MacKillop-Woods Way 6th Leg – Day Six (Easter Saturday, 10 April, 2021): Hamilton to Alexander McKillop’s Grave

I “slept in”, waking at 7:45am. It was wonderful just to lie in bed for a while. I had woken in the middle of the night, as usual, but instead of working on my journal, I caught up with the fact that Prince Philip had died a hour or so earlier. I have always liked Prince Philip, but as one journalist pointed out, the fictional version of him presented in the Netflix series “The Crown” did a lot to ‘humanise’ him, and so public opinion is probably a lot more sympathetic and appreciative now than it might otherwise have been.

I was planning on getting moving at 10am, but I did not wish to carry my backpack with me today. I discovered that Hamilton has a taxi service, and asked the front desk at the motel if they would look after my pack for me. So I arranged that I would just take a day pack with me today and come back by taxi in the afternoon to collect my pack when I was ready to go to the Station to catch the bus to Skipton.

Thus freed from anxiety on that point, I had another shower (luxury!), ate most of my remaining food for breakfast, put on my spare set of hiking clothes (so that I wasn’t all smelly now that I was heading back into civilisation), and headed off. It was a couple of kilometres into town still – my rough estimate was that I would still find myself walking about 10 kilometres today, as Alexander MacKillop’s grave is on the other side of town. My first port of call was the Catholic Church, the hub of the St Mary MacKillop Parish, aka “The Border Parish”, in which I had been walking ever since I entered Glenthompson. It is bounded by the South Australian border on the West, the Portland parish on the South and the Horsham Parish on the North – “the size of Belgium”, the parish priest told me later. As we have often found on our pilgrimage, the Church was on top of a hill. This habit of building churches on hilltops is all very good, but when weary pilgrims are making it their destination at the end of a long day of walking, it can sometimes be the final straw. In my case, I was still fresh and energetic.

When I arrived, the church was shut and there was no sign of activity. I was just taking a few photos when a man came along and opened the front door. I went up to him and introduced myself. Chris was there to help set up the Church for Divine Mercy Sunday tomorrow, but was keen to show me around the church. The old church (in Gothic design complete with high steeple – just like the Anglican Church and the Presbyterian Church further down the road in town) had been converted into the narthex of the new church which was built off to the western side. The sanctuary of the old church was now a blessed sacrament chapel, and a small corner at the entrance had been converted into a bit of an info-display on Alexander MacKillop. Chris, though, was eager to show me their Mary MacKillop chapel, which was a side chapel of the old church. The gothic window that formed the main focus of the chapel looked down toward the altar of the new church. A small tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament was on the sill of this window, and Chris informed me that there was a relic of St Mary in the Chapel too (but he wasn’t quite sure where). Soon another (older) gentleman arrived. Ted went and fetched the key to the tabernacle, because the relic of St Mary was kept in there. He brought it out and handed it to me. It was hard to identify what it was at first, but Ted said he thought it was a hair from her head. There were many other devotional artworks in the chapel, including a painting of Mary with Julian Tenison-Woods, and a printed hanging showing scenes from Mary’s life. I signed the visitors book and I asked both Chris and Ted for their phone numbers should we need to be in contact when we (or I) return to complete the pilgrimage in the future. They encouraged me to knock on the door of the presbytery – Fr John, the retired priest, would be there at least, they thought.

I did as suggested. In the back of my mind, I was aware that tomorrow would be Divine Mercy Sunday and that the plenary indulgence would be available for those who had received absolution, so I thought I would take the opportunity of confession if I had the chance. It would also be appropriate to finish the pilgrimage in a state of grace. I rang the doorbell and received no reply. After ringing again, I was about to leave, when a voice hailed me from the front gate. Fr Paddy, one of the two co-pastors of the parish, was coming up the path. I introduced myself briefly and was immediately asked to come in for a cup of coffee. We spent a good half hour talking about my pilgrimage and about the parish, and many other issues of the life of the church coming out of the COVID-19 experience. At the end of our chat, I asked Father Paddy if he could use the parish stamp to stamp my pilgrim passport and if he would hear my confession. Both of these he gladly did, and sent me on my way with his blessing and the encouragement of all burdens now having been lifted.

