Sunday, May 4, 2008

Far From the Madding Crowd (Really, Really Far)

Recently the parish priest and I ("parish priest" in Australia = "pastor") took a little excursion to the neighboring town of Wilcannia. At one time, Wilcannia was a bustling port town on the Darling River, one of the few major rivers in all of Australia. Today, it’s just a shadow of that, 300 people, mostly aboriginals, on what remains of the Darling.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about our excursion was the trip itself. As I said, Wilcannia is the next town over. But we use "next" loosely: it’s 235 kms away -- roughly 150 miles. . It took us over two hours to get there, going 120 kms/75 miles an hour. And in between, literally NOTHING. Not towns, no stops, just lots of low trees, cars whizzing by and birds eating dead kangaroo.

When you're standing above Cobar, here's the view (click on it for the big picture):

Other than maybe in Alaska, I wonder if there's any place as empty as this in the U.S. I'll tell you this, it makes rural South Dakota look like the Eastern seaboard. But as you can see from the photo, the emptiness is quite beautiful.

One anecdote: truly, all along the highway you see birds chewing on remains of 'roo. And, as you might expect, as a car approaches, even from the other side, the birds immediately scatter.

But not all. As we were approaching one such scene, we saw an enormous brown eagle among the birds, head thrown back as though this was his table. When we came near, the other birds flew off, but not the eagle. He just glared.

Outback lesson #1: Never play chicken with an eagle.

In Wilcannia, we visited a tiny kindergarten-second grade Catholic school run for aboriginal children. And while we were there, we had lunch with a lovely sister, Sr. Flo. I just loved her face, so I took some photos. I've put a nice one below.

The retreat goes well. The people here are wonderful. And today was my niece's first communion. I couldn't be there (obviously), but I will post some photos when I get some. She told me she was a little bit nervous, and the wine tasted pretty nasty (Note to self and others in ministry: when you're running a first communion, make sure you use some sweet wine!), but she seemed satisfied.

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