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The Aussie Camino is a pilgrimage route from Portland in Victoria to Penola in South Australia. This is inspired by the life and journeys of Australia’s Saint Mary of the Cross Mackillop and her mentor Fr Julian Tenison Woods. Saint Mary’s life is a wonderful study of a woman who carried many crosses in her life and responded to the challenges through her faith and her courage. People find strength and encouragement in their own lives through her examples of faith, forgiveness and kindness.
Similar to the traditions of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, this walk is Inspired by the life of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop and her mentor Father Julian Tenison Woods. Born in Victoria and raised in Melbourne, Mary’s dream was to dedicate her life to the service of God and the poor. At the age of 24, with the assistance of Father Julian Tenison Woods she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Penola, South Australia. Mary spent many months travelling the country towns of Victoria, visiting children in foster homes on her way to meetings in Melbourne, Sydney or Adelaide.
Traversing such a trail has been a centuries old tradition. For many people it is a spiritual journey focusing on a person whose life and work provided fulfillment and satisfaction and a model for followers. The beauty and wonder of the natural environment contributes to the experience as does the comradeship of fellow travellers.
It is most appropriate that this Camino from Portland, where she gained Catholic teaching experience, finishes at Penola where it all began. Pilgrims can walk the paths that she walked, visiting the stable park and schoolhouse where she taught. Mary met Father Woods in a church on the site of the present St Joseph’s church where they will have the opportunity to contemplate and pray. They can talk to people who have kept alive the history of Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Jenison Woods over many generations.
We meet this morning at the Mary Mackillop Centre where we spend some time before departing for Southern Cross Station to catch our train to Warrnambool. Transfer by bus for Portland and check into hotel. Evening dinner and pre-trek briefing.
Breakfast is followed by a tour of Bayview College and All Saints Church, where Mary MacKillop and her sister, Annie, taught at the school. Transfer to trek start. For the first three days, we follow the Great South West Walk, established in the 1980’s and taking us through stunning country. Trek to Cape Nelson Lighthouse, following coastal track until with about 5km to go, track runs along clifftops, affording spectacular views. Descend to bush tracks to the coastline and beach walk.
A short but be very enjoyable day. Continue walking along cliff tops, again enjoying views of stunning vistas, a seal colony and many turbines. Continue to Bridgewater Lakes, our stay for tonight. Our bus will pick us up and transfer us back to Cape Bridgewater for the second night of our stay at Seaview Lodge.
This entire section is too long for one day, we begin with transfer to Lake Mombeong. Commence trek, walking about 7km through sand dunk tracks which will eventually take us out to the beach, for a 12km walk along hard, flat sand. The day finishes by walking an additional 3-4km into Nelson, our home for tonight.
A long day, and the first one off the Great South West Walk. Our first 5km is along the busy Portland-Mount Gambier Road to the border into South Australia. Another 2km takes us back to the beach, which we follow for the rest of the day. The weather will be important today – which means our walk could be just beautiful or quite challenging!
The roads today are very quiet and flat. Moving away from the coast we head north inland for around 3 hours to Mt Schank, a 100m high dormant volcano. Its cone-shaped form is a rare South Australian example of volcanic activity, that has been little affected by erosion. After a rest at the picnic ground here, we continue for our afternoon’s trek through to Mount Gambier.
Free morning to rest, relax and look around this interesting town. The second most populated city in South Australia, Mount Gambier is known for its geographical features, particularly volcanic and limestone, and its Blue Lake, parks and gardens, caves and sinkholes. Afternoon trek of around four hour, past the Mount Gambier Regional Airport at Wandilo to Bush Haven Cottage at Mingbool.
A relaxed 11am start to the day allows us time to enjoy this rich agricultural district, specialising in potatoes and timber, apple orchards, beef cattle, sheep and dairy cattle. The village flourished with the construction of a narrow gauge railroad in 1887, languishing with the introduction of cars. Kalangadoo has a general store, a farm supply store, a pub, and a timber mill. The disused railway station houses a small museum.
A treat this morning is breakfast at the Kalangadoo Farmers’ Market. Our trek follows the railway line for a good part of this quite short, but also challenging day. Penola was the central location in the life of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods. Here, the pair established St Joseph’s School, the first free Catholic school and a congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Otherwise known as the ‘Josephites’ or ‘Brown Joeys’, they continue to work with the poor and needy communities throughout the world today.
For those so inclined, there is the option to attend 9:00am Mass at St Joseph’s, before visiting the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre.
We have chartered our own bus for the one hour drive to Mt Gambier, from where we meet our V/Line bus to Ballarat. At Ballarat, we catch our train to Southern Cross Station, arriving around 8.40pm.