MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2018: Day Three (Thursday 19 April) – Tathra to Murrah Hall via Tathra-Bermagui Road

I stayed up too late last night writing up my journal, so I’m going to try to be a little more brief this evening. It should not be hard – today was less eventful. Thankfully. One thing that complicated matters for “Gadgetman” was that I had left my bumbag with my wallet and pilgrim passport and – most importantly – my portable backup battery for my phone at the Church in Tathra. It was found by a kind parishioner and taken into care, but the main point is that my battery was not recharged overnight, and that means my phone – which of course isn’t really a phone, but a camera, a Fitbit, a GPS, a Walkman etc. – ran out of power before the end of today’s journey.

We were up in good time this morning though, and after breakfast, Fr Luke showed us around the Church of St Patrick in Bega, where we said our prayers and received a blessing from Father for our journey. Josh had decided to take the bus to Bermagui and then walk the 7kms south to our hosts today instead of taking the 29km trek from Tathra. Fr Luke drove Sean and me to Tathra. At the Church we were met by John McLaurin from the Catholic Voice in Canberra. He had stayed the night in Tathra with the local bakers, Joe and Quyen Nguyen, members of the Parish who, along with others, have done a lot in the effort to help those who have lost everything in the recent fires. We agreed to meet down at the bakery to continue to catch up and chat.

So Sean and I took the path down to the foreshore. John was waiting for us at the bakery and introduced us to Quyen, who was kind and generous – she not only gave us each a coffee gratis, but also donated lunch for us to take with us on the way. She told us of the great sadness that she still feels over the fires, and how overwhelming it can be. Many of the symptoms she described were similar to those that the speaker at the Church last night was saying were to be expected after such a traumatic experience.

We finally set off at 9:30am. Our route was simple today – straight up the Tathra-Bermagui Road to Murrah Hall: 29kms. As we set off, there was a sealed walking trail for the first four kms or so to the Bega River. On top of the hill to the West of the town, we could see the burnt bush and buildings – and we passed the burnt out Tathra Beach Motel Village, but other than that the evidence of the fires was not obvious from the route we took through town. Once we crossed the Bega River, the road climbed steeply into the hills. There was never much verge on the side of the road for walking, but the road is not overtly busy and it was easy to get out of the road when they did come. For some reason the traffic was heavier going towards Bermagui than towards Tathra, so we walked on the left hand side of the road. There were several large rises to get over, never rising much above 80 metres. Between the passing cars, the air was filled with the sound of bellbirds. The weather was fine with a thin layer of cloud, which was also good. The landscape altered between forest and farm land and so was quite varied. One unusual feature was the large ant mounds in the bush, some well over a metre high.

Just before reaching Tanja we met a couple on push bikes – Janie and George. riding from Sydney to Melbourne and stopped to talk about our respective journeys. They will be riding on the East Gippsland trail from Orbost to Bairnsdale which we did when we were there last, but from there they will ride further south than we walked. We also both noted how early it got dark. Just as we were caught out last night, so they have found themselves riding in the dark before arriving at their destination.

The next turn in the road after our meeting with the cyclists, we reached Tanja. We sat on the steps of the school yard and ate our chicken rolls from Quyen. There was water and toilets there too – of course, no children as it is school holidays. We were just under half way to our destination when we left Tanja at 1:10pm. By this stage my phone was running out, and so the photos also had to stop (or at least be taken sparingly). I put on music for the first time on the walk to keep me going – I listened to Ingrid Michaelson first (nice boppy music) and then Katherine Jones (inspirational). After a while I found that too was using too much power for the phone and switched it off. Sean and I were last together just after the bridge over the Wapengo Creek at 2:50pm. This was at the very end of the Tanja-Wapengo valley. What came next was unexpected – and shows just why I should sometimes pay a little attention to Sean and his precious “topographical maps” rather than simply relying on satellite imagery.

