MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – Aston Creek, Bombala, to Cathcart

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

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – from Aston Creek 9kms out of Bombala to Cathcart 16kms the other side

Distance: 28.73km. Total distance 172.98km.

I slept quite comfortably on the floor in the end room in the Bombala Catholic Presbytery last night, using the cushions from the couch as my bed. Seán and Paul had the bedrooms. I was woken at 5:30am by a digital alarm clock in the office next to my room. I stumbled out of bed to switch it off and was just falling asleep when it went off again. I pulled the batteries out to make sure that I could get back to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, I ran over my homily for the morning in my head. It soon put me to sleep – I hope it didn’t have the same effect on the congregation when I actually preached it!

So we were up and going by 7am, getting breakfast, packing for the day, doing washing etc. Seán had decided not to walk the 9kms we missed yesterday, but to do a sightseeing tour of Bombala after the service. I packed all my gear to do a full day’s walk. After breakfast, I went over to the church just as John and Anne Vincent were arriving to get things opened up. I will admit that I was surprised to see the interior of the Church – it is really quite beautiful. There was nothing distasteful about the space, and in fact it was quite suited to prayer and meditation. It was very warm in feeling and conducive of meditation and devotion. They had recently renovated the sanctuary, as a result of ground shift due to seismic activity. The main material was a local wood, with the altar, the pulpit, the chair and other pieces of furniture all carved from the same material. The high altar, quite attractive in its own right, was still in place and a small pulpit had been built around the lectern.

Sister Teresa began the service by asking me to say a few words about our pilgrimage. Then, after the Gospel, I was asked to give the reflection. It felt both familiar and strange to be back in the pulpit after so many years: it was a role that one the one hand immediately felt right (a natural fit you might say) and wrong (what am I doing here?) at the same time. I feel the same conflict when someone says to me “Why haven’t you been ordained like the Anglican convert clergy?” I know at least one person who is convinced that I have a vocation to the priesthood. I will tell you that that person isn’t me. That is a conflict that is somewhere deep in my heart and needs to be worked out at some stage. Probably if you asked most people with a vocation to priesthood why they are drawn to it, they might say something about the love of the eucharist and the desire to serve God’s people by administering the sacraments, but I would honestly have to say that the main attraction of ordination for me is the chance once again to publicly proclaim the Gospel – to be an evangeliser. But there isn’t much of a role for official lay evangelists in the Catholic Church – it is very much (and properly) understood that the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments belongs together.

In any case, here is a short précis of my homily (aka “reflection”) on today’s gospel from John 20:

  • Modern people like to have proof before they will believe something. Either they have to experience it for themselves, or there should be “scientific proof” for it.
  • We sometimes think that the ancient people were gullible: that lacking knowledge of science they would believe any fairy story that someone told them.
  • In fact this is one “explanation” that some people like to give for the story of Jesus’ resurrection: The disciples, being disappointed by Jesus’ death, told themselves stories about his resurrection to comfort themselves and then other people believed that these stories were really true
  • But that isn’t the way it happened at all. Ancient people knew as well as we do that dead people do not rise to life again. You put them in a box and you put them in the ground and they stay there.
  • The first disciples of Jesus knew that he had risen from the dead precisely because they experienced his resurrection: they saw him, they spoke with him, they touched him and he ate with them (see 1 John 1).
  • In demanding proof for what he could not see, Thomas was NOT an exception among ancient people. He knew the difference between “real and not real” (Quoted the poem by Thomas H. Traeger “These things did Thomas count as real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.”)
  • When John the evangelist wrote this story, he knew he was among the last of the eye witnesses of Jesus resurrection. He wrote the story for his his own people so that even though they had not seen, they might believe (reference to the Epistle from 1 Peter 1).
  • He also wrote it for us – we proud moderns who demand proof before we will believe – although had may never have imagined that what he wrote was still being read by believers 2000 years later.
  • He wrote this for us: That we might believe that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead, and that by believing we might have eternal life.

