’s Track which led in the right southerly direction parallel with the Tynong North Road. Again, Sean could not take this track, and in any case, was feeling a bit nackered, so he stayed on the road while Josh and I climbed up the trail into the forest.

This was quite good, actually, as it took us deep into the rather attractive native bush land. The trail did, however, climb upwards a long way before turning back down onto the Tynong road. Along the way, Josh spotted some three big dear on the trail ahead of us – but they ran off as we came near. No wonder all the signs showing prohibition of dogs and firearms. Sean was waiting for us at the Bald Hill picnic grounds. Here we saw that the Tynong North road is not sealed, and so very few cars made their way through the State Forest along it. Josh and I continued to follow the park management trail down towards Tynong, finally emerging just before the end of the forest.

Now we were sore and desperate to get to the cottage. The road opened up onto a flat expanse which was much more pleasant to walk. Finally too, we all three made it to our destination (as per story up the top of this page) at 6:30pm. Too late really. Next week it will be dark by that time!

Because of a really bad internet connection here, I will wait until tomorrow night to upload today’s pictures!

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MacKillop Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Two

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


MWW Pilgrimage: Day Two (Part One)

Today's trail

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Two (part two)

I should not be astonished at how tired and exhausted I feel tonight, after completing the second day of our pilgrimage – somewhere between 29.0km (Google Maps) and 33.26km (my GPS tracker). Call it a round 32km, and it feels about right. Normally, I would not think that a very taxing walk, but it is an entirely different matter when a) carrying 12kgs on one’s back, b) going up and down between 170m above sea level and 380m (the highpoint just before we came to Menzies Creek along Black Hill Road – from which we could see not only Port Phillip Bay, but also Western Port Bay, not only Dromana, but also French Island in the distance and beyond that Phillip Island).

We are camping out tonight at St Joseph’s Church in Emerald, thanks to the kindness of the parish priest, Fr Simon, and two local parish leaders, Pauline and Henk, who had everything ready for us when we arrived. We have made up beds for ourselves from the pew cushions, and have tea and coffee and toilets and all amenities – except for showers. Beggars – or at least pilgrims – can’t be choosers.

We left St Paul’s Missionary College in Norton’s Lane, Wantirna South, this morning at about 8am, in time to get to St Jude’s Catholic Church in Scoresby for mass at 9am. Fr John Hannon said mass for us and his congregation of 20 or so locals – a very no-nonsense priest who preached a short and scripturally based sermon. We bailed him up after mass to explain what we were doing and to ask him to stamp our pilgrim passports. He got the idea immediately – “Like an Australian Camino?” – and was very obliging.

From the Church, we headed down to the Scoresby shopping centre, crossed the crossways of Stud Road and Ferntree Gully. Sean pointed out that this would be the last major crossroads we would see until Warragul at least. We went down Stud Road until we came to the Ferny Creek Trail, which led for about 8kms to Upper Ferntree Gully, where we had lunch at a cafe “Brewers”. A very nice elderly gentleman came up to us as we were eating, and introduced himself as an ex-bush walker. He had seen our packs and recognised kindred spirits. Actually, it turned out that he was more kindred than he knew, because when we explained that we were Catholics on a Mary MacKillop pilgrimage, he said that he was a “returning Catholic”, and  used to be the librarian at Mannix College.

It is very wonderful to meet people all along the way and to see their reaction when we tell them what we are doing. The waitress in the restaurant asked us what we were doing for the rest of the day, and the look on her face was priceless when we said “Walking to Bairnsdale”! We met a Catholic couple as we were walking into Ferntree Gully, and again, just as we were walking into Emerald this evening we met a man who said he was educated by the Josephites. All along the way, people get what we are doing.

After lunch, we began our ascent into the hills along the Ringwood-Belgrave Rail Trail. It was a great delight, when we arrived in Belgrave, to meet none other than the Belgrave Wizard himself. For those who do not know, the Wizard is something of a living landmark in Belgrave and the other hill towns. He is conspicuous by his bizarre dress, his owl-topped staff, and his habit of traversing the roads between Upwey and Selby (his most recent habit being setting himself up opposite the Tecoma McDonald’s and pronouncing imprecations in their general direction). It turns out that Sean knew the Wizard from years back, and introduced me to “Dan”. While the others were taking a toilet break, I chatted to Dan and learned that his years of walking the streets may well be numbered – he is suffering (like my father and another of our dear elderly friends) from fluid swollen legs. There is no hope for it, I told him, you have to go home and put your legs up and rest. Nothing else works. Sean thinks the Wizard may well be 85 years old, and perhaps even 90. Anyway, it was an honour to meet him. When my daughter rang tonight, I asked her “Who do you think I met in Belgrave?” “The Wizard?” Absolutely.

So from there we went on, past Mater Christi College (my girls school),  on back roads around the Selby Railway bridge towards Menzies Creek. For most of the afternoon we could hear the Puffing Billy train tooting away, but it remained out of sight until we got to Menzies Creek station. When I heard it, I raced up the hill from the main road to the station (oblivious of the weight on my shoulders) and made it just in time to snap a couple of pictures. Looking behind me, I saw that Josh had followed me up the steep path at an equal pace, the very hill that a moment earlier he had looked at and said, let’s not go that way. Amazing what the romance and thrill of a steam engine can inspire even in the most exhausted legs.

Along the way, we saw horses and donkeys and ducks and sheep and a goat – the latter of which had gotten his chain all tangled in blackberries, so I spent a little bit of time setting him free. It really is a very picturesque  landscape for most of the way up here, but we were really taxed by the sheer exertion of climbing up and down hills. Today is probably the hardest of our journey. By the time we got to Clematis, the pub on the roundabout (The Paradise Valley Hotel?) proved too much of a temptation, and went in for a welcome pint of ale. After that, I felt a definite spring return to my steps for the final 4 km or so to Emerald, arriving at about 6:00pm.

Dinner tonight was two pizzas from Big Al’s around the corner washed down by a bottle of Shiraz Merlot from the local IGA. It is now after 10pm and time for bed.

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