Australia 15 August: Canberra, ACT
It is with mixed feelings that we commence today, as our team mates will start returning home to their various countries. Friends will be missed, but we have formed lasting friendships that will carry forward into future Peace Runs. We already have open invitations to Argentina, Moldova and Mongolia – among many other countries – when the Peace Run next resumes there ... and I will be the first one to buy my ticket.
We are physically exhausted from months on the road, but exhilarated and refreshed from the opportunity to share peace and hope and to meet so many wonderful people who also aspire for peace.
Our team met at Regatta Point at noon today, where Graham Tidy, a photographer from The Canberra Times was already waiting for us.
The last time we left this spot – also in brilliant sunshine – we had 15,800 km ahead of us.
Today it is less than 2 km ...
We were joined by Mr Abdelkader Jamoussi, Deputy Head of Mission from the Embassy of Morocco, and by Lachlan Lewis, a long time runner and Australian age-group triathlon representative, who celebrated his 76th birthday yesterday.
Just the sound of all the footfalls on the pavement was somewhat soothing and bittersweet. The rhythm and oneness of our footsteps served to remind us of where we had been as a team and the impact our journey has made on the lives of so many we have met along the way ...
... these were our final moments as a team running together: taking it nice and slow, we could appreciate with each step the profound effort we have made together.
... we were greeted by members of the diplomatic community and several MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly).
Although it was sad that our ACT Patron, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher could not attend due to a last-minute emergency, it was fitting that Shane Rattenbury was representing her to welcome us back into Canberra, as he had seen us off on our journey way back on the 26th April, on that occasion running the first few km out of Canberra with the Torch.
Six MLAs were there to greet the Torch, including 3 from the Government and 3 from the Opposition benches. From left to right – Brendan Smyth, Shane Rattenbury, Andrew Wall, Dr Chris Bourke, Yvette Berry and Nicole Lawder in a wonderful symbolic gesture of our underlying oneness of purpose.
The Argentine Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Pedro Raul Villagra Delgardo was thrilled to meet with Elsa, our runner from Argentina. Here he is flanked by Mr. Hanggiro Setiabudi, the Minister Counsellor, Information and Socio-Cultural Affairs from the Indonesian Embassy, and his assistant, Mr. Sezargerry Sumardi, Third Secretary, Information and Socio-Cultural Affairs for Indonesia.
Alongside them now is our friend Mr Abdelkader Jamoussi from Morocco, who ran with the team from Regatta Point.
The two runners who had been with the team for the entire journey around Australia – Drishalu from Austria and Steve from Australia, were both called forward to extinguish the flame for the final time ...
This gesture was so simple, yet extremely touching to all of us who have been associated with the Peace Run over these months.
Shane Rattenbury then invited everyone into the Reception Room of the Legislative Assembly for the formal proceedings.
We entered to the sweet sound of flutes. Sophie and Lily from Telopea Park High School had made a simple yet beautiful arrangement of the World Harmony Run song and were playing this as we found our seats.
The MC offered the following reflections on the Run:
"Sri Chinmoy founded the Peace Run in 1987, as a dynamic expression of our eternal journey towards a better world.
"Here we are talking about peace, yet through talking we do not achieve peace. Let us rather enjoy a minute's pure silence to embrace peace, to imagine inside our hearts that perfect world where love, joy and oneness reign supreme...
[one minute of silent meditation followed]
"Everything valuable starts in our hearts and in imagination – world peace is no different. If we can imagine a perfect world, then rest assured, that perfect world is just around the corner.
"Sri Chinmoy used to say that if we look at the moon we can either appreciate, love and claim its beauty, or we can analyse and deplore its spots and imperfections.
"In the world around us, we can find many weaknesses and faults if we look for them. Yet carrying this Torch of hope all the way around this vast continent, we have encountered a world of astonishing beauty, blossoming joy, beaming smiles and wide open hearts.
"The message of the Peace Run is to value our goal, and to run towards our goal. To reach here, to stand once more in Civic Square, Canberra, has been our goal since April. The journey of 15 thousand kilometres around Australia has comprised millions of single steps, each step seemingly small and insignificant, yet each an indispensable contribution to the ultimate goal.
"This celebration today could not have happened without each and every one of those millions of steps which have brought us here – steps through sunshine, rain and even hail, steps up mountains, along beaches, across the endless plains of the outback, steps through forests and along city streets, fast steps and slow steps, joyful steps, eager steps ... and even many tired steps.
"The experience of the Peace Run is that if we take one step towards peace, towards love, towards joy, then peace, love and joy come running to embrace us.
"The journey and the goal are inseparable. Without the goal, the journey is pointless, and without the journey the goal is meaningless. The joy and satisfaction of today's celebration is built upon every step that has brought us here together.
