Great Victorian Rail Trail (Day 2 – Tuesday 23 February)

I slept very badly last night. About midnight I woke up after a particularly bad dream, and, already in agitation, I was not comforted to realise I was alone in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I began to have a panic attack as I recalled every horror movie about vulnerable campers and every news story about missing backpackers… it was difficult getting back to sleep and I tossed and turned till dawn. It’s amazing how relevant some passages in the psalms become when you are on the trail, such as: “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (Psalm 91:5).

I got up at first light, around 6:30, breakfasted and packed up the tent. I could have killed for a cup of tea or coffee. It was a fresh morning but the sun was shining brightly and I was back on the trail by 8:40am. I knew the trail would be a bit shorter today, and I had lightened my pack considerably by eating food and drinking water. I had one litre of water left, so I didn’t resort to purifying the creek water (I had brought AquaPura tablets just in case). I decided to put on the play list of my favourite songs, and I was soon skipping along and singing to the lyrics.

Today’s landscape was composed of pastures, steep sided hills with rounded tops, dams and billabongs, gum trees, occasional glimpses of the river, and the hilly range in the distance on the other side of the river valley. The trail was wide and mainly in the same black stone that the bitumen roads were made of. I was passed by three or four cyclists around 10am, but otherwise saw no one else on the trail. I haven’t come across any other walkers.

I stopped at the old Homewood Station for morning “tea” (sans tea), a lovely spot which would make a great campsite (but I’m guessing camping isn’t allowed). There’s a drop toilet and nice stone picnic tables under shady trees and pleasant grassy areas (and an artistic installation of frogs on rocks…). There’s a bit of a memorial to the old station and the original settlers.

Thereafter I just pushed on into Yea. What I didn’t realise till later is that when the trail reconnected with the river, it wasn’t the Goulburn anymore but the much smaller Yea River which flows into it. I won’t reconnect with the Goulburn until tomorrow at Molesworth. The first sign of civilisation is the golf course and horse racing course. Finally the town comes into sight, and by 1:30 I was at the end of today’s walk. The trail leads directly to the old train statio and well maintained, built in elegant Victorian era red brick. I was anxious to check into the Yea Riverside Caravan Park as I had a 2pm Zoom meeting for ACU. I got stuck in the sliding door at reception and joked with the attendant that I should eat less – “Or pack lighter!” She responded. Although I had made my booking online on Friday, she couldn’t find it on the system. After some frustration, I realised I had booked for Tuesday March 23 instead of Tuesday February 23! Once the formalities were over, I headed down to the non-powered sites where I had a full choice of anywhere I liked on a broad green lawn dotted with shady trees next to the creek. The caravan park has excellent facilities, including individual shower/toilet rooms and a camp kitchen with bbq, toaster, kettle, fridge, microwave etc. It is situated on a kind of island, where the river splits into two, with the main stream running under a bridge st the entrance and a smaller creek on the other side where I had pitched my tent. I immediately set to charging my backup battery, and dialed in to my zoom meeting while eating my lunch (the last pork pie and piece of Camembert) and setting up my tent. The meeting went for an hour and a half, but then I was free to enjoy a hot shower and a shave.

As I was hanging up my clothes and towel to dry, a chap named Jerry came over and introduced himself. He had just relocated with his wife from Gembrook, and was yet to purchase a home (hence living in the caravan park). He had family members in town (one runs the “middle pub” which he recommended me to visit for dinner – Yea is a three town pub but only has a smallish grocery shop). He also claimed that Cardinal James Knox was his mother’s cousin. The veracity of this claim was strengthened when I said I had edited Knox’s correspondence with Mother Teresa, and he said, “I bet you don’t have all the letters!” He was quite right. We only have +Knox’s business letters – although we know from St Teresa’s replies that there was another more personal correspondence.

I shopped at the local FoodWorks for teabags and fruit and milk for tomorrow. Back at camp I chatted to my neighbours for the night, who are staying for three nights in their small mobile home before heading on to a Daylesford. They were lucky that their planned trip did not clash with the lockdown.

I then headed off in search of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. I had seen it at the top of the hill, but climbed the wrong hill. Instead I found a black stray cat, which regarded me with great suspicion but responded to my coaxing and gradually came toward me – growling all the way as if she was going to attack me with all claws and teeth. Contrary to her posturing, she rubbed herself against my hand, purr growling all the time. I’ve never experienced such mixed messages from a cat. Sadly I had no food on me to feed her.

Finally I found the Church a few blocks away, and noticed that there were cars in the car park. The door was open, so I went inside to find Fr Vincent saying mass for a congregation of about 10 people. They were up to communion, so, although I was woefully unprepared, I was able to receive the sacrament. After mass, they announced that they would be playing a newly produced video of the stations of the cross produced by the archdiocese. As I have not been very devotional thus far this lent, I decided to stay for that too.

Next I headed down to the middle pub as instructed by Jerry, only to find it almost empty and no food on offer. “Haven’t seen Jerry in a while,” the publican said, “try the next pub down.” So I did and I was fed a stir fry chicken billed as “butter chicken”. It was nice, but wasn’t butter chicken. There was only Carlton Draught and Great Northern on tap but they had some bottled beers. The Mansfield Pale Ale was nothing to write home about but they had Hargreaves Hill IPA, which is excellent.

It was cold outside as I walked home in the gathering darkness. I made a cup of tea (luxury!) and crawled into bed. I hope I have a better night tonight!

I walked 18.69km on the trail today, with an elevation of 71m and descent of 54m. It took me 4 hours and 42 minutes all up.

Click here for the photos for this day.


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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