New Norcia in the Wheatbelt is a small town about 1.5 hour drive from home. It is Australia’s only monastic town established in 1847. I drive past it on the way to Moora where I work once every couple of months. A new highway bypasses the town. The bypass is a series of sweeping chicanes and although a freight route for road trains, this part of the highway is a pretty fun drive.The monastery has several buildings including a small church, all built in Spanish influenced architecture. I stayed here once overnight. It was quite an experience! I drove up the drive way, the building before me resonated of Tara, so naturally the phrase, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” looped in my head.
My room was tiny and sparse. (I’m not sure why I had higher expectations, this is a Benedictine monastery after all!) The toilet was down the corridor. I was terrified at night! I was convinced shadows were shapes, ghostly shapes. The stuff of nightmares! It brought out every child’s fear in me. I had to walk down and back with just a small torch to light my path.I’ve returned several times here to visit. I love the little church where I spend a quiet moment or two.There were two large boarding schools here, now hired out for events.The monks live behind the ornate gate. They often run retreats. I’d like to attend one some day. As a child I enjoyed a weekend silent retreat once a year that we had at school. On reflection, I have enjoyed moments of silence all my life. I’ve just realised this.
About 30 years ago the little church was robbed during daylight. Twenty five post Renaissance paintings were stolen and recovered later, damaged, before they were shipped off to Asia. This small town and monastery rallied. They started up a cottage industry selling olive oil and wood fired bread. The bread is no longer their business, having been sold to a bigger bakery in Perth. The olive oil is expensive but it is fruity and the real deal.
New Norcia is smack in Wheatbelt country, open beige fields, dust and heat. The incongruity of this oasis here never fails, yet there is a familiarity that draws me to it. The architecture is similar to the school I went to in my early childhood, so I try and visit whenever time permits.
It’s time to end my day, so until next time
a dawn bird
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