Beside feeling very honoured to be among the Catholic community of Bombala this morning (and the congregation was of a decent size) for the service of the word with Holy Communion, I and my companions were very impressed with the physical building of St Mary’s. It is not often that I enter into a Catholic Church building and find everything within it a) tasteful, b) conducive to prayer and devotion. The sanctuary had recently been redone in wood – the old concrete sanctuary being cracked like some of the walls from seismic activity in the area. The wood used, both for the flooring and the altar and the rest of the sanctuary furniture was all local, and carved by a local artist in a nice simple gothic pattern. The walls had been repainted a light cream colour which reduced the effect of the brown brick and actually complimented it. The original works of art around the altar and the stain glass windows and the 3-D relief stations of the cross are all of high quality. The church lacked a pipe organ – but that would have been icing on the cake. One particularly welcome feature was a recently installed stain-glass window of Mary MacKillop with the children of Bendoc.

After conversation with parishioners (unfortunately no church hall for a cup of tea), Paul drove me out to Aston Creek on the Bendoc-Delegate Road to drop me off where I finished yesterday at about 10am. As we approached the spot, we noticed on the south side of the road, hidden by bushes and on a rise, a little cemetery marked by a white cross. I probably would have missed this had I walked past in the rain yesterday, but this morning I took the time to explore it. We have visited a number of cemeteries on the Way, and I always stop to pray for the dead when we do. This was my first opportunity on this section of the walk. It was a pioneer cemetery, but still with some more recent graves in it. The oldest grave that I could find was of a bachelor medical doctor – a member of larger Scottish family in the area – who was born in 1811 and died in 1846. The epitaph reads “Be Ye Also Ready” – which would seem to confirm a death that was not only early but unexpected. Sobering thoughts for a pilgrim!

The walk into Bombala was through countryside that continued to amaze, especially with the bright autumn colours of the leaves (in particular the poplar trees) and the pretty creeks with yellowing willows on their banks. The road rises and falls between 770m and 690m, leveling out to 700m in Bombala. For the first time on the walk, a car stopped and offered me a lift! The kind couple from Delegate were astonished when I told them that I was doing this on purpose! The traffic continued to be quite light. Granted it was a Sunday, but as with yesterday, vehicles came past every 5 minutes or so.

As I entered Bombala I passed the High School which had the motto “Come let us reason together”. How very odd that a secular school should have a motto from the scriptures, I thought (Isaiah 1:8). A left over from a previous more faithful time, perhaps? I was listening to Mandy Prior’s hymns on my bluetooth speaker (on loud blast) and singing along, when I came across a couple in their garden and had to switch it off in order to greet them. They turned out to have been at St Mary’s for the morning service, so we were able to have a more extended conversation. They told me about plans for the establishment of something called “The Bundian Way“, following a 360km ancient aboriginal pathway from Mt Kosiuszko to Eden. I’ve since looked it up, and it goes down the mountain by crossing the Monaro Highway south of Bombala. It is very intersesting indeed, seeming to intersect with the MacKillop-Woods Way at Delegate and Craigie, but bypasses Bombala itself (which is a must on the MWW due to the association with Mother Mary!).

I lingered a little in the Main Street of Bombala which has many interesting features, before walking over the bridge (past the pleasant river-side road-stop, made stunningly attractive by the autumn leaves) and over the railway bridge past the restored, but disused, station. On the south side of the river is the old Olympia theatre (now gym) and a cafe with the distances to Melbourne (530km) and Sydney (520km) on it! From the railway station (the Old Josephite Convent is just down the hill to the right/east) I walked up to the old Court House, an imposing building overlooking the town from the hill, and finally up to St Mary’s and the Presbytery behind it.

