Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

A History of the Catholic Bushwalking Club

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

A History of the Catholic Bushwalking Club

Article excerpt


I wish to acknowledge the written works of long serving Catholic Bushwalking Club member, Jim Barrett. He has written eleven short works on the CBC and its connections to the Blue Mountains. For this talk I have relied heavily on his latest book, Through the Years with the Catholic Bushwalking Club. (1) However, my interpretations of people and events in this talk are my own.

The Sydney priest whose name was and still is associated with the Catholic Bushwalking Club (hereafter CBC) is that of Father Richard Bede Coughlan. His obituary in The Catholic Weekly of July 1979 had this to say:

   His ability to lend a sensitive and attentive ear to people's
   troubles came partly from the sense of calm he gained as a bush
   lover with the Catholic Bushwalking Club he co-founded in 1943 and
   was chaplain of until 1963. (2)

There are several points to make here. It is generally agreed amongst former and current members of the CBC who knew him that he did listen well to people, that he gave them much time to speak of their problems or concerns, material, spiritual or otherwise. It is said by some that, as a man of firm beliefs and principles, he was rarely swayed from his own point of view. He had less of the collaborative style of leadership and far more of the clearly directional.

He was definitely a bush lover for he had found solace and peace in the natural environment all his life. He was an early example of what has become known as the "bushwalker". Believe it or not, there is a history in this country on this topic too. A recent work is one example: The Ways of the Bushwalker On Foot in Australia. (3)

The obituary said he was co-founder of the CBC in 1943. He was its first official chaplain from 1944 to 1963. If he were the co-founder, who was his partner or partners in this venture? This leads me onto the first major point, to examine how the CBC was formed.

The Early Days of the CBC

It is now recognised within the CBC that it was Miss Dorothy Clayton who, with a few friends, was the key person in the establishment of the Club. In fact, Dot Clayton comes before Fr Coughlan. She sent out a circular dated 31st July 1943 inviting people to a meeting on Wednesday 11th August, 1943, at 8pm, at the 'Cooperative Service Rooms' in George Street, Sydney. It was addressed to 'all who are interested in the formation of a Catholic Bush Walking Club'. (4)

Dorothy Clayton was born in Sydney in 1913. She was ten years younger than Fr Coughlan. In 1929 she found herself in England where her father was sent to work in his company's London base. After leaving school she worked in an office where she met a girl who was a member of the St Francis of Assisi Catholic Ramblers. Dot joined the Ramblers in 1938. The club combined walking and devotional activities such as visits to Marian shrines. She returned to Australia in 1939. Dot wrote an article in the November 1942 edition of The Fireside, the magazine of the Legion of Catholic Women, (5) where she hoped something similar to the Ramblers could be established in Sydney. One reader of the article was Catholic layman Paul Barnes who was a member of the Sydney Bush Walkers, a club formed in 1927.

In February 1953, The Catholic Weekly reported that the CBC commemorated its tenth anniversary of the first walk on 14th February 1943. A formal dinner and dance was held at the Coronet Ballroom with 120 people present. The report says,

   The president, Mr Lew Garrett, and secretary, Miss Marie de Mol,
   received the official guests, who included the chaplain, the Rev.
   Father R. B. Coughlan, and Miss Dorothy Clayton, whose article in
   The Fireside of November 1942, inspired the formation of the Club.

On the occasion of the CBC's 40th anniversary in 1983, Dot Clayton summarised the beginnings of the Club. She, Paul Barnes and another foundation member, Joe Lyons, met with Father Albert Thomas (later Bishop of Bathurst) in 1943 as he was in charge of the emerging and very new adventure within the Church, the Lay Apostolate. …

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