Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Trip to New Norcia

My landlord Tangea, was going on a trip to the opening of a new satellite tracking station further north in Western Australia and offered to drop me off for a day at New Norcia, a Benedictine monastery town in WA.  I jumped at the chance. 

We set off at 6 am, and Tangea set me down at 8am at New Norcia.  I spent an hour walking round a well spread out settlement, on either side of Route 1. There was a monastery, two boarding schools, two mission schools, and various outbuildings, including a shop and roadhouse. 

I spent the morning looking at the memorabilia in the museum of the monks 100 year occupation of the area.  They were Spanish monks who were called to convert the aboriginal peoples, and ended up running mission schools (not orphanages).  One of the monks was a Victorian photographer so there is a good visual history of the settlement.  There was a museum of artwork - lots of religious pictures, and portraits of the monks, but also modern artwork depicting modern interpretations of biblical texts.  And a botanist, C Gardner, had left his botanical drawings to the monastery, which was also an interesting display.  He was an early conservationist who advocated leaving large tracts of land unspoiled in order to preserve rare indigenous plants.

Before lunch, I joined the monks for prayers.  This was the first time I had participated in Catholic prayers and was most interesting.  I think it was plainsong.  Quite brief.  After lunch I went on a 2 hour tour of the settlement.  The Benedictines have a very loose structure and the monasteries are not really closely linked to one another.  There are 10 monks at New Norcia, ranging in age from about 38 to 76.  The settlement is completely run by the monastery.  There are quite a few support workers running a retreat, the museum, and other run the agriculture business which crops olives, oats and whatever else is deemed commercially productive.  They also have hives of bees which produce honey. 

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