I walked from the Church down into the town, which is quite busy and has a large shopping precinct. I was in search of the site of the Victoria Hotel where Alexander MacKillop died at 6am on Saturday 19 December 1868. He had been working on a property near Dunkeld and had apparently developed some kind of stomach haemorrhage. His wife Flora was reported to have been with him at the time of his death, and he was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the (old) cemetery the next day. The Victoria Hotel was demolished many decades ago. I found reference to the address, which put it on the Western corner of Thompson and Gray Streets. Today it is a branch of Elders and several other shops. I have read that there are remains of the stables out the back of 77 Gray Street, but I didn’t go exploring. I had hoped to get a post office stamp in my passport, but the post office was closed – despite the advertised time being open until 12:30pm on Saturday. I walked up Gray Street towards the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches, which are also both in the Gothic style with magnificent spires. I had hoped to get inside the Anglican Church, as they have a particularly nice icon of St Mary of the Cross in a little chapel there, but unfortunately the church was locked up. Perhaps they are still being overly cautious with the whole Covid-19 nonsense…

Then I turned my face toward the hill to the northwest where the old Cemetery was located. It was time to finish this leg of the pilgrimage. There was a light rain, and the cold wind had picked up. There is a lovely line of oak trees on the side of the road leading up to the heritage cemetery. Finding Alexander’s grave was actually quite easy, and there is a seat next to his grave for visitors (and pilgrims) to rest on. I don’t know how many other visitors to his grave have thought about what they were doing as a pilgrimage. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Alex. He is described as a “failed seminarian”, by which is usually meant that he studied for the priesthood but wasn’t ordained. I was ordained, but didn’t keep going in my calling as a Lutheran pastor. Perhaps I am a “failed seminarian” too? Mary, his first child, was born when he was 30. My first daughter was born when I was 32. He died when he was 56 – a year older than I am at the moment. What must he thought of his life at that point? What must his wife Flora have thought, or his daughter Mary (who was 26 years old and already professed and had begun her religious order 2 years earlier)? The point I read into this is simply that we don’t know why God put us upon this earth. Without Alexander McKillop, as hopeless as he was in many ways, there would have been no St Mary MacKillop. That’s worth keeping in mind.

Note, by the way, the “McKillop/MacKillop” thing. Something I had never known until I read the sign at Alexander’s grave was that he spelled his name “McKillop” and it was Mary who changed the spelling to “MacKillop”. The headstone has “MacKillop”.

I rang Cathy to let her know that I had completed the journey. It reminded us both of an old song we used to sing at Lutheran youth group meetings:

“One more step along the world I go,
One more step along the road I go;
From the old things to the new
Keep me traveling along with you
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me traveling along with you.
Round the corners of the world I turn,
More and more about the world I learn;
And the new things that I see
You’ll be looking at along with me
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me traveling along with you.
Give me courage when the world is rough,
Keep me loving though the world is tough;
Leap and sing in all I do,
Keep me traveling along with you
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me traveling along with you.

My studies on pilgrimage have alerted me to the fact that the word “travel” is cognate with “travail”. This journey – in fact that whole MacKillop-Woods Way – has had its fair serving of “travail”. My youngest daughter has inherited from me a problem with anxiety. I guess I didn’t realise how great it was in me until I saw it in her. Among the many things that pilgrimage continues to teach me is that you can overcome anxiety by just doing what you have to do each day. I’ve been watching the BBC series “The Road to Rome” while on this journey. In the final episode, the Jewish pilgrim and the Muslim pilgrim have a conversation about what they have learned from pilgrimage. They both observed the simplicity of having just one thing that they need to do or accomplish on any given day, namely, get to the next point along the pilgrimage. Nothing else is important, and nothing else matters.

This is most certainly true, and something I realised a long time ago. While a walking pilgrimage – and especially doing it on your own as I have just done – is a far cry from a deep contemplative experience (it is an experience above all else of the physicality of your body and of the earth beneath your feet), it does focus the mind like no other experience I have ever had. You have one job, on goal, one focus, and that is to reach your “telos”. I have tried to extend this into my daily living, not expecting too much of myself in any given day, nor being anxious about the next day, or the day after that, but just being focused on today. I have not always succeeded. I need to admit that I was very, very anxious about this journey. Around 13 March, I came down with some violent fevers that laid me low for about two weeks and which was later diagnosed as Ross River virus. I was deeply worried that I would be too weak to do the journey. Right up till the last day (yesterday) I didn’t think I would make it. But here I was, at Alexander McKillop’s grave, at the end of my pilgrimage (for the present).

