Walking a Border Collie twice a day means we follow lots of interesting paths around where we live in Corrimal. Scout being 11 years old now, she likes to find new routes with excuses to stop and smell the roses, get a few pats from kids and growl at other dogs.
Corrimal is a suburb about 9km to the north of Wollongong, laid out between some lovely beaches and the bush at the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment, just like a string of nearby similar communities. These were once little villages that have grown and spread to form a suburban sprawl of sorts.
Our suburb has a population of not quite 7,000 (not counting East Corrimal), which swells to 10 times that size for the annual Spring Into Corrimal event, the largest one day family festival in regional NSW. Three supermarkets along the Princes Highway bring people from nearby suburbs to Corrimal, and then there’s the usual pub, train station, police station, schools, and so on.
One particular day as I walked Scout, I noticed that we had passed six churches in just 40 minutes. That’s seems to me a lot of worship within a few hundred metres of each other in a small community.
In fact, from our back deck, I can see the crosses of three of them, the closest being the Russian Orthodox Church right next door to us. From the outside, it’s a regular suburban house with the notable exception of the classic onion dome and cross perched on top.
These six churches aren’t the only places of worship in Corrimal: there’s a Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Gospel Chapel and a Baha’i Centre of Learning not far away. But these six are practically in shouting distance of each other.
While I’m not at all religious, I’ve had some contact with three of them. We went to a wedding in the Catholic church, became friends with the Anglican minister and his wife and attended quite a few events in the community centre of the Uniting Church.
A couple of times a year, the Russian Orthodox church hosts marvellous ceremonies that involve the congregation of men in suits, women with headscarves and kids in Sunday best walking around the outside of the church while chanting and carrying elaborate religious icons, led by priests in full-on orthodox robes.
It’s an amazing sight I feel privileged to witness from such a close distance. I have no reason to think they support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
I guess it’s indicative of the history of this region that they all represent Northern European Christian faiths. Outside Corrimal, we have all sorts, from the Omar Mosque in Gwynneville to the magnificent Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Berkeley.
But multiculturalism in Corrimal extends mostly to food: several Vietnamese bakeries, and a clutch of restaurants and takeaways serving Indian, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese food. Oh, and a couple of those nail and beauty places, and a few Thai massage parlours (ahem).
None of the six churches I pass have very large congregations, although they do seem to get quite busy on their various holy days. Each of them has a bit of history to them, and none of them seem in danger of closing any time soon.
And, for a Corrimal atheist and his dog, they certainly are interesting to look at.