MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Nine (5 April) – Rest day in Cowwarr

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

And so we are having our ninth day as a rest day at Cowwar. I slept very comfortably last night indeed. I did wake a number of times, but had not trouble getting back to sleep. It was so quite – I had no need of earplugs. I only got out of bed this Tuesday morning at 8am, so that was virtually a full 12 hours sleep. After breakfast, I went into the Church to say the office of readings and morning prayer, and then spent the rest of the morning just editing photos and writing up yesterday’s report, sitting first on the verandah and then moving out under the trees on the big front lawn.

Today was meant to be about 29 degrees Celsius, and while it is warm I don’t think it has quite made it to that yet (It has just gone 3pm). It would have been a very warm day for walking. On the other hand, tomorrow, as we head off for Maffra, the weather report is predicting 5-15mm of rain throughout the day. I am not looking forward to that at all. However, Sean says “Be a man – be a pilgrim” and that to have just one day out of rain in two weeks is pretty good. He said he once had two months of rain out of a three month walk on one of his Camino jaunts in Spain…

The plan is that we will walk to Maffra tomorrow where we will stay at the hotel, and the day after walk on to Munro where (due to a complete lack of any kind of accommodation) John will pick us up and bring us back here for Thursday night. This will have two benefits: First, we need not carry our full pack all the way to Munro – we can leave our sleeping bags and other paraphernalia behind here. Secondly, we will finally get to sample the wares at the famous Cowwar Hotel!

We went for lunch with John and Judy at noon, going via the Post Office and General Store to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports. The General Store is really a bit light on with regard to food supplies, but you can buy some bits and pieces there such as pies and other, and other camping supplies. OK in an emergency, but you wouldn’t want to have to rely upon it.

We walked down the road to the Cooney’s home – which is the old Josephite Convent. This is our first real historical encounter with St Mary’s order since leaving Melbourne, although I am sure that we passed many other places associated with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart along the way without knowing it. Next door to their house was the original location of the Josephite school. The School house was relocated next to St Brigid’s Church on the other side from the Presbytery, and is now used as a parish hall. That is where we are going for dinner tonight.

John showed us around the house, which they bought from the Order at auction more than 30 years ago. They have not radically altered the building since buying it, and many rooms, such as the old Chapel which is now a lounge room (and sometime granchildren’s play area) retain their character. We met their little ginger kitten Benson who was as friendly as the rest of the Cooney’s. Judy served dinner of meat pie and roast vegetables followed by preserved nectarines in the dinning room, and John regaled us with stories of the history of Cowwar, his days in the airforce (a little story about flying Cape Barron geese from Flinders Island to King Island – his home town), his work for the Catholic Education Office and most importantly his stories of his own days on the Camino de Santiago. He got out his old pilgrim credential to show us. It was a very enjoyable afternoon. In return for their hospitality, Sean and I have invited them to join us for dinner at the Pub on Thursday night.

Just as we were leaving, John told us that the Rail Trail does not yet cross the Thompson River, and suggested an alternative route following the road south of the river to Heyfield. I was a bit surprised by this news, as nothing I had so far seen about the trail suggested that it was not complete all the way through to Stratford. When I got back to the Presbytery, I did a bit of investigating. The on-trail signs we photographed yesterday show a short section as “shared road-trail section”, and looking up the Trail website we found that travellers on the trail will be diverted before reaching the Thompson River along a public road that leads west onto the Cowwar-Heyfield Road (John had suggested going east), then north on the Cowwar-Seaton Road over the Thompson, and then east again on the Heyfield-Dawson Road until reconnecting with the Trail once more about half way to Heyfield.

So this afternoon I spent crunching the photos up onto the blog. Finishing that I went for a bit of a walk around the town to see how much of it I remember from my time here over ten years ago. Back home I rang my parents and then Josh rang in to see how we were doing. Then Sean and I went through our packs to decide what we needed to take for the next two days and what we can leave behind. Finally, I sat back down out in the shade on the lawn and did my sums for spending on the trip so far, drinking the last can of beer in the fridge.

Then this evening we went across to the church hall for the Seniors Singles Dinner. This was an enjoyable affair with about twenty guests and another half dozen serving. Most of those doing the serving were, as one put it, “eligible” to be sitting at the table – certainly Sean and I were not! However, John O’Brien asked me if I would speak for ten minutes or so on what we were doing, which I did gladly. There was a door prize raffle, and I was asked to draw the winning ticket. As I opened the folded piece of paper, I double checked first to make sure that it wasn’t mine (that would be embarrassing). I called out “A80” and Sean said “That’s mine!” The prize was a box of chocolates which we shared among the assembled guests. It was good talking to the locals and hearing their stories and sharing their jokes. The menu was corned silverside and veggies for the mains, and a whole range of different desserts, including bread and butter pudding and apple pie and a big cream cake. There was a glass of sherry to wash it all down with too!

The building we were eating in was the old Josephite school house, which had been hauled onto the back of a truck and carried in one piece from alongside John Cooney’s convent to its present position alongside the Church. Apparently the truck got stuck at one point along the way. John O’Brien, who was telling us the tale, had also been a student of the Joey’s in this very building. There was a roll of all the sisters who had taught in Cowwar  on the wall. An impressive legacy.

So now time for bed. We can already see the band of rain coming through from South Australia on the weather app on the iPhone. We want to leave early to try and stay ahead of it as much as possible, but we have resigned ourselves to getting wet…

For all the pictures from today’s rest day, click here to view the album on Google Photos.


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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