A Day in the Country - New Norcia
New Norcia is Australia's only monastic town and is still home to around 9 Benedictine Monks. Founded in 1847 by Spanish Benedictine Monks, the town has had many purposes; a mission, a monastery, a provider of education and now as a place of spiritual retreat.
You can wander around town on a self guided tour and can download the New Norcia Town Map here or you can pick one up at the the Visitor Centre, open 9.30am -4.30pm every day except Christmas and Boxing Days. There are information plaques at all the buildings so you will get a brief history. For more historical information click here.
If you arrive early enough you can buy the famous freshly baked and totally delicious New Norcia bread, baked daily in the 140 year old oven, from the Visitors Centre and have an impromptu picnic of bread and water! New Norcia also presses the olives annually from the trees Dom Salvado brought to the town in 1847 and sells the olive oil - you can't beat that for provenance!
New Norcia is self funded, receiving no external funding so spend as much as you can in this unique town to help preserve it for the future.
New Norcia Guided Town Walk
Guided 2 hour walking tours of the town run every day at 11am and 1.30pm from the Visitors Centre and currently cost $15 per person. The guided tour offers insights into the history of the Monastery and town and gives you access into a number of the buildings.
The first Abbot of New Norcia (Rosendo Salvado) established the Aboriginal girls and boys schools and the second Abbot of New Norcia, Fulgentius Torres built and opened the European girls and boys schools, which closed in 1991.
The guided town walk starts by walking past St Gertrude's College then down the road to the new Mission Cottages Interpretation Centre. This centre features interpretive panels which tell the story of the Mission Cottages and the indigenous families who, for more than 100 years, made their homes in the former New Norcia Mission Village. The information I discovered here altered my perspective on the monastery and it's past.
We then heard about the Benedictine Monastery itself and it's attached Guesthouse and Bakery.
From here we crossed the road to Abbey Church, the first building we gained entry into. The marble tomb of New Norcia’s founder, Rosendo Salvado, is found inside, along with one of only two large Moser organs crafted in Germany and imported to Australia in the 1920s. Inside you can admire the highly decorated interior and rare sgraffito works on the walls, reflecting past and present history. Look at the etchings closely for some unexpected and quite surprising features! You can also access Abbey Church for morning and afternoon mass on Sundays.
From Abbey Church we went to the Education Centre which is home to the ESA Interpretive Room for the European Space Agency (ESA) Deep Space Tracking Station located nearby. There are also outdoor artwork panels depicting the Noongar seasons and a very informative indoor centre offering a vast amount of information about New Norcia's Monastic, European and Aboriginal heritage.
On to the New Norcia Flour Mill and Granary where we were able to look around inside.
Then to the beautiful St Ildephonsus' College, the Boys School, where we ventured inside to the ornate chapel.
After this we wandered back to elegant St Gertrude's, the Girls College, and this time we went inside to have a look at their very ornate chapel. It became clear why this was the last stop on the guided walk!
New Norcia Self Guided Walk
After completing the guided walk we ventured off to explore the remaining buildings and the cemetery. There is a town map on the outside of the Visitor's Centre so you can get your bearings.
From the Visitors Centre we wandered around Old St Joseph's Hall and the work buildings before heading up to the New Norcia Hostel, built in 1927 as a hostel for parents of the boarders at the colleges.
We then backtracked to the Cemetery walking behind St Gertrude's College and past St Gertrude's Cottage and Cistern.
From the Cemetery we passed the Rosendo Salvado Statue and backtracked along the main road (thanks to a bypass the road is now reasonably quiet and safe to cross) to walk the River Walk.
The River Walk finished on the other side of the Monastery buildings so we could explore the Olive Workshop and the Blacksmith's Workshop.
Next stop was the Old Flour Mill and the Police Quarters on the edge of town.
Backtracking along the main road we had a closer look at Mission Cottage and the front facade of the Old Convent, which later served as an orphanage and now houses the Visitors Centre.
Museum and Art Gallery
An additional entrance fee applies for access to the Museum and the Art Gallery however it is well worth the extra. The lower level houses the Museum with information about the early days of the New Norcia settlement. This would be of particular interest as background if you choose to do a self guided tour.
Upstairs the surprisingly extensive Art Gallery contains many fine examples of religious art and artefacts. There is a mock up monk's cell and a mock up classroom.
New Norcia River Walk
The 2 km River Walk passes through paddocks and past wells before crossing Moore River at the old weir wall and continuing to the old Apiary. The loop trail has numbered markers with historical information along the way and is very easy to follow. The river crossing may not be safe when water levels are high but there is an alternate route which will keep you dry. This loop took us about an hour even though it is only 2 km. The trail is flat and easy to follow however there are a number of gates to open and close.
Stay at New Norcia
Accommodation is available in the Monastery Guesthouse. If you stay over a weekend you can Meet a Monk every Saturday at 4.30pm in the Monastery Parlour. You can attend Mass either in the Abbey Church or in the Monastery Chapel every day at various times. For a small fee you can camp overnight in the camping bays which have access to basic amenities and are located behind the New Norcia Roadhouse.
The drive up from Perth (135km) is now easy with the dual lane Tonkin Highway extending beyond Muchea. There is always a risk of being slightly delayed by a wide load transporting massive equipment north to the mines so allow a little extra time for your journey. The escort vehicles do an amazing job allowing traffic to get past the wide loads when it is safe to do so. The kids will enjoy watching the large loads travelling north.
When we drove up mid August the surrounding rolling countryside was lush and green. The wheat was growing and the canola fields were out in flower. There is nothing quite like the almost neon like yellow of the massive canola fields. Driving up the Great Northern Highway with it's heavy traffic isn't conducive to pulling over for a photo but you can choose to drive a more scenic route in one direction to enjoy the rural countryside at an easier pace. Roadside stalls were selling mandarins, avocados and fresh eggs.
We stopped en route for a coffee and some delicious food at the famous Bindoon Bakehaus. Bindoon is another great place for a day trip as it offers heritage trails, walks and fresh farm produce.
New Norcia has public toilets and picnic benches and food is available at Salvado Roadhouse.