New Norcia: Bread, beer, bitter sweet history
Unlike travelling in Europe, cruising around Australia is great for those put off by visiting historic places. Let’s say churches.
See, Thorsten loves the outdoors and is perfectly content talking about the formation of sandstone, limestone, sandbars and clouds. Part of his repertoire is a thirty minute talk on why there are two seasons – the wet and the dry – in the tropical part of Australia. I should write it down sometime. It’s fun. No really, it is.
Anyway. Do you hear me complaining? No, not at the least. But do imagine his facial expressions changing during the following conversation:
Me: “Honey, let’s go to New Norcia for the weekend.”
He: “The bakery in Mount Hawthorne? I like it.”
Me: “No, no. I mean the monastic town outside of Perth.”
He: “A what town?”
Me: “There’s a monastery, church and a few other historic buildings. They used to be boarding schools for boys and girls. The cloister is still home to a few monks.”
Me: “What do you think?”
He: [makes noise of dying creature]
Me: “Come on it’ll be fun. They even make their own beer”
He: [more dying creature noises] “Ahw, ok. If we have to.”
A two hours drive out of Perth towards the north passing the wine region of the Swan Valley and you arrive in New Norcia, a little town flocked around the busy highway.
Part of the estate is a Hotel, a basic accommodation for visitors with a simple, mostly deep-fried cuisine. Sipping on the Abbey Ale, the beer brewed under the watchful monks’ eyes (although it is actually brewed in Sydney) chips with chicken parmigiana are essential to nibble on.
Of course, we only realised this after having washed down two glasses each of this easy, sweet beverage on our empty stomachs. With a whooping 7% alcohol the sunset over the bell tower looked even more romantic; the flock of shreeking cockatoos even more magnificent.
New Norcia’s monks prefer solitude and can only be joined for mass. A visit to the local museum housing a century of artefacts and art of this place is definitely worthwhile and so is a guided tour through the town.
In 1846, when the highway was just a pipe dream in a far far away future, the first Benedictine monks made their way here with supplies stuffed in a hand-cart pulled all the way up north until they found the first group of Aboriginal people.
Being of Spanish background Dom Rosendo Salvado, one of the monks, learned the Aboriginal group’s language he lived and worked with. This and his empathy for locals apparently contributed to his success in converting locals to Catholicism.
The monks were, as in their nature, absolute busy bees and in what seemed like the blink of an eye an orchard, several wells, an entire library that still isn’t catalogued in its entirety, appeared.
More than 150 years later, with different Abbots as Salvado’s successors the other major buildings were added, the town established. Today, New Norcia is famous for its high quality bread and olive oil.
Many children received their education here – strictly separated by gender and ethnical background, of course. It is a bitter-sweet backdrop to prevailing cultural and political thoughts throughout Australia’s history and definitely worth a visit – that is if history and culture actually interest you. More information is available from New Norcia directly.