Labyrinths can elicit a range of responses, not all positive. An entertaining online review for a labyrinth in the Melbourne area reads ‘You can’t send visitors all the way to this pathetic little monument to stoned hippy imaginings.’ Being a fan, I don’t share this dismissive perspective.
Until a friend mentioned it to me, I was unaware that Lismore had any labyrinths, let alone at least two. Both of them were created within the last few years, so they would not have served as a substitute for the times years ago when I needed a labyrinth hit and would trek out to the Crystal Castle.
It is Easter Sunday, and although it isn’t raining, conditions are wet, with damp ground and an overcast sky. At the Lismore tip, the gate is shut, but there is access through a break in the fence. I walk along a path parallel to the access road. Drips hang off all the leaves, and from the left there is a dull mechanised sound from the sewage works.
I’ve been given rough directions, but not having checked it out online, all I know is that you go up the slope to the right, running through the hoop pine forest. This was originally planted in 1985 as a camphor laurel demonstration plot, and is an extension of the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens.
The Summit Loop goes uphill in a zig-zag. In between the pines, other smaller trees are growing. Wooden seats are scattered along the path. The route passes a circle of small rocks, followed closely by a set of home-made steel chimes. Using a convenient hoop pine stick, I hit the tubes, and the chimes reverberate against one another. In the quiet forest, I announce my presence to nobody. The chimes have an oriental sound. After I walk on my way, they continue to resonate for a short time.
Beyond a point, traffic noise from Wyrallah Road becomes more audible. A few mosquitoes suddenly appear, marking the path’s sudden arrival at the labyrinth. Its path edges are marked by small rocks, mixed with hoop pine branchlets, and thickly overgrown with grass, while the paths themselves are dirt. Trees are incorporated into the design, with one in the centre and one or two others dotted about. This structure was created in 2016, on the day of the opening of the hoop pine walk, with each participant carrying up one rock each. This area in which it was built, one of the highest points in the forest, has a view down the steep slope, through the trees towards the road.
I do the walk. Ideally, the purpose of a labyrinth is to switch off the mind, and I’m moderately successful at quieting some thoughts that have been circulating. After finishing, the shortest route back involves continuing on down the Summit Loop, followed by the perimeter path.
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The second labyrinth is located in a spot where few people other than dog-walkers are likely to come upon it serendipitously. On the wide stretch of Trinity College’s fields, it is in the far left corner, behind a disused netball court. The easiest access involves continuing down Keen Street northbound until it turns an angle into Brunswick Street where there is a series of parking spots.
It is a replica of the iconic Chartres Cathedral labyrinth design, also found at the Crystal Castle. Almost exactly a year ago, some mud was deposited at the time of the last flood. I know that it has gone now because I cleaned it up from the path boundaries a few weeks ago, in preparation for an earlier labyrinth trip that was postponed.
Trinity is a Catholic college, and this design, constructed by some staff and Year 11 students, is designated as a ‘prayer labyrinth.’ A pair of faded plaques on a small adjacent cairn indicate that it was built in 2013, and is dedicated to Father Nicolas Maurice. The labyrinth walk is presented as a meditation possessing healing effects. Suggested words to accompany this process are ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46.10.)
Labyrinths are interesting because in the past they have been identified with both the Christian and pre-Christian worlds. Most likely, they held a mysterious archetypal significance that is now lost to us. Perhaps the most powerful labyrinth of all would be one with hedges tall enough to break visual contact with the wider surroundings, instead telescoping back one’s attention to one’s passage and the current step being taken. For maximum effect, it could be walked alone, in silence, at dusk. This inner journey would also lack the fear associated with getting lost in a hedge maze after dark (is there a special phobia named after it?) that in 2011 led an American family in this predicament to ring the police so that they could be rescued.
Here the paths are gravel, with embedded bricks as dividers. The river, which is only a dozen or so metres away, is a brown colour from frequent showers. A light rain falls briefly. Without being able to explain, I find myself walking this one more slowly. An enthusiastic team of campanologists sends out a peal of bells from the cathedral, finishing after only a minute or two. A little later, this is followed by bells from St. Andrews church that fade away after a minute. The centre of the labyrinth is dry enough for sitting down in a suitably meditative cross-legged pose before retracing my steps.
A group of seven King Parrots flies over from the river. Nearby, is a pair of Willie Wagtails, one of which flies a looping path, lands momentarily on the cairn with an insect in its mouth, and then flies away.