The Aussie Camino entails walking 230km from Portland (VIC) to Penola (SA) in 1 week. It spans coastal beaches, cliff tops, farmland, road & railway tracks. It is inspired by the life and journeys of Australia’s Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods(co-founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph). Based on the traditions of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, pilgrims receive a guidebook, passport, scallop shell. Accomodation consists of bunk beds in a camp and shared pub accomodation along the way.
Considering the distances, terrain and the weather this is no easy walk. I chose to accept this adventure as a way to further explore the footsteps of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tension Woods, to experience real Australia and to push myself further into the unknown.
Excited? You bet ya.
I’m slowly figuring out that to truly embrace anything in life, then fear must be let go of. It so easily engulfs us with is annoyingly recurring presence. Letting go of fear is like dropping a feather and letting it fly; close your eyes and imagine exhaling while your feather floats away in the breeze. I’m finding that as fear flows away I am able to embrace, taking any step with trust in loving providence. The experience reminded me of a quote by Hildegard von Bingen that I had sketched a few months back (see below).
Our adventure started as we left Portland with extreme wind gusts of about 70km. I was very apprehensive and could see most of the group were uncertain too. To make a long story short we ended up in a remote beach location with extreme wind gusts, cold temperatures and when the tide came high this meant we could no longer walk on the beach.
When the tide came in our group of 20 was separated on a long coastal strip of beach. With little phone reception and not much phone battery we needed to make some decisions. Firstly we made sure that 11 of us stayed together. We were praying the others were okay. My mountain survival training kicked in and we all worked well together as a team. We needed to keep moving to ensure we were not stuck remotely when the sun set.
We walked together in the direction we needed to go; through unfamiliar terrain, huge sand dunes, bush, farmland and we eventually reached a point where we knew we needed to be picked up; we would not be able to find the main road before night fall. At about 8.30pm the police found us (thanks to the latitude and longitude from my iPhone).
Eventually our group were all back at the camp and sorted by 11.30pm that night with the exception of one pilgrim (who was taken to hospital). After walking close to 40km that day and with very high winds still forecast we elected to take the next day off at the camp. This would mean it would cut our total journey down to about 200km but no one was complaining! The experience of the day before and all the stress involved brought us together quickly as a group.
As we journeyed on into the remaining days we encountered more beach, high tides, farm land, road, railroad tracks, kangaroos, butterflies, birds, wallabies, ladybugs, weird Australian bugs and lizards (that i have no idea what to call), wind, sun, and even hail on the last day, yes hail. One can’t help but thank God that things were not worse. We were all safe, and how it did not rain on that first day when we were lost I don’t know (it was forecast for rain). Another day we made it to the accommodation at Kalangadoo and I kid you not within 5 minutes it was absolutely bucketing down with rain… I think sometimes our guardian angels were showing off!
As a side note; legend has it that when a lady bug flies onto you that's a sign that St Mary MacKillop is present. A thoughtful pilgrim gave us all lady bug tags at the start of the camino and they were companions on our packs. So, you can imagine that when one flew onto me while walking on the beach on the 3rd day I couldn't help but smile. And in subsequent days when random lady bugs graced others in the group with their presence we smiled together.
On what in many ways seemed like an endurance walk you reach a point where your body and mind start to ache. With fatigue setting in I believe you have two options; negative or positive. At first I found myself going the negative route. The first day was a shocker and things were tough. But… I’m thankful that I was able to foster self awareness and pull myself up on that. Once I remembered to let my feather fly I came back to center, back to cracking my usual bad jokes, viewing the funny side of things and simply letting go and letting God.
As pilgrims we walked, talked, shared the journey, cried and with love we were able to hilariously laugh together through the pain. I’ll never forget walking that beach in a headwind and realising that Julian Tenison Woods would have ridden his horse there; with no GPS, wet weather gear or weather forecast. Walking into Penola I felt the pioneering spirit of Mary MacKillop (where the Sisters of St Joseph began 150years ago). With all that happened on our Camino adventure I couldn’t help but cry when we made it to Penola. Pure exhaustion; joy, gratitude and an overwhelming sense of emotion. Some times there are no words, tears are indeed a carwash for the soul.
My camino nuggets:
- Let go, let your fear feather fly
- Trust in providence
- Breath in gratitude
- Its not about the destination, it’s about the journey
In many ways i’m still processing my Aussie Camino adventure. What I saw, who I interacted with, how my body felt, what made me laugh, what made me cry. And certainly the stories of peoples lives I feel incredibly privileged to now be able to hold sacred. As a pilgrim said many times on our adventure, “it’s not about the destination, it’s simply about the journey”.