"Even so, the ultimate goal of World Peace is being built inside every hopeful heart, every positive thought, every loving deed, every bright smile. We are all the co-creators of the future, and that golden future is here, right here glowing inside our hearts, beaming through our eyes, shining through our smiles.
"Peace is not a distant dream. It is a close, very close reality – as close as our oneness-hearts.
"The words spoken by Sri Chinmoy in Sydney in 1976, ring truer today than ever before: 'There shall come a time when this world of ours will be flooded with peace. Who is to bring about this radical change? It will be you, you and your sisters and brothers. You and your oneness-heart will spread peace throughout the length and breadth of the world.'"
... Shane Rattenbury opened his speech with: "Welcome back my friends" – a true gesture in the spirit of the Peace Run, reflecting what we all felt of our return after so many months on the road.
Shane said we had looked fit and healthy when we left and we looked more fit, healthy and now tanned when we returned. Being out on the road as long as we have will do that to you!
He guessed (and rightly) that we would be exhausted but it would be mixed with pride and satisfaction. He said what we had done was a real sacrifice, done because we believed in the principles of the Peace Run and good will that it spreads. He commented that the number of nationalities represented over the course of the Peace Run, shows how powerful this message is, and that he knows the ACT Chief Minister felt privileged to be involved with the Run.
He remarked that the number of MLAs who had attended the Ceremony in the midst of this very busy time – almost half of the total Assembly – showed how well received the Run had been amongst his colleagues.
Shane also commented that the connecting link with the Canberra Centenary, with our hand-delivery of letters from the ACT Chief Minister to Mayors all around the country, and the return of over 50 of their letters of congratulation which he accepted on her behalf today, had been an imaginative and far-reaching way of connecting all of the country with its capital, Canberra and its Centenary.
Shane remarked that the best way to demonstrate Peace is through action – and this Peace Run is doing just that.
We were then shown a short video of our travels around Australia, bringing back so many fond memories of our time on the run.
The MC then introduced the Peace Run Torch-Bearer award, which is presented to individuals and organisations for outstanding inspiration and service:
"Today we have the privilege of honouring husband and wife, Tom Landon-Smith and Alina McMaster.
"Tom and Alina’s sporting CVs are as long as they are impressive. Beginning as cross country skiers, both achieved remarkable success, winning numerous titles, representing Australia internationally and gaining selection to the 1994 Australian Olympic Squad. Moving later into multi-sport and rogaining, untiring dedication translated into yet more outright wins and podium finishes. In 2003 both were crowned as Australian Rogaining Champions, in their respective male and female categories. During the same period they began to compete in, and to win, some of the world’s most gruelling multi-day adventure races.
"In their workings lives, Tom and Alina showed remarkable courage and fortitude in leaving behind their careers as mechanical engineer and lawyer respectively in order to pursue their dream of organising off-road sporting events. Since founding AROC Sport in 2003, they are now well and truly living their dream. As race directors of Australia’s premier trail running race, The North Face 100, as well Canberra’s own Capital Punishment mountain bike race, Tom and Alina provide leadership, vision and inspiration to athletes and event staff from around the globe ...
"Yet it is not for all these aforementioned achievements that we recognise them today. Tom and Alina are, to put it simply, exceptionally good people. They embody a delightful humility, made all the more significant considering their tremendous outer achievements. Whether dealing with the complex logistics of event management, or pushing their bodies to new extremes, they are unfailingly cheerful and remarkably poised. To spend but a few moments in their company is to feel genuine warmth and kindness and it is for that that we honour them today as Torch-Bearers for a brighter future."
One further MLA – Steve Doszpot, the seventh to attend the Ceremony – had arrived during the proceedings ...
At the conclusion of the formal proceedings, as Sophia and Lily held the Peace Torch, we were asked to enjoy the banquet provided by our Patron, the ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher. Our team were then able to meet with the delegates and the Ambassadors who had attended ...
... our Mongolian contingent met with the Attache from their Embassy, Mr Galaazagraa Hantulga, and Elsa talked briefly with the Argentinian Ambassador before she was whisked away to catch her flight back to Argentina.
This now well and truly ended our journey around Australia. When people ask me what has been the most memorable experience, I feel like my mind goes blank – how can you pinpoint one moment of this ever-transcending reality?
My thoughts will always go to the arrival of our runners from all around the world. They came to Australia to run on this sacred land and to open their hearts to the beautiful people of Australia. They were met with an open door into the Australian heart, and each felt what an amazing country this is, with wonderful, caring, peace-loving citizens. Our runners take with them an expanded heart and a new and ever-increasing love for all people, be they Australian or from anywhere on this earth-planet-home of ours.
Sri Chinmoy often talked about expanding one's heart so that you could feel the whole world in your heart. It may seem like an impossible task but this great and vast continent of Australia now sits very nicely inside all of our hearts, to be treasured and loved for ever more.