Robyn and Ken Greene, talking about their Bendigo group
The Adelaide hills were truly alive with the sound of music – and so much more – at the first national conference convened by Australian Friends of the Camino from 11-13 October at the Nunyara Conference Centre.
The weekend brought together over 100 pilgrims from across Australia and overseas for a program of inspirational presentations, workshop discussions, book and travel displays, a sing-along (in Galician!), a music performance, story-telling and lots of laughter and sharing of Camino memories. With sangria, vino tinto, hearty meals (and a few Spanish treats), participants joined together to share an action-packed weekend of “all-things-Camino’. Definitely the next best thing to being back on the Camino … without the blisters!
Titled El Camino: The Way Ahead, the conference explored what Australian Friends of the Camino, Groups around Australia and individual pilgrims can do to preserve and enhance the spirit of the Camino while recognizing the growing popularity of all the Camino paths and the challenges that may arise with ever-increasing numbers walking The Way.
In officially opening proceedings with a traditional Welcome to Country, Janet Leitch, AFotC Chair, then spoke of the value of taking risks, and the richness that flows from pushing one’s own boundaries in order to fully experience all that the Camino offers (see pages 2-3). The importance of the ‘journey within’ was also highlighted by Cameron West and Isobel Thomas in a presentation on spirituality and their own experiences along the Way. Cam and Isobel spoke of the deep friendships made, the opportunities to give and to receive, the time for reflection and sharing of ideas… the true concept of pilgrimage.
Inspirational, thought-provoking and thoroughly wonderful keynote speakers, Senor Isaías Calvo de la Uz from Galicia, Spain and John Brierley (pictured on previous page), guidebook writer and spiritual mentor, both spoke of the truly unique nature of the Camino as a means of bringing together, in peace and without judgement, people from every country of the world, all faiths, cultures and ideologies, every language, age and level of ability.
Various group members at the candle blessing
Isaías outlined the plans being undertaken by the Galician government in preparation for Holy Year 2021, when over 1 million people are expected to walk into Santiago de Compostela. And John spoke of the Camino as a ‘journey of awakening’, a path of enquiry and self-discovery. He stressed the importance of ‘bringing the Camino home’ and living its values in our everyday lives as our world continues to face profound political, social and environmental crises. In concluding his address, John invited representatives of all Australian Camino Friends Groups to come together to light a candle as a symbol of our Camino family and a reminder of our shared humanity.
Other speakers shared their knowledge and love of Spanish art and architecture, food, wine, and photography on the Camino. A special session was programmed to provide opportunity for representatives from all groups around Australia to share information about their activities, while another session enabled travel companies to talk about the values that underpin their guided or self-guided tours. All speakers spoke with passion and commitment about ensuring that the Camino remains a journey with special meaning for everyone.
While a number of pilgrims-to-be joined a session on practical tips for beginners, approximately 80 experienced pilgrims participated in a structured workshop to explore the challenges and opportunities that the Camino may face in the coming decade, and to identify strategies that AFotC and Australian groups can take to continue to foster, coordinate and resource the promotion, awareness and facilitation of the Camino for the next 10 years. Working in groups of 8-10, participants came up with long lists of amazing, thoughtful and creative responses which were then shared in a follow-up plenary session.
After full days of listening, thinking and discussing, the evening programs provided fun and relaxation, with a singing workshop on Friday facilitated by Jessie Vintila of travel company, Sing the Camino. Within an hour, Jessie had everyone singing – in harmony, and in Galician! On Saturday evening, singer/songwriter/performer and podcaster, Dan Mullins entertained everyone with a great list of songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as some of his own compositions. Nunyara rocked!
So much feedback has been received since. Many people commented on the Camino ‘magic’ and the joy that flowed throughout the weekend. This would not have been possible without the enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and amazing participation of everyone involved – the keynote speakers, all presenters, performers, attendees, Nunyara staff and the conference committee.
Here’s just a sample of [and extracts from] some of the emails received in the days after the weekend…… It seems there will have to be another one!
Bravo to you all for putting on a great conference. I’m back at the farm, still warm from the afterglow of the whole occasion and the wonderful people I met. Thank you for asking me to be one of the presenters but what was really nourishing was to be with the pilgrim family and to have the chance to pause and reflect and to give thanks for the magic that is the Camino. (Dee, SA)
Honestly, the weekend was magic! (Dan, NSW)
The conference was fantastic and I enjoyed it tremendously. There was such a positive atmosphere and the whole weekend was very informative and fun. (Ursula, SA)
It was an uplifting session to hear John Brierley author of many Camino guidebooks speak and chat with afterwards about the powerful journey of Camino and connection to self, spirituality and a growing global family of pilgrims. (Lisa, SA)
There was such a wonderful energy right from the beginning and I’m sure I’m not the only attendee still on a high and driving their loved ones crazy with the “when I was at the conference …” refrain. (Julie-Ann, NSW)
Our heads (and hearts!) are still full of the weekend’s amazing conference and then last night one of the Bendigo group hosted a dinner for 9 with John at their home which was just really lovely. So much warmth and laughter, with excited planning for Caminos to come… This inaugural event will be an almost impossible act to follow although some details like the Santiago tartlets and shell biscuits should become a real tradition! (Ines, Vic)
My thanks to all involved in creating such a wonderful weekend. So enjoyable! It was so well organised and just flowed. And the extra care and attention to detail – such as the beautiful shell soaps in the bathroom was exceptional. (Beverley, Vic)
A wonderful conference. Truly inspiring, not to mention extremely enjoyable, with a great cross-section of speakers and topics. (Mary-Lou, NSW)
Congratulations on the successful conference…. From the general energy and enthusiasm of the delegates it looks as if this will roll out again in the near future. (Max, SA)
There were great stories and insights shared on what the Camino means to people and tales of kindness from ‘Camino Angels’ who had helped people along their journeys on the Way…(Dave, Vic)
The passion and dedication of the organisers, presenters and all the participants was abundantly evident and truly reflected the spirit of the Camino. I learnt a lot and came away full of inspiration, wishing I could have stayed longer… (Sue, Vic)
Certificate of Achievement was awarded to Alan Pearce, for services with Pilgrim Chaplaincy and pilgrim office
Certificate of Achievement was awarded to Alison Bell for editing the Newsletter
Certificate of Achievement were awarded to Susan Morris, for services with the Facebook page & participation in ‘Camino Skies’
At the recent AGM Margaret Gadd (left) was recognised for her service as convenor of the Conference committee and Rex Ranger (right) for his constant fine tuning of the membership records