I’ve just arrived at the Snake Valley Pub (aka Royal Hotel), and am having pizza and beer for dinner. Tomorrow I plan to start walking from Skipton (where the 5th Leg of the MWW ended in 2019) toward Hamilton, where St Mary MacKillop’s father is buried. The original plan for the 6th Leg was to go all the way to Portland, but I have been constricted by available time to just 5 or 6 days. To tell the truth, I am also being challenged by ill health: I contracted Ross River virus about a month ago, and am just getting back on top again. So I don’t know if I will make it even to Hamilton. I’m walking along the Highway, and there’s two buses a day back to Ballarat, so I figure if I can’t make it, I can call it a day.
As you can probably gather from this, I’m walking alone this time. Sean is doing a walk in Tasmania for a couple of weeks and Josh is joining him there. I’m doing something a bit different and carrying my tent and sleeping bag with me. The three day walk on the Great Victorian Rail Trail was a test for this. I was a bit healthier then, and a rail trail is always easier than the open road, but I’ve commended the pilgrimage to God, and it is in his hands. I received the pilgrim’s blessing (with the newly blessed Easter water) from Fr Dillon after the Easter Vigil last night. The weather looks good – 9° to 22° each day with some cloud cover (possible showers toward the end of the week.
I’ve just finished re-reading Belloc’s “The Path to Rome”, and have felt inspired and encouraged by his rather reckless approach to planning. There are many differences between walking from France to Rome in 1901 and walking from Melbourne to Penola 120 years later, but one thing in common is that, like Belloc, I am not following an established pilgrimage route. Belloc actually seemed to avoid telling people that he was on pilgrimage. He was locked up one night in an Italian town for vagrancy, and only managed to get released when he convinced the authorities that he was “a tourist”. There may have been political reasons for his closeness on this subject, but it seems clear that pilgrimage was not a familiar act to the people he met or stayed with.
In the same way, no local I have come across on my walk through Western Victoria has ever imagined that they might encounter a real pilgrim on their roads. Local Catholics, however, have been quick to show hospitality and offer assistance when they hear what we are doing. Already I have received help from parishioners in both Skipton and Streatham on this trip. Maybe too the recent publicity of the Aussie Camino on the ABC might have sparked some interest (‘Being on a Camino silences everything’: Why non-believers walk this spiritual pilgrimage in south-east Australia https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-03/aussie-camino-mary-mackillop-pilgrimage-on-southern-coast/100024406). Whatever the future of pilgrimage will be in Australia, I hope that the idea catches on, and that my small efforts may one day be an inspiration to others to give it a go too!