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New Norcia, WA

Unique Benedictine religious community in the wheatbelt.

New Norcia is a little piece of the Mediterranean in the Australian bush. It  is a combination of a monastery, schools, a church, a hotel, a working farm, a beehive, wells, an art gallery and a museum. It has remained fundamentally unchanged since it was created in the late 1840s .
When Sir Hal Colebatch wrote about the settlement in his book A Story of a Hundred Years: Western Australia 1829-1929 he described the settlement's unchanging charm and appeal: "In the Victoria Plains, eighty-two miles from Perth, in a smiling valley, is hidden away a bit of old Spain. Removed from railway communication it preserves a monastic quiet and seclusion. Approached by road, it bursts suddenly upon the view of the astonished traveller. For hours he has passed through bushlands and farm country, with small ultra-modern townships at irregular intervals, and then without warning, from the top of a slight incline, is unfolded to him a vision that seems almost unreal. The quaint beauty of its setting, the old world model of its architecture, the number, the size, the real magnificence of some of its buildings, excite wonder and admiration. Nowhere else in Australia is there a place like New Norcia, and he who is fortunate enough to spend even a few hours within its hospitable walls will find interest quickened to the liveliest appreciation." It is easy to spend a day here and now, with both the hotel and a camping area offering accommodation, it is possible to spend a couple of days and to enjoy the atmosphere of peacefulness and tranquility.

Location

New Norcia is located 130 km north-east of Perth via the Great Northern Highway.

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Origin of Name

When the Benedictine Monks established their mission on the banks of the Moore River they named it New Norcia after Norcia in Italy which was the birthplace of the order's founder, St Benedict. 

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Things to See and Do

New Norcia Heritage Trail
The most sensible way to explore New Norcia is to follow the two short heritage trails (combined they take about 3 hours) which are detailed in the New Norcia Heritage Trail: The Development of the Benedictine Settlement at New Norcia, Western Australia. The brochure, created as a Bicentennial Project, can be downloaded at http://boshack.com/wp-content/uploads/New-Norcia-Map-Heritage-Trail-History.pdf.

1. Museum and Art Gallery
The museum houses the daily requirements of the monks and shows what their daily life involved - a medical display, an agricultural display, a display of Aboriginal artefacts. The art gallery is a mixture of European religious art (including the fascinating story of the theft of art works from the gallery and the destruction of those works by rolling up the canvases - it is now estimated to cost over $100,000 to repair the recovered canvases - the damage the thieves did to the canvases can be seen) and modern Australian religious art as well as a display of botanist drawings by Charles Gardner. There is a shop attached which sells New Norcia produce including olive oil, wines, bread, biscotti and Dom Salvado Pan Chocolatti. The Museum and Art Gallery are open from 10.00 am - 4.30 pm daily.

2. St Gertrudes 
St Gertrudes was completed in 1908 and is a fine example of Gothic revival architecture. Historically it was a convent college for girls administered by the Josephite Sisters. In 1974 it amalgamated with St Ildephonsus and became a co-educational college but it was closed down in 1991. As a co-educational college it appealed to students from the surrounding wheatbelt towns and attracted students from overseas. Today it can house 200 people and is often used from workshops, retreats, conferences and school camps. 

3. Salvado Statue
This statue of Dom Rosendo Salvado was presented to New Norcia by the Spanish Government in the 1960s. He was the great founding father of New Norcia arriving in 1846, being forced back to Rome in 1849 and then returning in 1853 (with three priests and 37 artisans) to remain at the monastery until 1900.

4. Cemetery
The Heritage Trail explains: "Some 130 monks and sisters are buried here, including Abbot Torres, whose large marble grave dominates the cemetery. The tomb of Salvado is located in the Abbey Church. The numerous white wooden crosses mark the graves of Aborigines who lived and worked at the mission. The black gravestone at the rear right of the cemetery belongs to Mary Helen Cuper, an Aboriginal who was New Norcia's first postmistress and telegraph operator. Another identifiable grave is that of Senor John Casellas, the master wood craftsman who built the original beehouse behind the monastery."

5. St Ildephonsus
St Ildephonsus'  is less imposing that St Gertrude's. Designed by Abbot Torres its style is Byzantine influenced. It was opened in 1913 by Governor Strickland and originally staffed by the Marist Brothers. The statue in front of the building is of Blessed Marcellin Champagnat who founded the Marist Brothers in France. The Benedictines took over the teaching in the college in 1965.

