SIXTY years ago on the slopes of Mt Tibrogargan, north of Brisbane, Fr William “Willie” Hayes gathered a group of enthusiastic trekkers and led them down the wild bush trails, on an adventure which would birth a club.
Among them was a young man named Mervyn Galvin.
Mr Galvin fondly recalled those first summer trips with the newly emerging Brisbane Catholic Bushwalking Club.
“I was one of the older ones; I was about 24 at the time, and only just arrived in Brisbane 12 months or so before from the country,” he said.
“I was studying at the time, too, so I was at a little bit of a loose end as to having friends, not having gone to school in Brisbane.
“So, being a bush-person myself, bushwalking sounded an interesting thing to get involved with.”
As luck would have it, Mr Galvin’s aunt showed him a notice in The Catholic Leader about a Catholic bushwalking club being set up by Fr Hayes, from the Yeronga parish.
Mr Galvin went along to that first bushwalk in the Glass House Mountains, and about 30 other young people showed up, as he recalled, which was judged to be a sufficient attendance for the club to be formed.
The club’s first official general meeting was on January 10, 1958, at St James College, on Boundary Street, Fortitude Valley – with their first club outing scheduled over the January long weekend at O’Reilly’s, in the Gold Coast hinterland.
It was raining that weekend and Mr Galvin humorously remembered how difficult it was pitching the larger tents because of the sloped land: “By the time I got it pitched, it was over there because every time you straightened the pole up you finished up moving it a foot or so”.
The foundational members consisted of 60 girls and 30 boys, a ratio that took the co-ordinators by surprise, according to BCBC committee vice-president Michele Endicott.
“I believe the first person who rang up in response to The Catholic Leader story about the formation of the club was met with a very surprised gentleman who said, ‘Oh, you’d like to join the club?’, because he hadn’t thought that girls might want to come,” she said.
“He thought it would just be boys only.”
But, as Mr Galvin put it, the girls proved to be as good on the arduous climbs as the boys.
Over its 60-year history, the club has seen many changes.
One was the city of Brisbane itself.
“The day walks were often in a place where you wouldn’t be able to walk today,” Mr Galvin said.
This included bushland in Jindalee that no longer exists.
Another stark change in the times was the rise of private transport; cars weren’t something many young people owned in those days.
Mr Galvin said a lot of the walks were centred around catching a train, walking and finding a way back from another station farther along.
Mrs Endicott’s generation didn’t have the same travel problems.
“From the era that my husband joined, which was 1971, the young ones joining then, like him, he was 17 or 18, he just got his first car,” she said.
“It ended up being called the ‘Go Anywhere Mobile’ because it often drove up right up to the beginning of walks, off main roads.
“But apart from those social things changing, a lot has not changed.”
Mr Galvin showed some of the documents from the foundational years of the club, including some statements from Fr Hayes explaining the purpose of the club written 60 years ago.
The BCBC was set up as a recreational club meant to enhance the spirit and lives of its members to meet their day-to-day world.
The club always endeavoured to have a spiritual meaning to its outings, whether it was celebrating Mass or simply learning about nature.
“Often it was the 7pm Mass at the Cathedral of St Stephen,” Mr Galvin said.
“So, you’d find everyone with their packs get off the bus and we’d have our packs all lined up outside on the sidewall of the cathedral.”
The club’s spiritual legacy, though, revolved around the annual Mt Barney Mass.
The faithful who made it to the peak gathered around a stone altar, which they call “Mass Rock”.
It is there, atop the crown of south-east Queensland’s wilderness, that the club celebrates its annual Mass.
“People always say every year, including this year, at the end of the Barney Mass, which is at 3000 metres or so, they always come down and they say, ‘that was such a special liturgy’,” Mrs Endicott said.
“When it’s experienced on the mountain top with nothing but the sky above you, it is just very special.
“I think the two times I managed it, to get to the top, I did feel really close to God.”
But, an Australian club like BCBC wouldn’t last 60 years without a strong emphasis on mateship.
The first time Mrs Endicott went out with the group, she had to conquer Mt Barney – easier said than done.
“It’s five hours uphill and three hours down, and calf muscles that haven’t done that for a while; can’t move for about, oh, I don’t know, four days afterwards,” she said.
“But I had a great sense of achievement having got there, especially with a lot of egging on and encouragement from others along the way.
“You need the support of your fellow travellers. You can’t just do it alone.”
For Mrs Endicott, the club wasn’t just about the journey up the mountain, but also spending time with others who were on similar life journeys and shared similar values.
Lifelong friendships are the essence of the club but, on top of that, the BCBC has had many marriages too.
Mrs Endicott met her future husband at the June ’86 meeting of the club.
Oddly enough, the single male friend she came with to the meeting also met his future wife that night.
“At our sixtieth anniversary Mass, we’re planning on having a photo session, including a photo of all the people who met and married through the club, and then another photo of all the people whose children came along and became members of the club,” Mrs Endicott said.
The Brisbane Catholic Bushwalking Club celebrates its 60th anniversary on March 10 at St William’s Catholic Church, Keperra.
By Joe Higgins