Friday 17th April 2015
Gwelup to New Norcia
In half an hour we’ve left Perth’s neat, bright, clean and orderly suburbs behind us. The road is quite narrow and busy. Large trucks whoosh past and before we know it we’ve lost another mirror. So much for the new clips especially made for Jeep mirrors. That $13 insurance policy has just cost us another $149.
New Norcia, Amazing Place (rhyme it with Amazing Grace) is a Benedictine monastery ‘town’, for want of a better description. Established in 1847 by the Spanish monk Rosendo Salvado. According to its orders the community must be self supporting. In the early days the monks kept sheep and provided a mission for the Aboriginal families. Salvado was concerned that the Aboriginals were being abused by the white settlers so he was determined to give them skills that they could use in the new society.
Schools were built for Aboriginal and later all children when Marist brothers were brought in to provide teaching facilities. Over time the climate has become drier and the farming has changed to encompass the growing of wheat, barley and olives. They are famous for their bread and wine but both of these products are now made under licence by someone else. The school function is long gone.
In the 1920’s a rather grand hotel was built for the use of the parents of pupils. This now operates for the tourists and tourism must provide quite a solid income. There are only ten monks in residence but guests can stay in the monastery and get a taste of the monastic lifestyle.
To describe this place is really quite difficult as it is like nothing else we’ve ever seen. In a valley of rolling farmlands and stands of gums, dozens of historic rather European buildings dot the hillsides. Some are magnificent, some quite old and historic and others just plain functional. After the vision of Salvado, the second Abbott was an architect and his passion can be seen in the quality of the buildings. In fact the hotel is more like a grand Spanish palace than an Aussie pub. Shirley Temple says it reminds her of her old home in Sri Lanka.
Sue our tour guide and retired monastery librarian and her family have farmed this area for forty years. She is a wealth of information about the life and work of the monks. The community is quite an anomaly as the monks seek a life of solitude yet they run a large viable business in modern times. To do this they must use the internet and need to employ a large staff.
We tour the church, the school chapels, the ‘new’ flour mill built in 1879 and the museums which feature a lot of Aboriginal artefacts and history. There is an extensive art gallery of religious art. We walk many kilometres across the town, its fields and parks and soak up the ever present feeling of serenity.
Camped on the oval we fall asleep to the sound of church bells. There is one bell at a quarter past, two at half past and so on. Dong, dong, dong, dong on the hour.
Accom: $10 (toilet block a decent walk away)
Travelling Kms: 132Kms
Note: New Norcia is such surprise, even though we had been meaning to see it for many years and read a lot about it, it’s not until you arrive that you are hit with the incongruity. It’s a small European village planted smack bang in the middle of dry Aussie farmlands.