Jim Phelan recently completed the ‘Aussie Camino’ and shares his experience with us.
The Aussie Camino is a pilgrimage walk inspired by the life and journeys of Sisters of Saint Joseph founders St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods. It is an opportunity for participants to embark on a contemplative journey, visit scenic places, meet and connect with new people. The walk begins in Portland, Victoria and ends in Penola, South Australia covering over 150 kilometres.
“I was part of group who walked the Aussie Camino over seven days in March 2022,” says Jim. “We were a group of 10 with eight pilgrims from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne from Catholic and non-Catholic backgrounds, a guide and bus driver. Four of us are part of a group called the Catenians, an international association of Catholic laymen. The Catenians have a Josephite connection, having St Mary MacKillop as their patron, with Catenian spirituality reflecting the charism of St Mary MacKillop.”
The Aussie Camino walk is inspired by the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Europe. Jim had previously completed the French portion of the Spanish Camino.
Being an avid walker and looking for a walking opportunity (especially with disruptions caused by Covid), Jim came across the Aussie Camino. He started to find out more and see whether he could put a group together to participate with him.
The day before the Aussie Camino began, the group travelled to Victoria and some of the group stayed at the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre in East Melbourne. The entire group then met at the Heritage Centre and were given an initial insight into the life and work of St Mary MacKillop.
For the first few days after setting off from Portland, the Aussie Camino followed the Great South West Walk. During this walk, the group travelled and stopped at Cape Bridgewater and Nelson.
“After stopping at Nelson, we crossed the border to South Australia where we travelled to Port Macdonnell, Mount Schank and Mount Gambier,” continues Jim. “Our final destination was Penola, the birthplace of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.”
In Penola, the group received their Camino Pilgrims Certificates where they also enjoyed the wines and culinary delights of the Coonawarra region.
Throughout the Aussie Camino, the pilgrims had time for reflection and had their pilgrimage passports stamped at the many places they visited. They also stayed in local hotels and other simple accommodation. In Mount Gambier they even stayed in the former gaol, now converted to low cost accommodation.
“One of the best things about doing the walk and completing Camino’s overseas is that it’s not just a walk – many people ‘find themselves’ while participating. There can be a lot of soul-searching and opportunity to reflect. It’s also about developing relationships with others. The group stayed together as a team and had nicknames for one another – my nickname was Coach!”.
One of the pilgrims also completed the Aussie Camino for charity. The pilgrim raised $10,000 for Interplast, a non-government organisation that sends teams of volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and allied health professionals to provide life-changing surgery and medical training across the Asia Pacific region.
For Jim, some of the Aussie Camino highlights were the scenery at Mt Gambier, and the fellowship experience.
“I also developed a new appreciation of Mary MacKillop at Penola where I learnt more about her life, her work, achievements and legacy. The Mary MacKillop Penola Centre is well worth a visit.”
If you’d like to find out more about the Aussie Camino and upcoming walks, visit the Aussie Camino website – www.aussiecamino.org