Thursday, 2 February 2012

New Norcia Bush town in the past.

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In September the better half and and I ran away from the city to avoid the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in Perth.  New Norcia has sort of been on my radar for a couple of years, but my recent wildflower trip and a talk to a friendly lady in the tourism centre in Geraldton convinced me that a trip to New Norcia would be a worthy adventure.


New Norcia is about 2 hours north of Perth by car.  Just a couple of seconds if you go by teleporter.  It is a monastic town and is the lasting working monastic town in Australia.  That is quite something!  Now me being a history lover couldn’t really resist this and so in expectation of (at the very least) some exciting buildings to look off we packed our stuff and headed away.  The website for New Norcia is just here

The town is famous for it’s bread amongst other things.  Why?  Well, I guess it’s because it should be the same type of bread they have been baking since the place was established which was 1847 by some Benedictine Monks. Now it certainly wouldn’t have been very easy to set up and it wasn’t.

Some of the architecture is quite interesting because the Australian outback isn’t exactly abundant with church building natural resources.  These guys managed to do a pretty good job though and it is quite interesting.  They also took a different stance on treating the local Aboriginal community of the time and that is probably a large part of the success of the town.

Erm, so where to start?  Well we signed up for the historical town tour, which is a walking tour around the town, guided of course.  You can walk around the town without the tour, but some of the buildings can’t be entered unless you are with the tour.  This is a Monastery you see and there are monks who live here.  The tour was good, as there is lots of information that one wouldn’t otherwise garner.
There is also an art gallery upstairs from the main building, which is focussed on religious art.  No surprise there.  There are some really old pieces in there and since the tour and art gallery tickets aren’t that expensive, if you enjoy art, I recommend it.

OK, now for some pictures.  Like most outback towns, it is located next to the main road.  There are quite a few buildings about and the most noticeable one is the hotel.  And its big as well.  Huuuuge, especially considering the surrounds.  You can stay in the hotel if you so desire and since it is the only accommodation for visitors I suggest you may want to.  We didn’t as it was just a day trip.  I thought it interesting that the hotel was full when we were there.

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First thing on our itinerary was the tour.  This took us around and into various buildings on foot.  It took about 2 hours all together and there we a fair few people on it as well.

Off we gooooo

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The first stop was the main used chapel.  I think it was connected to the monks dormitory.  The building itself wasn’t all that interesting on the outside, but on the inside…

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This is the main altar.  Quite impressive woodwork really.

On the other side of the room was an organ, with lost of pipes.  Unfortunately no-one on the tour was musically inclined, I would have liked to have heard the pipes.

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There were some nice stained glass windows about the place as well.

The next room we went to which was up and around a bit, was much more impressive.  Both in age as well as looks.

Another chapel.

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Complete with uncomfortable chairs. Or pews to use the correct terminology.

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Some impressive doors and roof painting.  Lot of gold leaf studs around the place as well.

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Then we waked off to the next place.

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This is the main monks dorm with a statue of St Benedictine I think in the courtyard.

The next building was the main church.

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Ooooooh! I loves me a clocktower I does.

Inside is even better.  Check it ooooouuuuutttt!

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That is a very nice little set up in there.

Next building and away we goooo.

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Hmm, I can’t remember exactly which building this is now.

I do know that the inside was pretty.  I think it may have been the girls dormitory back when the monastery had set up a school for the area.

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Pretty much every building of significance had a chapel of some form or another in it.

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I believe that was the last building of the inside that we saw.  Then we were free to roam as we saw fit.  There are a couple of tours per day I think, and on ours, as I said previously, there were lots of people.  If my memory serves me correctly the tour ended at a good time of 1pm, meaning that it’s close enough for our lunch.  Incidentally on the tour the guide mentioned how he thought the bar would be annoyed if we all went to lunch at the same time.

