Two of many special encounters along the way make me smile when I think of them. The first one happened on my first day. Sister Cabrini from Kempsey, still quite frail while recovering from the effects of an illness at the convent in Grafton, came to see us off at the trafic bridge and give us her blessings at 7 in the morning on Easter Monday. Another remarkable and contrasting encounter occurred south of Uranga. We had lunch at Hungry Head picnic area. A large motor bike pulled up, a slightly built woman demounted, handed us a fruit cake and rode off after a brief conversation. The oddest thing was, that for the proceeding three days, fruit cake had been on our shopping list, but was forgotten every time someone went to a shop. Cassie called this “the manifestation of a fruit cake”.
The generous and warm welcomes wherever we stayed were overwhelming. In Coffs Harbour a group of residents waited for us at the Jetty. Caroline Joseph organised accommodation, the evening event and media coverage in Bellingen. There, Uncle Tom welcomed us to his country and the Mayor gave a speech. In Kempsey, Colleen Campbell expressed the welcome to country in the Dunghutti language, followed by a speech by the Deputy Mayor.
Community and Church Halls were made available free of charge, such as Kungala, Coramba, Bellingen and Macksville. The Morning Star Community at Tallawudjah Creek near Glenreagh accommodated us in their beautiful mud brick guesthouse where bell birds could be heard all day long. A cabin at Valla Beach was paid for by Bellingen resident Irene and unnamed friends. People opened their houses for us, like Dolores in Grafton, Rodney in Bonville, Vicki in Bellingen, Freya in Eungai, Pam and Peter in Kempsey. And they are just the ones I met during my 10 days during the 80 days of the FootPrints for Peace Walk.
Food was often provided for the walkers. Bowls of salad were left at a community hall; we had dinner with small groups in some places and several times with large gatherings. My favourites were the communal dinners. Sharing food around a large table symbolises friendship and peace for me and in all cases, dinner was followed by other activities. In Bellingen it was the screening of “Uranium – is it a country?”, a documentary about the nuclear cycle. In Eungai, we were guided through “Dances of Universal Peace” by our hostess Freya and her guest from the Netherlands, Wally. The evening was rounded off by joyful drumming and belly dancing. Di and Sue left the walkers in Eungai.
The more than fitting end to my participation was the walk into Kempsey on Thursday and the Friday evening at the Anglican Hall with singing, dancing, drumming and – WOW – a sound bath.
We were met in Frederickton (about 6km north of Kempsey) by two Elders of the Dunghutti nation, Eileen and Mary Button, by June's cousin Judy and Macleay Nuclear Free Alliance members Nona, Pam, Peter and Gavin. The Elders as well as Judy and Nona walked with us along the Highway. Although this is a particularly bad stretch of road to walk on, and at one point a passing truck blew every single hat off in slapstick fashion, it was a great way to arrive back home. I parted from my fellow walkers who were the guests at the very comfortable home of Pam and Peter Clarke. They were truly spoiled on their day off.
On Friday evening, the final highlight for me was the celebration of peace organised by the Macleay Nuclear Free Alliance, supported by the Caterers from the Anglican Church. After a lovely meal, the welcomes and a brief address by each of the walkers, Ruth Nolan, leader of 'Singing for the Terrified' quickly turned the assembly of 40 people into a choir. It took less than ten minutes to create the 'Master Singers of Kempsey'. Freya followed and, as she did in Eungai, lead Dances of Universal Peace. We were not quite as good as dancers as we were as singers, there were a few moments of chaos and laughter. Next, guided by Ruth Shepherd and Jennifer Longhair, Sista Drum with their frame drums started us off on some beautiful chants. My favourite one originates in the Bahai Faith with a tune by Ruth S:
We are the waves of one ocean,
the branches of one tree
and the flowers of one garden,
we are one.
And then the sound bath: Mattresses were placed in the middle of the circle for the walkers to lie on. At their heads stood the Chakraphone, a tubular bells kind of an instrument played by Ruth S. She had handed out a variety of chimes to the people in the circle. They tinkled like the bell birds at Tallawudjah Creek. One or two frame drums provided an ongoing gentle background rhythm. Lying with the other walkers like peas in a pod, my body relaxed. My left hand held Cath's, my right hand touched Dawn. After a while I could not feel my left hand as seperate from Cath's. I could only feel warm energy connecting us, a deep experience of unity. Cath experienced the sound bath as lying in a bubble of light. I've got no idea how long we stayed there. Unfortunately, it had to end. Chanting by Sista Drum lead us back to reality and then the evening finished with boisterous drumming and swinging of whirlies.
On Saturday morning, Cassie, Dawn and June were accompanied by nine locals as they left Kempsey, walking south towards Canberra. My thoughts are with them all the way. We are one.