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Pilgrims walking the SA way


While hundreds of thousands complete the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain each year, here in South Australia a small but growing number of people<br /> are experiencing their own unique Aussie Camino. Jenny Bubner shares her adventure of walking the Limestone Coast.

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We excitedly journeyed toward Penola and our first pilgrimage; a four-day Taste of the Aussie Camino. We joined our tour guide, Natasha, and other walkers before travelling to Port MacDonnell for our first night’s accommodation.

Our purpose was to traverse the South Australian section of the Aussie Camino, which explores the history of Australia’s only Saint, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop. As we walked, we engaged the mindset of a pilgrim and thought about Mary’s work and her many crosses, her journey and her courage. As well, we had the beautiful natural environment of the Limestone Coast to enjoy and some marvelous company.

Port MacDonnell was established in the 1860s and is both a port and holiday destination. A grand Custom House circa 1863, now accommodation, dominates the foreshore. It was once the busiest seaport in South Australia with crayfish harvesting now the key industry. It was here that Mary departed the region, boarding the SS Penola in deep winter on June 22 1867 to continue her work in Adelaide.

In the tradition of the Spanish Camino we commenced each day with a reflection and considered how our life journey could be similar to the travails we would face as we walked towards Penola. As well, we were to carry a shell to reflect those traditions. The tinkling of it against our backpacks as we walked was a constant reminder that we were doing something extraordinary.

Another tradition, the stamping of our ‘Pilgrim Passport’ by our overnight hosts, was also adopted.

Before we commenced our walk, Aunty Michelle, a Boandik First Nations elder welcomed us to country. She had a great interest in Mary Mackillop as her great grandmother Annie (also known as Nancy Bruce) was educated by Mary, highly unusual for an Indigenous person at the time.

The walk from Port MacDonnell to Mount Gambier was relatively flat and mostly on back public roads. Sixteen kilometres north of Port MacDonnell was Mount Schank, a remnant cone shaped volcano rising 100m above the surrounding country.  We learnt of its significance to the Boandik people and walked up a short steep accent to the rim of the crater for views into the crater and back to the coast from where we had come. Our final stop of the day was another volcanic crater, the beautiful Blue Lake.

Day two was an 18km walk to Bush Haven Cottages at Dismal Swamp. We walked along bike paths, through farming country and forest plantations where we got a soaking by a sudden thunderstorm. The final part of the day was through a lovely patch of remnant Stringybark forest with ferns up to our chest. Here we paused and closed our eyes, using our senses to connect with nature before moving on to our clean, comfortable but quirky accommodation.

Our next evening saw us bed down in the Kalangadoo Hotel. We walked 20km through red gum country on flat limestone lanes past apple orchards, cattle, potato farms and wetlands. Our final part of the walk was through a beautiful avenue of eucalypts. We were fascinated by the hotel. We, as pilgrims, were welcomed.

Our final day saw us arrive in Penola. Again, we walked on quiet public back roads through thriving farming land, an area the locals term ‘God’s country’ where huge beautiful old gum trees dot vast flat paddocks. We could see the wealth in the land and imagined the early European settlers’ thoughts as they first observed the landscape.

We had arrived back where we started. We celebrated with some stunning local sparkling wine and settled into the Royal Oak Hotel Penola (established 1848) for our final night. This hotel predates the existence of the town and was built by Mary’s uncle, Alexander Cameron, an early pastoralist to the region.

The next morning we visited the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre and were greeted by a Sister of St Joseph, received our final stamp in our passport and Compostela certificate. Among the many exhibits was a class photo of Annie (Aunty Michelle’s great grandmother) and Mary, her teacher.

We achieved the goals of a pilgrimage; more than a bushwalk, we connected with ourselves, reflected on matters, experienced the beauty and wonder of the environment, its past history and built connections with our fellow travellers.

Jenny Bubner was on tour with Natasha Dawson from Walk the Limestone Coast


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