Yesterday, on March the 1st, the anniversary of the founding of New Norcia, Her Excellency the Right honourable Kerry Sanderson OA, officially opening the Pilgrim Trail in Subiaco, Perth. Well over one hundred people were in attendance including representatives of the Whadjuk and Yued Aboriginal communities. Trevor Wally of the Whadjuk people gave a "welcome to country" talk and later on performed a smoking ceremony to bless the trail.
Below is my address to the gathering. It was a wonderful day! It's a wonderful trail!!
Your Excellency The Honourable Kerry Sanderson, OA, Governor of Western Australia. Mayor Heather Henderson, Abbot John Herbert and Abbot Bernard Rooney, Your Grace Bishop Don Sproxton, The Honourable Bill Marmion Member for Redlands, Mr Jim Sharp Director General of the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Fr Joe Walsh PP Subiaco, distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen.
Firstly I would like to acknowledge the Whadjuk people who are the Traditional inhabitants of the land we stand on here today.
The inspiration for the Pilgrim Trail may have happened on a hillside in Galicia Spain in 2008. But today it has become a reality here in Western Australia.
Many people think that the Pilgrim Trail was inspired by Bishop Rosendo Salvado – in fact that's not quite correct. The real inspiration for the Pilgrim Trail was YOU: - Rosendo Salvado was the perfect thread which tied it all together and, as it turned out, was the perfect illustration of how ordinary folk can do extraordinary deeds given the opportunity. But it was because of YOU, and for people like you, the people of Western Australia, that the trail was conceived and created.
The idea came as I was standing with Maggie on a hillside in the middle of northern Spain. The reason we were there was because I was emotionally burnt out after 3 decades serving as a family Doctor here in WA. On that particular day it seemed as if the world was once again a beautiful place. I stopped and said to Maggie that I hadn't felt this well for so long - and believe me there were a lot of tears spilt as we stood and hugged each other.
As we walked on toward Santiago de Compostela I began to wonder whether we could re-create such an experience back in Perth. Then I remembered that Santiago was the place where a Rosendo Salvado had entered the Benedictines as a young novice monk and that’s when the light bulb turned on inside my head. Because back in WA we had Salvado Road in Subiaco, and we had the only Monastery town in Australia which Salvado had founded 150kms to the north!
- all that I needed to do when I got back was to join the dots!.
But the Trail was never intended to be just about Bishop Salvado.
The fundamental aim of the trail has always been to provide an environment where walkers can take time-out away from the daily challenges of big city living. To get away from those stress buttons which we meet each day.
The goal was to take people away from their daily routines and into a place where rivers run, where tress grow, where there are wild flowers, wild birds and wild creatures staring back at us. To put them in a place where they have to think about what they'll eat that day because they have to carry it for 20 to 30 kilometres. Where they have to think about what they'll drink that day because water is so scarce and so precious out there in the bush. And they will have to think about their environment, because they will have to leave no trace as they walk along the trail.
Our goal was to change people's lives by providing them with a challenge that was not only physical, but mental and spiritual too. A challenge that gave them the opportunity to reflect on where they were, and where they were going in their lives; and to ponder on how they might live those lives just a little bit better.
And over the five years that we've been working on the Pilgrim Trail, I like to think that we've already started to achieve those goals. It's been a delight to share the walk with Camino groups and hear their stories. It has been a real joy to get feedback from the School Communities who have so enthusiastically embraced the Pilgrim Trail and to hear of the depth of sharing that has occurred not only between the students themselves, but between students and staff and other parents who have joined them on the journey.
Contemporary Pilgrimage is about the journey itself and the enlightenment that can occur on that journey. Traditional Pilgrimage is about the destination and for us the Pilgrim Trail "ticks the box" there too because in New Norcia we have the iconic Benedictine Monastery town and the wonderful blessings of the monks who live there. We are acutely aware of what a precious gift the monastery town of New Norcia is, and yet it is a fragile gift. Early on there was justifiable concern that their small community wouldn't be able to cope with an influx of pilgrim as they just don't have the infra-structure to accommodate a continuous stream of pilgrims. So far, I’m pleased to report that that hasn't happened. We owe our friends in New Norcia a great deal of thanks for the way they greet the organised Pilgrim groups and it is our sincere intention of doing whatever we can to preserve the integrity of such unique link in our common cultural and spiritual heritage.
Our journey also takes us through the ancient lands of the Whadjuk and Yued peoples who have lived there for tens of thousands of years. It was our friend Trevor Walley of the Whadjuk people who told us that when you walk the Trail you become a part of the trail. Your story mixes with all those who have walked there in the past and all those yet unborn who will walk there in the future. I am particularly excited by the formation of our Aboriginal Noongar advisory group, and we hope to appoint a member of the Nyoongar group onto our Board in the very near future. We want them to tell their stories, so that we more recent inhabitants can better understand their mythologies, their spirituality, their history and their sufferings too. Sufferings which we need to better comprehend so that we can become a part of, and a partner to their healing journey.
But there is more to the Trail than just walking.
We have realised that there are many who will, for whatever reason, be unable to walk to New Norcia, that's why we've invited one of WAs most gifted young composers, Lachlan Skipworth - who has provided us with the music today – to create a piece of work that musically expresses the moods and spirituality of the different sections of the Pilgrim Trail. In that way, people can relive their experience long after their walk has finished and they can also share their experiences with those dear to them who are physically unable to walk the Pilgrim Trail themselves.
In the future we also hope to take groups of artists along the Trail so that they can reflect what the Trail means to them too. This is our way of leaving some tangible footprints of our generation for the future generations who will walk the trail in the decades and centuries ahead.
We are also in close contact with the mayor of Tui in Spain, the birthplace of Bishop Salvado. Señor Gonzalez, the Mayor of Tui, has indicated that his city is very keen to develop closer cultural links with not only the Pilgrim Trail Foundation, but the City of Subiaco and town of New Norcia as well. I believe such relationships can only bring great benefits to all concerned.
The PT is different. It's not just a 201km challenge - it's about being a part of history. It's about being apart of the great family that is Australia. It's about discovering a whole new world, and finding it inside yourself. It's about spirituality with a small 's' because it's the little people like ourselves who really are the ones that can change the world ... one step at a time.
Finally, I wish to thank my fellow Board members.
Ean and Sue James who have been there from the very beginning along with Roger Walsh our treasurer. Colin Ingram - the man Donald Trump most fears and who produced our Strategic plan. Clive McIntyre whose work on our maps would make Vasco Da game blush and Jane Pelusey who is our social media maven. L-A Shibish is the creative force behind today and also behind our aboriginal advisory committee and many of our photos and videos on our website- so a special thanks to you L-A. Finally there is one person without whom this would never have occurred. She is the gentle presence that exemplifies what we want the trail to be for Western Australia, a quiet yet powerful force for good. My wife Maggie.
And to all of you who have given of your time, your enthusiasm, your support, your resources and your presence here today, on behalf of the Pilgrim Trail Foundation Board, I thank you.
All Photos copyrighted to Richard Jefferson photography