MWW2019 – Day 6: Gerringong to Shellharbour (“Shake the dust from off your feet”)

This is surely one of the more unusual Easter Weekends that I have spent in my life. As a young boy, I remember one year that we all went camping for the first time with some friends up on the River Murray near Loxton. Dad took us kids out fishing in a little tin dinghy and I caught my first fish early on Easter Sunday morning before going to Church. Another time, we needed to be at the baptism of my newborn cousin in Adelaide, but we had a mob of flyblown lambs that needed dowsing in sheep dip by hand first before we left on the 2.5hr drive to get to an 11am service, which, of course, Dad got us four boys to help with. And more recently, there was the 2009 Easter in Rome, with Sunday morning mass with Pope Benedict on the front steps of St Peter’s Basilica. And now we are spending our Easter Triduum walking, walking, walking.

We left Billowview this morning at 7:45, but lingered in the town having breakfast at the bakery until 8:30. We then took the way down to the beach path, walking on lawns wet with a very heavy dew (and getting our shoes soaked as a result). It was already warm and humid, and this continued all day – with a bit of relief from sea breezes. The beach was already filled with the Easter holiday crowd. From this point onwards, for the next couple of days, we were walking through a sea of holiday makers, who magically parted as the smelly pilgrims walked through on dry sand. Just after 9am we came to the start of the Kiama Cliff Walk. To reach the start of the path – which is generally a soft, grassy (short) surface – we needed to cross the shallow inlet of the Werri Gully Lagoon. So we took off our shoes and waded through. Ah, what relief that was on my feet. It would have been nice to have walked all the way in bare feet, to give my blisters a rest. It could have been done, as the path surface was very gentle, but too risky.

Josh stayed behind and waved us off, as he was catching a ride with Brother Michael to Kiama (the whole vertigo thing made this section a bit of a worry for Josh). Sean and I have walked a number of cliff walks together before, including the second day of the Aussie Camino around Cape Bridgewater and the Killcunda cliff trail near Philip Island. This walk was a little more strenuous than the former and a little less than the latter. There was a lot of up and down, which had us perspiring, but also beautiful views which were inspiring. A lot of other people were doing the walk, including bunches of young people, families, a dad with his young daughter, joggers (mad) and mountain bikers (I don’t think I would want to be on a pair of wheels that close to the cliffs). It took us from 9:30 to 11am to complete the path and arrive at Marsden Reserve on the other end, at the southernmost part of Kiama. Rounding one more headland, we came to Easts Beach, where Josh was meeting us. He had carried about half our pack contents in a duffel bag to lighten our load on the cliff walk, but now we refilled our backpacks, and the addition was noticeable. I struggled to climb up the steep steps and hill slope on the north side of the beach, and the pain in my left groin muscles returned with a vengeance.

Josh led us around to a little cafe in Tingira Crescent – the “Little Earth Cafe”, which made its own popsicles. I had a mango and coconut ice, which was very refreshing. We talked to some of the locals about our trip, including one fellow who used to work for the highways and knew the roads to the south fairly well. It was twelve noon when we set off again, so we said the Angelus (the last time on this trip) and set off. By 12:30 we were in Kiama central. We didn’t visit the lighthouse – we could see it from the path and didn’t want to add any distance to our walk today. In fact, while we had planned to walk along the shore all the way, we shaved off some kms by going in a more direct route through the streets and along the railway line. Kiama is a pretty township, which has many historical and quaint buildings and attracts hordes of tourists, especially on this day, Easter Saturday.

We struggled a little to find our way down onto Bombo Beach, but Josh powered on while Sean was still looking at his maps, and found the path that led underneath the railway line and back onto the sand. I took of my sandals and walked in the sea water for the first time on this trip. It was lovely. Climbing over the Head on the other side, we passed “The Boneyard”, and old quarry area with some amazing rock formations, but which now houses the local sewage plant. Be thankful that the photos don’t come with “smells attached”. Around the corner is Cathedral Rocks, and Sean and I tried to find a way down to the beach here on the other side of the houses on the edge of the cliff, coming to a dead end where the old stairway is closed (“condemned”, according to the sign which warned of certain death to anyone who tried to use that path), and had to turn around and go back and climb up over the street road. Again, Josh was out ahead. I had to phone him to call him back as he was heading up to the Minnamurra Lookout – again, it would have been nice to go there if we were tourists, but we didn’t have the time or the energy, so we walked directly towards to the bridge over the Minnamurra River past the railway station. We were disappointed to see that the caffe at Minnamurra was closed, as we could have done with another rest at this point.

