Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The Museum Building

Inside the Monks Chapel

The Guest House and court yard

The Abbey Church

The Monks quarters and court yard

Inside the Abbey Church

The Chapel in Ildephosus, the boys school

View of the buildings from the river

The river walk

St Benedict

The Old Hotel


Sylvia's Comments.

Today we were travelling through Perth again, but this would be our last visit. Using the directions we had got from Norm to get us down to Mandurah we reversed them and went back the way we had come a few days ago. We made it to the Great Northern Highway with no problems showing the navigator is getting better. Once on the highway we were heading for New Norcia, Australia's only Monastic Town. This was a town we had been recommended to visit by some Australian people we had met on a campsite. They had told us it was a unique place to see and had a fine museum with some good European art works.

We noticed a difference in the temperature as we moved inland and north, it was certainly beginning to get hotter. The only place available for camping in the town is behind the roadhouse so we called in to book our site, which was just a patch of bare ground with a couple of trees for shelter. At least there was power so we would be able to get the air conditioning on and get the van cooled. Once we were installed we wandered over to the visitors information area to book a town tour, as it wasn't busy we were told we just needed to turn up, our ticket for the tour would also cover us for the museum and it lasted two days. We went into the shop and bought some of the fruit bread that is made in the monastery, we need to get in early to buy the sun dried tomato and olive bread that is also made in the bakery as it goes quickly.

On returning to the van to make a coffee and try some of the bread we were surprised when another Jayco Motor Home pulled up beside us. The driver introduced himself as Graeme Bunny, aged 71 who told us that this was the first time he had seen a Jayco van in Western Australia in the 5 years he had owned his. He had bought one of the first to be manufactured and was very happy with his; he uses it for his work as well as holidays. Graeme is an auctioneer and travels around the northern parts of the state looking for farms or stations to auction, this takes him away from home for several nights at a time so he stays in the van. He came in to have a look at ours and compared notes as to what was different to his, and showed us how to get the overhead fly screens down for cleaning as well as a few other things we had wondered how to do. He stayed for a coffee and some fruit bread and showed us pictures of some of his camping trips up in the areas we had yet to visit, some were of the Gibb River Road which is only passable with a 4 wheeled drive vehicle (he had not used his van for that trip). Looking at the photos we knew we were in for some stunning scenery. Before he left we had a look at his van and it was certainly tidier than ours.

We walked up to the Hotel to do a bit of sampling of some of the wines that the monks make. Tonight I tried the Chennin Blanc and the Shiraz, both really nice wines. After this we returned home, made our tea and watched some TV then went to bed. Tonight we went to sleep with the noise of the road trains pounding up and down the road.

Thursday morning saw us up and over at the visitors centre to enquire about the meet the monk session. Each day a monk would offer a taste of monastic hospitality and the chance to ask any questions of a Benedictine Monk, however today he had been called away to attend other business, so we will try again tomorrow.

New Norcia was founded in 1846 by Dom Rosendo Salvado and a small band of Benedictine monk as a mission to work with Aboriginal people of the Victoria Plains District. The monks had landed at Perth and made their way north till they reached this spot feeling it was a good place to settle. They lived under canvas for a year before they were able to move into the monastery. The second Abbott of the monastery was an architect and it was under his influence the remaining buildings, with their strong Spanish flavour were erected, creating a small village. Four schools were built to educate both white boys and girls and boys and girls from Aboriginal families. In the 1950's Australia operated a policy of removing children from Aboriginal families and placing them with white foster families. Many Aboriginal families placed their children at New Norcia rather than have them forcibly removed. There were cottages built around the Abby Church to house some of the Aboriginal families who worked on the estate. The Aboriginal schools closed in the 1970's with the change of legislation but it wasn't until the 1990's that the 'white' girls and boys school closed.

Today twenty seven of the town's buildings are classified by the National Trust and the town as a whole is registered on the National Estate. It is still home to seven Benedictine monks who own and operate the settlement.

As the town tour did not commence until 11 am we went into the museum to have a look around. It contains historical items from over the years the monastery has existed as well as paintings from European masters, some gifts from the Queen of Spain. In the 1986 thieves tied up the receptionist and stole 26 paintings, damaging many others, 25 were recovered but one was so badly damaged it was irreparable. An Italian painter reproduced this painting, and the cost of repairing the others was $1000, 000 . A special exhibition details what was damaged and how the paintings were restored.

It was now time for the tour. This allowed us to see behind some of the closed doors of the buildings such as the schools. The tour also took you into the monks own chapel, where anyone can join the monks for daily prayer, and the Abby Church, where anyone can attend mass each day.

The tour ended at the shop where we were all given a taste of Pan Chocolatti, one of the delicious cakes made by the monks and distributed widely around Australia and overseas. We were also in luck as there was some fresh sun dried tomato and olive bread in. The bread is baked every day in the monastery's 100 year old wood fired oven and is really tasty. We took it back to the van for lunch.

In the afternoon we went for a walk along the river bank which gave us a different perspective of the town and its buildings. Then it was time for tea so we treated ourselves to a meal in the hotel and another couple of glasses of wine, the Savignon which I found a little tasteless and the Cabinet Sauvignon, which was not as nice as the Shiraz.

Friday morning we went back across to see if 'meet the monk' was operating today, as it wasn't we completed our trip around the museum.

I found New Norcia a peaceful tranquil place to visit. For anyone visiting without their own accommodation the rule of St Benedict's Hospitality means there is a hotel for guests to stay in which is a magnificent old building with all the facilities you would expect in a hotel. Or you can stay in the monastery guest house which offers the experience to receive true Benedictine hospitality.

Anyone interested in learning more about New Norcia can visit their web site at www.newnorcia.com



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