6. Flour Mill
The New Flour Mill, reputedly the oldest working flour mill in Western Australia, was built in 1879. It was designed to produce flour for bread as well as spaghetti and macaroni. It was reopened in 1988 with a Bicentennial Grant and is still operational. Flour from the mill is used to produce the bread which is baked in the monastery's ovens. 

7. Old Flour Mill
The Old Flour Mill over the road dates from the 1850s and is the oldest surviving building in New Norcia. The original shingles can be seen under the eaves. It was one of a number of buildings which included shearing sheds, stables, storehouses and warehouses. It is the only building left from that period.

8. New Norcia Monastery
The Monastery which, although built in the early years of twentieth century, is located on the site where the first mission building was constructed in 1847. The monastery was built to house a monastic population of around 55. Today there are about half that number leading a life of communal prayer and hard work.

9. Abbey Church
The Abbey Church is a wonderful example of bush architecture combining stones, mud plaster, rough hewn trees and wooden shingles. It was originally built, in 1861,  as a typically Georgian church but Abbot Torres' additions in 1908 gave the building a decidedly Mediterranean feeling. On the wall of the church is the painting of The Mother of Good Counsel (otherwise known as Our Lady of Good Counsel) which was the subject of the first miracle to occur at the settlement. During 1847 a bushfire threatened New Norcia and Dom Salvado produced the painting, pointed it in the direction of the flames, prayed, and the wind promptly changed direction and the bushfire dissipated. The church has two large Moser organs which were imported from Germany in the 1920s.

10. Former Guest House and Gaol
Now the public toilets, this was once the guesthouse for visitors to came to stay at the monastery. It later became the town's gaol. It is an interesting example of a kind of cottage, made from stone, mud plaster and wooden-shingled roofs, which were made for the local Aborigines before the 1880s. There were 22 of these cottages built but they were demolished when New Norcia's function changed.

Other Buildings
Police Station
The Police Station was originally the old Novitiate. It was built in 1876 and has, at various times, been used as a guest house and as worker's quarters. It was converted to a police station in the 1950s. It has a particularly impressive 19th century sundial on the northern wall which was designed by Brian O'Brien.

New Norcia Hotel
The impressive New Norcia Hotel was built in 1927 as a guest house for parents visiting their children in the schools. It is now a hotel for people who want to stay in the area or who want to enjoy a meal, an Abbey ale, wine or port, or a coffee.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Meet a Monk
On Saturdays at 4.30 pm it is possible to visit the Monastery Parlour, enjoy some New Norcia hospitality and meet a Benedictine Monk. Check out the map at the bottom of the home page at https://www.newnorcia.wa.edu.au.

Daily Tours
There are daily tours, lasting 2 hours, which depart from the Museum at 11.00 am and 1.30 pm, tel: (08) 9654 8056.

The River Walk
The river walk is 1.7 km long and crosses the Moore River, passes the Bishop Torres Beehouse and visits the Marian Shrine where Dom Salvado reputedly turned back a bushfire. 

11. Old Well
This Old Well is one of over 200 that were sunk in the district by the Benedictine monks. The well was part of Dom Salvado's plan to make the Aborigines who lived around the monastery self-sufficient.

13. Bishop's Well 
Across Moore River are the Bishop's Well and Bishop Torres Beehouse. The well is the largest surviving example of wells which the monks under Dom Salvado sunk in the surrounding region. It is a wide well designed to collect and hold large quantities of water so the sheep could survive the harsh dry summers. The water was raised from the well on a long pole with a bucket on one end and a stone on the other. There was a trough made from a hollowed out tree trunk where the water was collected for the animals.

14. Bishop Torres Beehouse
The beehouse is an unusual octagonal shape. It was built by the monks and the second storey was added in the 1930s. By the end of the 19th century the monastery was producing wine, olive oil, soap, silk, tobacco and the byproducts of bee keeping. 

