Hal Colebatch (Premier and author) wrote of New Norcia:
'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.'
Although written well over 60 years ago, Colebatch's description is still apt today.
There are 2 hour guided tours of the town starting at 11am and 1.30pm daily. Tours can be booked from the museum.
The town is named after Nursia, the birth place of St. Benedict. It is unique in W.A. and should not be missed. It is the only monastic town in Australia and has great heritage significance. No fewer than 27
of the buildings are classified by the National Trust.
Apart from the spectacular nature of the buildings there is a museum and art gallery which contain some superb exhibits.
A flour mill has operated here sine 1850 and the old flour mill is the oldest surviving building in the town. The 'new' mill, constructed in 1879, is still in operation and produces flour for making bread. It is the oldest working mill in W.A. and may be the oldest in Australia.
The European Space Agency has located a deep space ground station on land belonging to the monastery. The dish and peripheral support structures cost $28 million to construct. The project started in 2000
and the dish went into operation in 2003. As well as E.S.A. projects the remotely operated dish is involved in work for N.A.S.A. One of the most important projects at the time of writing this is the Rosetta Mission
that launched in 2004 and put a spacecraft 900 million kilometres out into space to study Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On November 12th 2014 a probe landed on the comet in what was a first for space
The first mission the station was involved in, Mars Express, was unfortunately a failure when the Beagle 2 lander failed to send back any signals from the surface of Mars.
Two Spaniards, a Frenchman, an Englishman and and Irishman went to establish a mission in the wilds of Western Australia. It almost sounds like the first line of a joke but it is actually true.
One of the monks wrote: 'I raised my eyes to the Australian sky. How beautiful it is! It has no equal in the whole world. The blue is extremely delicate. I have seen nothing like it elsewhere.
Time passes unnoticed in the contemplation of its beauty. It is simply inspiring.'
New Norcia is a Benedictine monastery established in 1846 by Dom Rosendo Savado
and Dom Joseph Serra. The buildings are Spanish Gothic in design and are some of the most spectacular in W.A.
The site chosen by the monks (Noondagoonda Pool - one source quotes the name Batgi-Batgi.) to erect their first building was in fact on land owned (unknown to the monks) by a Mr. Macpherson.
The mission was intended for the 'Christianisaton' of the Aborigines in the district and was established after missions in the south and north of the state failed (after the deaths of 5 missionaries).
When the monks arrived at the chosen site they were surrounded by a large group of Aborigines each night and feared for their lives. After giving gifts of food the natives accepted the monks and became
friendly. The monks were joined by two English Benedictines and for a time things went well.
Dom Savado wrote: 'As I walked up and down the furrow, holding the plough tail in my hands, my bare feet trampled on the sharp roots and stones and alas, my bleeding feet, besides the sweat of my
brow, watered the soil I was working up.'
When food supplies first ran low, Dom Savado walked the 130km to Perth and basically sang for his supper (actually it was a piano recital). Not able to find help in Perth he put on a
concert with himself as the only entertainer and raised enough money to re-supply the mission. On his return to the mission he found his companions in great distress, the Irish monk died of starvation and
the English monk had suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent back to Perth. (Another version of this tale is told by another source that states that catechist John O'Gorman was accidentally shot and
killed by Dom Fonteinne while a gun was being readied for a hunt. Dom Fonteinne was badly affected by the incident and never recovered.)
Another trip to Perth was necessary the following year (this time Dom Savado was accompanied by Dom Serra) but on their return they found their hut in a shambles and their crops trampled by wild horses.
They had only just finished cleaning up the mess when they learned of Macpherson's ownership of the land. They moved eight kilometres away to Maurin Pool, where the current town now stands. This time
Dom Savado made a formal application for a lease and in order for the lease to be granted he had to become a naturalised British subject. (Finalised in August 1847). 15 local tradesman and builders
pitched in to help the missionaries get properly established. The foundation stone of the monastery was laid in March 1847. By May 1848 the mission had 18,000 acres under lease.
After a disagreement between Dom Serra and Bishop Brady the mission was taken out of the monks hands for some three months and the monks were forced to re-locate to Guildford. Finally the matter was
resolved by the Vatican and the monks returned to the mission once more.
In 1878 Dom Serra was appointed bishop of Port Victoria and just two months later Dom Savado was recalled to Rome. mission had become more of a pastoral enterprise than a religious centre. It controlled
vast tracts of land between Bolgart and Wongan Hills totalling almost a million acres. There were a number of complaints by other land holders about the
mission 'picking the eyes' out of the land by taking up good land around springs.
When the Port Victoria project was abandoned Dom Serra returned to Perth and established a base at a place he called Subiaco after St. Benedict's monetary in Italy.
After 5 years in Rome Dom Savado returned to New Norcia now as the subordinate of Dom Serra who was more interested in his work at Subiaco than the mission at New Norcia. 6 years after his return to
New Norcia, Rome gave consent for the mission to be administered separately from the Perth diocese.
Dom Savado was created a Bishop and Abbot Nullius (the only mitred Abbot in Australasia at the time.) After 55 years of hard work among the Aborigines he returned to Rome in 1899 and died in December
1900 at the age of 89 (another source says 86) but his remains were brought back to W.A.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
In 1986 the biggest art theft in Western Australia's history occurred at the sleepy town of New Norcia.
Two masked men bound and gagged the attendant (61 year old Connie McNaughton) on duty and made off with precious works of art from the monastery's collection.
Quick work by the police meant that the thieves were caught as they were trying to fly out of Sydney airport bound for the Philippines. They were found to be rather stupid vandals as well as thieves.
Obviously not having too much brain power they had rolled up the canvases and damaged them, so even trying to sell them on the 'black market' would have been almost impossible and at best would
have seriously lowered their value.
Police had tracked down the robbers car by taking tyre print moulds and recovering a finger print from the gift shop. The thieves had rented a car but had done little to disguise their true identities.
It took many years and a reported $200,000 to restore the works of art (sadly one was damaged beyond repair). The restored art works returned to display in 2006.
On one occasion while Dom Savado was exploring the area, he had a couple of Aborigines with him as assistants. The small party had run out of water but had a plentiful supply of flour, sugar and tea.
Before pitching camp for the day Dom Savado instructed the two men to go in one direction while he went in another to look for water. Dom Savado searched for some time without success and returned
to camp to find his two assistants had started a campfire and were cooking damper.
When the damper was cooked and the three men had all eaten, Dom Savado asked if there was any tea. The men replied that they had not found water, so Dom Savado asked how they had managed
to make the damper.
One of the men simply scooped some flour into his mouth and began to mix it with his spittle. Ejecting the mass of flour into his had he said, 'That way make 'em damper.'
The whole town.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Most of the buildings in this town are significant.
State : Moore
Federal : Durack
Postcode : 6509
Local Government : Shire of Victoria Plains
Click on a thumbnail to see full sized picture.