Seán was waiting for me when I arrived and ready to go. I quickly hung out my washing to dry, ate the rest of the ham sandwiches that Sister Theresa had made for me last night (washed down with a mouthful of red wine) and an apple, strapped up my sore muscles behind my knee, and we set off again, this time for Cathcart. Climbing up the hill to presbytery and down again to cross the river adds about two kilometres to the treck, so while the gazetted distance from Bombala to Cathcart is 16km, it actually took us closer to 17.5km. This road is quite challenging for a number of reasons. Firstly, the traffic is greatly increased – a vehicles about every two minutes on average. Although it is a C grade highway, it nevertheless leads down to the popular destination of Pambula on the coast, and so a lot of the traffic was not local. It then links to the Monaro Highway in Bombala, giving a through way to the south or north to Canberra. But this alone would not have been a problem if it were not for the fact that the road itself often has hardly any verge. So we had to constantly keep an eye and ear out for traffic and switch to the other side of the road as it approached. The other challenge was the rather large hills that needed to be climbed, often with very steady and not very gentle slopes. According to my apps, the overall ascent for the 16km stretch was 232m with an overall descent of 164m, with two high points of around 820m. Still, the scenery continued to be stunning. The white wooden bridge over the Coolumbooka River is particularly attractive. At the top of the first 820m hill, outside the Yarandilla property, it is possible to see Mount Delegate in the far distance on the horizon, which we passed three days ago coming out of Bendoc.

Paul caught up with us on his bike coming down this hill. He had parked the car at Cathcart and ridden down the escarpment to Wyndham and back up again. He was headed back to Bombala and passed us again about 1.5kms from Cathcart. That is quite a ride – about 100kms and from an elevation of 820m down to about 250m and back up again.

We finally entered into Cathcart as the sun was setting at about 5:15pm. Along the way, I passed the first of a series of little green tin shields on which someone has painted a whole lot of historical information about Cathcart localities. The first one was marking a property as the first butchery in Cathcart (no date). The second one was attached to a decaying wooden church prominent as you enter Cathcart from the west as we did. This one proclaimed the old thing to have once been the Catholic Church, built in 1880 and closed 90 years later in 1970. It is now being used as a hayseed. As Josh commented in a text “Poor church, she lived long enough to see the Novus Ordo and die.” Yes. Sad. Seán got the best line though: “We’re 47 years late for mass!”

So, back “home” to the presbytery. First we filled up the tank of Paul’s car. I am amazed how cheaply we are doing this. Diesal is about 10c cheaper per litre than petrol and seems to go twice the distance. We told the woman at the service station what we were doing and she asked if we were doing it as a religious thing. Yes, and also as a challenge physically we answered (our bodies giving us a lot more trouble than our souls at this point). We told her we were staying at the Catholic Presbytery and she replied with a most effusive and glowing recommendation for Fr Mick. “If the Catholic Church had more priests like him it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is now”, she said.

Seán wanted to cook for us tonight, and I wasn’t complaining. The 28km I had done today had completely exhausted me. He cooked a pasta dish (with wholemeal spaghetti which I told him when he bought it that I really didn’t like), with bacon and cherry tomatoes and capsicum and feta cheese and beans in a cream sauce. It was very good. We’ve finished up all the cheap Pomeroy’s plonk and opened a bottle of 2009 red that I had bought with me. Paul then offered to do the dishes, and again I did not argue. I went to my room to try to get an early evening.

We want to leave at dawn in the morning. There is rain coming over the next couple of days and Monday will be the last fine day, so we want to walk as far as possible. We rang Tony Ovington at Towamba to tee up Paul to pick up the key tomorrow morning, so Paul will have the hall all set up for us when we finish our walk down the mountain in the morning. From what I can see, it will be a very steep descent within the first 10kms or so of Cathcart through the forest. Back into Mirkwood for a bit, before we get to Rivendell!

We will be out of range of internet until we arrive in Eden on Wednesday night. Also, the good folk of the Parish there are planning a night out to celebrate our arrival, so I doubt if this blog will be updated until much later in the week. But I will continue to take pictures and write up the story so check back on the weekend to see the rest!

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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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2 Responses to MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – Aston Creek, Bombala, to Cathcart

  1. matthias says:

    You could have said hullo to the Orthodoxy monastery that is in Bombala David,but I wonder if you would get as warm a welcome as you received from our co-religionists in Bombala??

    • Schütz says:

      There is an Orthodox monastery in Bombala? Really? I must say that further down the road, in the Towamba Valley, I thought “This would be a good place for a monastery.”

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