Great Victorian Rail Trail (Day One – Part 2, Monday 22 February, 2021)

The train ride to Tallarook took 90mins. The first half of this was just getting to Broadmeadows. The train went very slowly through the city. But thereafter it gathered speed, slicing through the countryside. On the northern outskirts of Melbourne I noticed exactly the same phenomenon that we saw in October 2019 walking from Caroline Springs to Melton: new housing estates going up everywhere. The train appears to be an important part of this expansion: quick, cheap travel to the city centre. However, one wonders what the effect of Covid will be on this. There was only one other passenger from Southern Cross station with me in my car. Even on the 7am train to the city this morning, the number of passengers was just a fraction of the pre-covid numbers. Maybe travel to the city centre won’t be everyone’s priority in the future.

Arriving at Tallarook, I walked down to the General Store in the Main Street for a cup of coffee – although the coffee was just an excuse to sit at a table near a power point to recharge my phone to 100% before setting off. I’ve brought three batteries with me to ensure that over the next couple of days I do not run out of juice for my iPhone (variously my maps, communicator, writing pad, books, Fitbit, and entertainment). I wasn’t even sure if I’d have a mobile connection all the way (answer: yes – except at the spot where I am currently camping). While I waited for it to charge, I read a book from the little community library outside the shop: Robert Morely’s Book of Worries! Why not? For instance, here’s the entry under “Torniquets”: “Can you tie one? Consider the circumstances in which you might have to.” Great inspiration for anxiety when heading out for a three day camping hike! My mother rang for IT advice, which used up a bit of the slowly accumulating power on my phone. “Where are you?” “I’m in Tallarook – you know, as in ‘Things are crook in Tallarook!”* No, she didn’t know. “What are you doing there?” “I’m walking the Great Victorian Rail Trail as far as Molesworth over the next three days.” “What do you expect to see?” That was an odd question, I thought. I reflected on it more afterwards. I’m not doing this walk to “see” anything as such. It got me thinking about a research subject I’m doing this Semester, about Pilgrimage and the Philosophy of Place. I know that pilgrimage is related to sacred places as destinations or goals (the ideas of telos and eschaton are closely related), but I’ve been wondering whether the pilgrimage route itself (e.g. the Camino de Santiago) is a “place” as such – a very long thin place. I’m more inclined to think that a pilgrim travels *through* a succession of places in order to arrive at a desired place. My mother travelled extensivelywith my father in their four-wheel drive mobile home all over Australia. I guess when they drove somewhere they were usually going to some place to “see” what was there. Being a long distance walker is a bit different. You actually want to experience the places you pass through, not just the place you are going to. I think this might be a difference between ancient and modern pilgrimage too.

Anyway, back to the story. With 90% on my battery I decided it was time to head off. I found the trail heading north out of town alongside the road. In general the trail stays pretty close to the road, sometimes veering off closer to the Goulburn River. Sometimes all three come together. At times it passes very close to working cattle farms. In fact at one point, the cattle yards are directly on the old train track, and the trail goes around them. Today I twice passed farmers herding cattle in their pens. The trail is also popular with horse riders, evidenced by horse corrals along the way, and souvenirs left on the trail! There are toilets on the trail, and sheltered picnic tables. I stopped at one near the river for lunch around 12 noon, taking the pause to say the Angelus as well. Too this point I had been just taking in the surroundings, but I had set myself the task of listening to a book for my MTh minor thesis along the way, so I put that on (about the “Nouvelle Theologie”…).

The trail appears to be fairly flat, as you would expect from a rail Trail, but in fact it slowly climbs up about 60 metres. After about 10 km, I noticed ahead a distinctive high double hill topped with a telecommunications tower. On the map, it was called Bald Cone and it rose 200m above the level of the trail. It marks the start of a high range called the Cherry Tree Range, running toward the East. But the Goulburn River turns South here, and the trail hits the Goulburn Highway which runs along it. The river has carved a wide valley, and the hills on the other side sport a series of windmill electricity generators. This place is called Trawool, and the remnants of the old Trawool station platform can still be seen. It isn’t exactly a town, but a collection of houses including a major resort hotel. And, I discovered, the Schoolhouse Gallery, which doubles as a cafe. There was a sign out on the trail advertising “Devonshire teas, cakes, coffee and cold drinks”. Lucy, who runs the show, showed me round to the garden tables, and offered me a choice of scones or fruitcake with my tea. I chose the fruitcake, and before long four large pieces of cake and a four cup pot of tea was delivered. It cost $10 but was well worth it, as the afternoon was warming up and the garden was cool and the tea refreshing. She said for $15 she could do me sandwiches as well. Had I known about this, I may not have packed so much food.

I had another 8km to go, so I pushed on. It was really feeling warm now the sun was out – but was only about 22 degrees. Thankfully there was also a good cool breeze. I don’t know how I would have coped with last week’s 30 degree plus weather. The valley along here is very pleasant, but I was becoming weary. I was also thinking about campsites. You are not allowed to camp along the trail, nor are you allowed to camp alongside the road or on private property (obviously), so camp site options aren’t des and far between. I had done done research, though, and was heading for the Wyndham Streamside Reserve next to  King Parrot Creek at Kerrisdale. When I finally arrived at the bridge over the creek, I realised I would have to double back to reach the reserve from the road, as there was private property between the trail and the reserve.

The reserve is not particularly pretty. The picnic tables have been vandalised and the roads people have dumped heaps of stone at one end. There was a fair bit of rubbish about too. I set about exploring the area and followed a track back along the creek towards the rail trail bridge. There I found a secluded spot near the creek, and decided to set up for the night.

I had wondered how I would fill in my time between a 4pm arrival and dark, but actually I found that pottering around easily passed the time. I spent a bit of time finding the right place to pitch the tent and smoothing the ground. I rinsed my clothes and had a bit of a bathe in the creek. I ate my supper (inc. pork pie and half a Brie cheese) and drank the white wine I brought along. I wandered about trying to get a connection for the phone (there was no service at the spot I was camping in), and when I did, I checked in with Cathy at home. I sat for a bit. I prayed a bit. I sat a bit more and drank more wine. I then started writing this account of the day. The sun went down while I was doing this, and the wind picked up until I was feeling cold, and then I crawled into my one man cocoon and kept writing till I felt tired enough to go to sleep.

My iPhone says I walked 26km today, but the trail section was only 21.54. It took me 5 hours and 8 minutes, with an ascent of 68 metres and a descent of 76 metres.” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Click this link to see the photos for today on my Google Photos.

*I actually heard one of the staff say this to a customer while in the store. The reference is to a Jack O’Hagan song by that name.

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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