Saturday, August 15, 2015

New Norcia 13 August

New Norcia is approximately 150 km inland from Jurien Bay and it is the only monastic town in Australia. It was founded in 1847, which is less than 20 years after Perth was settled. Two Benedictine monks fleeing religious persecution in Spain moved to England and then to Western Australia seeking a religious mission to work among the Aborigines.

With a generous land grant and a phenomenal capacity for work the monastery became self sustaining. Today there is a farm harvesting wheat, canola and lupins, as well as olives; a bakery which sells its produce through the gift shop, a hotel, a roadhouse, a caravan park, as well as an educational program of school camps. The abbey church is open to the public and people can pay to have baptisms or weddings performed there. 

The magnificence of these buildings which suddenly appeared in the countryside was quite a shock that the photos can't really convey

The monks' quarters and statue of St Benedict
The courtyard of the Monks' quarters
Despite all this there are now only 11 monks in residence, and much of the work is done by paid employees. The buildings are substantial, but most are not used for their original purposes. In the past the monastery ran an orphanage for aboriginal children, who were part of the stolen generation. Their parents lived locally but government policy had them removed from their families and handed over to the monastery. There were separate boys and girls aboriginal schools. As well there was a boarding school for non aboriginal boys and one for girls. The girls school was run by nuns and there was a convent on site as well.

St. Gertrude's Girls School
St. Ildephonsis Boys School
Above and below, the Aboriginal boys home and school

The schools have now closed down, but the buildings remain devoted to other uses. Still fulfilling their original purpose are the Abbey Church and the chapels in the boys and girls schools. They have been beautifully decorated by monks of an earlier period.
The Abbey Church
Inside the church an burial monument for the founder
Inside the chapel of the boys' school

Inside the chapel of the girls' school
We resisted the charms of the gift shop and missed out on the last loaf of bread. It is very obvious that the gift shop is another part of their successful business enterprises. It was a very interesting place to visit and the oranised tour was well worth doing. The tour guide was very impressive. We didn't have time to explore the museum, which I'm sure would have been very interesting.

To return to our main focus of seeing the natural environment at its best, today's delight was the abundance of Ringneck parrots which were using the roadside as their personal restaurant, and were hardly bothered by passing traffic. But speaking of traffic, we have been on the Great Northern Highway today and I think we have seen nearly as many trucks today as we have in all the rest of the trip combined. Staying at Bindoon it was trucks all night. It's a bit of a shock.

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