The road began to climb up a hill of prodigious height: 155 metres, up onto the ridge where Murrah is located. Some people, faced with such an obstacle after 20km of hard walking, would slow down and go as gently as possible up the slope. Not me. I attacked this hill with a vengeance, barely stoping for breath before I got to the top. My companions have remarked on the strange phenomena, by which I actually speed up when things get hard, or when we are nearing the end of our journey for the day. Sean, on the other hand, is a strong believer in the gentle approach. Reflecting upon this, I realised that I would never make it to the top of the mountain if I were to take it slowly. I would simply collapse under the pressure of my backpack. Upon more reflection, I realised that one reason for this strange behaviour may lie in my athletic background. I was a good runner and a good swimmer, but never in the long distance events for either. Instead, I could win the 100m dash or the 50m breaststroke. I’d be exhausted by the end of it, but I would win. On longer, slower races, I could never pace myself in such a way to make the distance. Now, as a long distance walker, I find that as soon as the going gets tough, I really get going. Better to have it all out and flake out when I get to the top/end than to flake out on the way. I wonder what that tells me about anything else in my life…

There were lots of motorbikes on the road today, many of them in touring groups, and in fact we are, for the first time, on the same road that I rode my bike on when I was coming back from the national convention of the Christian Motorcyclists Association in 2014 with my brother and one of his friends. It was on that trip that I first conceived of doing this pilgrimage. I thought that the land was so pretty and peaceful that riding a bike ride not give me time to appreciate it, and that walking would be the better option. Today, towards the end of the day, I want so sure…

Anyway, so I get to the top of the hill. From there I can see back down the hillside to Wapengo Lake, and out to the West into the great Mumbulla forest and hills. And to the East, the ocean appeared. The road leveled off, and seemed to follow the top of a ridge more or less for the next six kilometres or so. At this point, I also found the town entrance sign to Murrah and thought “thank God, I’m almost there”. Almost. The road then plunged down again. Surely the Hall will be at the bottom, I thought. But no, only works on the bridge rebuilding at the Creek at the bottom of the hill. Then there was another 50 metre climb or so, until, a couple of hundred metres further down the road and around the corner, Murrah Hall came into view.

The main doors were open, and I staggered inside and introduced myself to the man there, thinking he was John, our host, who was meeting us. Mistaken identity – Howard was there finishing off a rehearsal for Bernard-Shaw play. But he let me into the hall, to sit down and rest, to wash up in the toilets, and most importantly, to plug in my iPhone. Regarding the latter, he said “But you won’t get any reception here…” “I know,” I replied, “I wasn’t wanting to use it as a phone.” I explained to Howard that I was waiting for John to pick us up, and for my companion to catch up with me. He offered to let me stay in the Hall as long as I locked up behind myself. Soon after John arrived with Josh. I suggested they go and pick Sean up, which they did. We had a look around the hall when they got back. Given that we were thinking we might need to stay there overnight if we found no other alternative, the fact is that I think we would have been very comfortable. There is a good kitchen there, and a room that is kind of lounge like (complete with a couch or two). The toilets are fine too.

Sean said that tomorrow he would join Josh in staying at the house in Cuttagee instead of returning to Murrah Hall and covering the distance in between. I have accepted this, and we have arranged that John will drop me back early in the morning after only a light breakfast, leaving my backpack at our host’s home. After a brisk 7km morning walk, we will then have morning tea and get on the way to Bermagui.

John and Colleen are very genial and generous hosts. Their daughter Sonia from Bermagui was here as were grandchildren from Canberra. We had wine and nibbles (with Tilba blue cheese!) before dinner. A little luxury was a bath – bliss on blistered feet. Well, actually, I haven’t got any real blisters yet, just worn and sore. My shoulders too are still acclimatising to the backpack straps, and it was good to soak them in hot water also. Sean and I took the opportunity to wash and tumble dry our clothes.

Dinner was roast lamb and lots of stories on every side. (John is a retired ambulance driver from Bermagui.) After dinner, I began to write up my blog – but it is really getting late now and I have to sleep.

Today’s statistics
Planned distance: 29.41km
Measured distance by actual route (Gaia maps recording): 29.93km
Distance by iPhone Health data: 28.6km
Steps by iPhone Health data: 35,028 steps
“Flights climbed” by iPhone Health data: 49 floors
Up and Down (Gaia maps recording): 389m (-393m)
Highest altitude: 144m (and it comes around the 24km mark!)
Beach walking? No
Highway walking? No – on the Tathra-Bermagui Rd, which has moderate traffic
Hours on the road: 8.5 hours
Distance covered from Eden: 90.38km
Distance covered from Fitzroy: 780.38km

Today’s pictures may qbe viewed here on Google Photos, and here is the map – it is very straightforward, as we followed the main road all the way. Something to note – the addressees of the farms and homesteads along the way are actually according to the distance from Tathra – so no. 2925 is 29.25km from Tathra. It was seeing this, at the bottom of the last hill in Murrah when the hall was still not in sight and I had no phone to guide me, which gave me the incentive to buckle down and push on that last 200 metres around the bend to my destination.


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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