You’ve tried the nut cake, delighted in the famous wood-fired bread loaves and salivated over the pane cioccolata, now it’s time to head east to New Norcia and discover the origins of these mouth-watering treats.
New Norcia oozes culture and heritage. It’s home to a community of 14 Benedictine monks, making it Australia’s only monastic town. The architecture is predominantly Spanish-inspired, and of the 65 buildings, 27 are classified by the National Trust. In fact, the town as a whole is registered on the National Estate.
The town was born more than 150 years ago when five monks headed into the bush in search of local Aborigines and a place to set up a mission. Enduring extreme hardships, the group finally established a small stone hut and began planting crops and making plans for the buildings that still stand today. A behind-the-scenes town tour gives an amazing insight into the lives of the monks, as well as the history behind the town of New Norcia.
Located in the heart of town, on the site of the original mission buildings, is the monastery where the monks still live, work and pray. Just inside the Monastery’s wrought iron gates, which were imported from England in the early 1900s, is a statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Recognised among the Benedictine community as the father of monastic life, Saint Benedict of Nursia emphasised simplicity and discipline.
For those wanting a taste of this uncomplicated lifestyle, the Monastery Guesthouse is available to visitors for a suggested donation of $50 per day. The rooms here are comfortable and the meals wonderfully simple. Expect delights such as roast lamb with a carafe of locally made wine.
There are two impressive college buildings in New Norcia, which were constructed in the early 1900s – Saint Gertrude’s for the girls and Saint Ildephonsus' for boys. They’re home to beautiful frescoes and richly decorated chapels, pressed metal ceilings, decorative paint finishes and the fine work of master woodcarvers. These days the colleges are used for group conferences, retreats, school camps and even weddings, catering for up to 140 people.
After you’ve soaked in the beauty of the colleges, the tour heads to the Abbey Church. Built in the 1860s, this church is an interesting mix of Georgian-style architecture and Australian bush materials. The monks used stones, mud plaster, rough-hewn tree trunks and wooden shingles to complete the church, which was then added to over the years to include a Latin-flavoured façade and bell tower.
Next, it’s on to one of the oldest working mills in the state, the Old Flour Mill, which is responsible for producing the flour used to make New Norcia’s famous wood-fired bread. The town tour also takes in sites such as the cemetery, the old jail, the Trade Post and Post Office and the New Norcia Hotel, all of which date back to the 1900s or earlier.
There are two guided walking tours each day that can be booked through the Museum and Art Gallery. Each tour lasts about two hours and depart at 11am and 1.30pm.
For more information:
New Norcia Visitor Centre, (08) 9654 8056.
Monastery Guesthouse, (08) 9654 8002.
New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery, (08) 9654 8056.