I walked back into Hamilton, passing by the footy ground which was packed with locals watching the match. Lots of children going to their sports groups, netball groups etc. etc. Here was the life of the community. I was astounded by this as I reflected that all this life and vitality had been put on hold for an entire year during 2020, but it has bounced back stronger than ever.

I was hoping for a good pub meal with some really nice beer. Sadly, my experience of pubs along the way had been less than positive. It is as if the entire Western Victorian region has never heard of the craft beer explosion that has been happening in the rest of the country. I looked up “craft brewery” on the internet and was directed to a place called the “Blue Malt Restaurant”, which was supposed to have a wide selection of craft beers available. When I checked into the restaurant and was shown a table, I looked around and saw a distinct absence of anything that indicated beer (or any other alcohol for that matter). The menus offered milkshakes and tea and coffee. I went to the counter and asked whether this was a licensed establishment and was given a positive answer. When I asked after beers, I was told “Carlton Draught, Great Northern, Furphy” etc. Nothing else? I was told this was a beer establishment? “It used to be.” Ah. Thankfully the waitress went and fossicked around the back and found a couple of bottles of Coopers Pale Ale. It would have to do. I did have a very nice Asian style Pork Belly and stir fry to go with it, though.

It was raining hard outside now, and the temperature had really dropped. I looked up the local taxi phone number and called them, and then waited (anxiously) outside for 20 minutes until they arrived. But thank goodness, the taxi came as promised and drove me out to the Bandicoot Motel to get my backpack and then dropped me at the Railway Station where I would catch my bus ($20). I was a little perturbed (no, really perturbed) to discover that the waiting room at the station was closed, even though it was only 3/4 of an hour before the bus was due to leave. It was raining and windy and cold, so I sat around the back under the shelter to stay dry. When I heard movement inside the office at about 4:15, I saw that the bus had pulled up and there were people inside the building – but they refused to open the door. I called out that it was cold out here, and they just said that they were not opening yet! It turns out that a senior bus driver was training a young women driver, and that the whole buying tickets and packing luggage and driving thing had to be done by this one young woman and that the older experienced driver was still training her. Nevertheless…

It was good to get on the bus ($18 to Skipton) at 4:45pm. The journey would take just a little over 1.5 hours. Along the way, I could see that the highway had a very good firebreak “path” all the way along the road to Dunkeld and would have been very comfortable walking had I decided to take that route instead of Mills Road. From there on, I was just happy to be able to sit back and relive the journey of the previous five days.

Arriving in Skipton, Cath Kavanagh was waiting to pick me up. She took me back out to their farmstead, where John and their daughter and grand-daughter were introduced to me. I was shown to the “bus”, a home-made mobile home in which John and Cath had travelled around Australia. They had made up the bed with two doonas and had the electric blow heater to warm the room up. Inside their home, they had a couple of wood fires going which warmed the whole building. The outside temperature was falling rapidly, and the rain was falling just as hard. We had a wonderful evening together over dinner, and talked till about 9:30pm, much later than I have been used to being up over the last week.

It was really nice to get to bed under those doonas later in the evening and to fall asleep listening to the rain. I was deeply thankful that my pilgrimage was over and that this cold snap came when I had somewhere warm and snug to sleep.

I won’t continue this journal into the next day, other than to say that I went to mass in Skipton with John and Cath, and I was also able to meet up again with John and Helen Casanova from Westmere. I also was able to meet Fr Eugene who helped put me back in contact with John and Cath in the first place. It was a good way to spend Divine Mercy Sunday, and a good way to end the pilgrimage for now. I will return, of course, to Hamilton at some stage in the near future to continue the pilgrimage down to Portland. From there, hopefully, Josh and Sean will be able to join me again as we push on toward our goal: Penola!

St Mary of the Cross, pray for us.
Merciful Jesus, I trust in you.

The completion of the pilgrimage from the Bandicoot Motor Inn to Alexander McKillop’s grave was 6.75km. In all, according to my iPhone, I walked 12.3km on this last day of the pilgrimage.

According to my recording of the whole walk from Skipton to Hamilton (on Gaiagps.com), I walked 141 kilometres on the actual route. Again, according to my iPhone, I walked a total of 157.7km from Monday morning to Saturday night.

The total distance from Fitzroy (October 2019) to Alexander McKillop’s grave is 337.86km. Interestingly, the route by road (according to Google Maps) is 311km via Ballarat).

Click here for all today’s photos in one Google Photos album.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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