The History of the Benedictine Monks in New Norcia
In 1835 the government of Spain dissolved all religious communities. Among those who were exiled were two Benedictine monks from Compostela, Dom Rosendo Salvado and Dom Joseph Serra. They both applied for foreign missions and in 1845  were attached to the newly appointed Bishop of Perth, Dr John Brady. 
In January 1846 Brady and 27 missionaries arrived in Fremantle. In February of that same year Salvado and Serra, accompanied by a French monk Dom Leander Fontaine, an English monk Dom Denis Tootel and an Irish catechist set out towards a farmhouse which was located 130 km north of Perth. Shortly after their arrival in the area they established their mission to the local Aborigines beside a spring about 8 km north of the present site of New Norcia.
The early settlement was beset with problems. The order ran out of money, Dom Tootel returned to England, the Aborigines ransacked the settlement, life was unbelievably hard, and there seemed to be very little success in converting the local inhabitants to Christianity.
In 1847 the settlement was moved to the banks of the Moore River and named New Norcia after Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of the order's founder, St Benedict. Slowly relations between the missionaries and the local Aborigines improved and the Aborigines set up camp in the area of the mission.
By 1848 the mission had more than 1000 acres of land and both sheep and cattle were being grazed. A decade later the mission was separated from the control of Perth. The mission grew in importance in the 1860s and 1870s as the monks established a series of wells in the area and horses were bred and silk produced. 
In 1867 it became an Abbey and Dom Rosendo Salvado, who had learnt the language of the local Aborigines and was writing important anthropological pieces about their language and culture, was appointed Abbot.
The great change in the mission occurred around 1900 when Dom Rosendo Salvado retired to be replaced by the energetic Dom Fulgentius Torres who, with a degree in Science from the University of Barcelona, was responsible for much of the design and supervision of the new buildings.
It was Torres who decided that a proper monastic enclosure was needed, that St Gertrude's College should be built - it was completed in 1908, that St Ildephonsus' College should be established - it was opened in 1913. Torres was also instrumental in establishing the mission as a centre of ecclesiastical art and culture in Western Australia. The library holds a great number of rare books with one volume dating back to 1508.
Part of the appeal of New Norcia is that it is, in many ways, a living museum. It has remained fundamentally unchanged for most of this century.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Yuat Aboriginal people.

* In 1835 the government of Spain dissolved all religious communities in the country. 

* In January 1846 Dr John Brady and 27 missionaries arrived in Fremantle. 

* In February, 1846 Dom Rosendo Salvado and Dom Joseph Serra, accompanied by a French monk Dom Leander Fontaine, an English monk Dom Denis Tootel and an Irish catechist set out towards a farmhouse which was located 130 km north of Perth. Shortly after their arrival in the area they established their mission to the local Aborigines beside a spring about 8 km north of the present site of New Norcia.

* In 1847 the settlement was moved to the banks of the Moore River and named New Norcia after Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of the order's founder, St Benedict. 

* The walls of the first chapel were completed on 1 March, 1847.

* By 1848 the mission had more than 1000 acres of land and both sheep and cattle were being grazed. 

* In 1858 the mission was separated from the control of Perth. 

* The mission grew in importance in the 1860s and 1870s as the monks established a series of wells in the area and horses were bred and silk produced. 

* In 1867 it became an Abbey and Dom Rosendo Salvado was appointed Abbot.

* By 1900 Dom Rosendo Salvado retired to be replaced by the energetic Dom Fulgentius Torres who, with a degree in Science from the University of Barcelona, was responsible for much of the design and supervision of the new buildings.

* Torres decided that a proper monastic enclosure was needed.

* St Gertrude's College was completed in 1908.

* St Ildephonsus' College was opened in 1913. 

* Dom Fulgentius Torres established the mission as a centre of ecclesiastical art and culture. 

* In 1927 the New Norcia Hotel was opened.

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Visitor Information

New Norcia Visitor Centre - Museum, Art Gallery and Gift Shop, tel: (08) 9654 8056.

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Accommodation

New Norcia Hotel, tel: (08) 9654 8034
Monastery Guesthouse, tel: (08) 9654 8034

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Eating

New Norcia Hotel, tel: (08) 9654 8034
New Norcia Roadhouse, Salvado Roadhouse Cafe, 11289 Great Northern Highway, tel: (08) 9654 8020

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent website. Check out https://www.newnorcia.wa.edu.au

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

2 suggestions
  • Is it still a monastery with monks?

    Yes. How strange. I was there today. They also have accommodation for the general public.

    Teresa leach
  • New Norcia was found be one of the worst places for child sexual abuse in the state in the Royal Commission into Institutional Child abuse. That needs to be included in your history.

    Judith Rosonakis