The 2018 AusCamino Festival weekend at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains (NSW) opened with a 2-day hospitalero training course run by experienced hospitalera, Julie-Ann Milne, assisted by Australian Friends of the Camino (AFotC) Treasurer Neil Russell. Julie-Ann’s course provides a very thorough grounding in hospitalero life so that all graduates should have no trouble serving with distinction, as many have before. 4 of the 15 trainees have already received their first postings, one to begin at Grado when it opens on 15 March! Trainee Helen told me that she felt as nervous about her first hospitalera posting as when she set out on her first Camino but that, “I’m sure that once you get started, you’re fine – just like on the Camino!”
On Thursday night the training group and early arrivals enjoyed a pilgrim meal together before adjourning to the pub to enjoy the Massed Ukeleles of Blackheath. It was like coming across an unexpected fiesta when you’re walking!
On Friday, the Festival began with a gala opening night of tapas and flamenco, with a performance (see photo next page) by dancers from Annalouise Paul’s Katoomba‘s Flamenco Dance School, accompanied by flamenco guitar. Janet Leitch (AFotC Chair) officially opened the Festival by addressing the eternal question of how to bring the Camino home with us as we try to create brotherhood, peace and unity in our everyday lives (see pp20-21). Janet then made a special AFotC presentation to Julie-Ann Milne (p21) of a certificate recognising her significant contribution to “promoting awareness of the Camino and assisting and encouraging pilgrims on their journeys.” A well-deserved award indeed.
On Saturday the kind weather allowed people to enjoy the Expo stalls on the Glenella verandah in between the Saturday program of workshops and talks. There was a most informative session for Camino ‘newbies’ run by Julie-Ann and another from ‘Digger’ Kemp who brought a lot of ex-Army good sense to the weighty topic of packing light. Apart from the age-old question of ‘Is this item really necessary?’, Digger added his rule of trying to make every item serve at least 2 purposes e.g. wearing socks over your hands as gloves on cold Camino mornings. He also amused his audience by referring to his FRED, or Flipping Ridiculous Eating Device in euphemistic Army slang.
An inspiring session on ‘Walking with Ease’ from Alexander Technique practitioner Maddie Locke had us all on our feet trying to walk mindfully, with the second toe directly under kneecap on each footfall. Our 5kg heads were realigned and shoulder blades pulled down into our back pockets as we all committed ourselves to concentrating much harder on walking easefully in future. Maddie opened her workshop by congratulating us all for being walkers in a sedentary world and being our own heroes by prioritising our health.
The afternoon program consisted of a series of talks in the Uniting Church hall opposite Glenella. Janet Leitch gave an inspiring presentation entitled ‘The Road Less Travelled’ about all the more unusual routes she has walked in her rich and varied Camino career. Another heart-warming story came from Sanjiva Wijesinha who walked the C Francés with his son Shivantha in 2011.
Another interesting session came from Jenny Heesh about her experiences of walking with a hiking trolley named Spot. After a cycling accident, she enlisted the help of friends to develop a tailor-made hiking trolley which she pulls along like a horse-cart, walking between the shafts with a ‘harness’ around her waist. (See Jenny’s full article).
Sydney broadcaster, producer and musician Dan Mullins then entertained us with stories of his 50th birthday Camino with a small guitar on which he has a sello from every place where he sang for his supper. While walking, Dan chose to meditate on his life in 5-year segments with astonishing results… no doubt it’s what inspired him to start his Camino podcasts of pilgrim interviews.
On Saturday night after a delicious paella dinner, there was a Camino trivia quiz and story slam to accompany the Santiago tart desert. The stories were sad, light-hearted and sometimes quirky, but all offered a different glimpse of Camino life.
Sunday provided an opportunity to visit the Blue Labyrinth Bush Retreat where there was a talk called ‘Walked the Camino? Now try a labyrinth’. Donna explained how a true medieval pilgrimage involved not only walking to Santiago or other shrine, but also the return home on foot, so that the arrival marks only the halfway point. Labyrinths are not to be confused with mazes. In Donna’s words: In a maze you look for the centre. In a labyrinth you find your centre. It is believed that mindful walking along the narrow pathways of a labyrinth until you reach the centre where you can pause to meditate for a while before winding your way out again can help us to reach that ‘thin place’ where the spiritual world is closest to the earthly one. It certainly is a very soothing exercise, even in pouring rain!
By Sunday evening almost everyone had headed for home but we stayed on for a final night. Once again, thanks to Margaret and Rowan for their warm hospitality and beautiful venue in which to host AusCamino 2018.