On the other side, the path led through the “Ruth Deventer Reserve”, following the railway line and the Rocklow Creek. This was clearly reclaimed swampland, with beautiful tall trees in quite a thick forest. It was cool and pleasant, although Josh was a bit spooked when he realised that our spider-friends had woven webs right across the path and were hanging metres above our heads as we walked through! Coming out the other end, we crossed the railway line and came onto an old abandoned stretch of the Princes Highway, now utterly devoid of traffic. I felt a small sense of victory standing in the middle of this three lane footpath!

Fr Denis rang to check in on me to see how I was going. I was able to report all was well – enough. This day has been one with my mind off my father’s death for the most part. That would be due largely to having the other two guys with me all the way. You can’t focus on yourself when you are walking in company.

We had to skirt the golf course to get around to the AirBnB accommodation where we were booked in at Shell Cove. We were glad actually at this point that we were not walking all the way into Shellharbour, which would have been another 5kms or so. Shell Cove is a new area. The house in which we are staying was not built when the satellite pictures were taken for Google. Iryna and Murray were waiting for us when we arrived at 5:15pm and showed us to our rooms. The accommodation is for three, but in two rooms. Sean and I had to share the queen bed this night, as Josh got the single room for himself (snoring). We had a cup of tea with our hosts, but then quickly showered and got ready to go out to dinner and mass tonight.

Murray drove us to Shellharbour City shopping centre where there was an abundance of places to eat. All Saints Catholic Church was just down the road in close vicinity to the shops – an excellent location for the mission of the church. Murray recommended the new Bavarian restaurant (one of the chain restaurants by that name), and Josh thought that would be good. We decided it was Easter as the sun had set and so ordered the meat platter for two with sauerkraut and red cabbage, preceded by salted pretzels with butter. We also ordered German beers to go with it. The pretzels were very hot and soaked up the butter before they disappeared into our tummies. Then the platter came: chicken fillets, pork knuckle, pork belly, kransky, bratwurst, frankfurts – more than enough for two and just enough for three hungry meat-starved pilgrims. There was a big doughnut with chocolate dipping sauce to finish!

We then walked down to the Church and arrived just in time for the start of the Vigil. We were given candles and told to go inside. When I suggested we would just wait outside for the service of light to begin, I was told that that was not right – we had to go inside. No, I will stay outside thanks. There were a few other rebels outside around the fire too. Josh and Sean stood at the back but I went straight up and introduced myself to some people (as is my want). Marion and Des – New Zealanders – were keen to chat and told me that Des’s Great Grandmother (?) had met St Mary as a little girl when Mother Mary went to NZ and she had talked about it for the rest of her life. Des had his missal with him to follow the mass, and they were very excited to be about to start this wonderful service to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.

So was I. I was especially looking forward to a celebration that would give me encouragement in the face of my father’s death. I wasn’t expecting too much, I think, to want to hear how Christ had conquered sin and death and brought life and light to all. I wasn’t expecting too much, I think, just to have the chance to sing “Jesus Christ is risen today” at the top of my voice.

The start of the service went well, but from then on it could only be described as a slow – very slow – the sort of slow where you can see what’s coming and start wincing long before the disaster fully reveals itself – train wreck. No, I can think of another analogy: it was like a rudderless sailboat on a lake, being blown hither and thither, occasionally coming to a landing and then drifting off into the distance again. It was joyless, boring, and utterly soul-less. It made us feel utterly depressed rather than jubilant in the certain knowledge of the resurrection. It’s not that they actually missed out anything or committed any particular liturgical errors – although they managed to reduce the renewal of baptismal vows to shambles. It was how the liturgy was done…

I have excised a long section from my draft for this post about the liturgy in which I gave full details, but have decided not to publish it. Likewise, Josh wrote a full critique, but I have decided not to publish that either. Sean just said “It made me feel again like when I was a 14 year old forced to sit through boring mass.” Dear priests, remember that the liturgy too is evangelisation, and that, if we faithful are indeed obligated to attend, it might be worth making it such that we want to come back next Sunday, eh? Just saying.

I guess that we were less than fully disposed to be sympathetic toward the parish because, of all the parishes that we have visited on this pilgrimage, this was the only one which declined outright to give us any assistance in terms of accommodation or even advice for where we could stay while in town. We were finally told, after months of trying to arrange something by phone and email with the parish office, “We don’t do that sort of thing here.” So perhaps you might understand our feelings when, leaving immediately after mass, we literally shook the dust off our sandals. We had found no welcome here.

Although Murray had offered to come and pick us up, we caught a taxi back to the ‘BnB. We are glad we did, as Iryna told us that he was asleep when we came in. We fairly quickly prepared for bed and retired for the night.

Pictures are here.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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