Well guess what happened…

Of course the hotel was the only place available for lunch and it was a tad chaotic.  In the long run, I guess they managed to handle it fairly well, but the selection of food was quite sad.  We settled for some garlic bread and some dipping bread, both made from New Norcian bread.  It was very nice and all we opted for as we thought we could grab a coffee and cake or something later in the day.  I also ordered an Abbey Ale which was nice and tasty.

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I see old Ratchet there eyeing off my ale. GEDOUTOFIT!  Cheeky bugger.  It was very smooth, just a hint of sweetness and also came in a funky glass, of which I bought two at the gift shop! It’s a souvenir!  Of YUM!

The bread, dips and garlic bread were delightful! I love bread, and this was bread that was very very nice!

After that we just wandered about having a good look at the buildings and area at our own pace.  It was a gorgeous day and wasn’t too hot, birds flying by at their own leisure and we just moseyed along soaking up the tranquillity of it all.  There was a graveyard as well and it was very interesting to have a look at the headstones there.  You might think it creepy, but graveyards can tell you a lot about the history of an area!

More shots of the are.

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These last two shots are of the side of the main chapel.  I found it really interesting, as they had been built out of the local rock, but faux columns had been added to the design on the outside!  I love it!

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Then as the last port of call we looked in on the gallery, which you are not allowed to photograph due to a theft of a lot of the artworks 20 years ago.  They have increased the security, but I found it great to see that not all the paintings were covered or blocked off.  It meant you could get up close and have a look at them unlike many galleries.  It was amazing to looks at the brush strokes in some of them, and almost smell the paints.

Underneath the gallery was the gift shop where I purchased my aforementioned ale glasses.   Even though New Norcia’s bread is famous, the only place to purchase it is at the gift shop…  So it is at this point where we went on the lookout for the bread.  Sadly by this time of day they had sold out.  No bread for us.

On the plus side though, I did find some 20 year old Muscat liqueur.  Hmm, interesting.  So I bought it.

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Wooo yeah!.  I have since drunk some, and you can read about it here.  Needless to say, it is very nice.  You can read about that here

So by this time it would have been about 3.30pm and having only really had snacks of sorts for lunch, we headed back to the hotel for coffee and cake.  Apparently there is a very nice New Norcian Nut cake that is tasty.  So we headed back…

I asked the lass at the bar for a flat white and a cappuccino  and what selection of cakes they had.  She informed me the kitchen had closed.  I was initially a little baffled at this response, as they had two cakes sitting in a cabinet looking at me.  I said ok, but we only want a coffee and cake.

It turns out that the kitchen closing means no cake.  No bread for us, no cake for us either.  Despite the obvious fact of cakes being easily within arms reach.  I didn’t think that a cake would need a chef or cook to cut it.  Nevertheless, we were unable to obtain cake.  This I found most odd and queried the closing of the kitchen, which had shut at 2 or 3 pm.  Either way it was early and odd, as I saw people arriving in the car park at this time as well.    I found this most strange, the only place open and you can only get alcohol and coffee.    So we opted for the flat white and cappuccino option, while getting some left over snacks from my car.

And then the coffees arrived.

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Looks like the cappuccino needs a hair stylist. Ha ha ha!

It tasted fine though.  Ratchet had fun there.

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Nice worn very old floor.  I was tempted to run around inside the hotel. I would love to see one of the rooms.  Apparently the hotel was made spectacular for the Queen of Spain, but she never came to visit.  Oh well, she’d be impressed!

Then we headed home.

Some driving shots of us on the road.  Not taken by me though!

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The better half was all excited as we passed through Bullsbrook.  It was very Top Gun (a movie I have never seen TBH).  There is an airbase there, so I slowed down and we ended up with this dodgy shot.

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Whee, what a day, despite the oddness of the food situation we experienced, we both thoroughly enjoyed our little adventure into the bush to New Norcia.  Not only is it not all that far, it is actually a pretty nice drive with few hassles, nice bush scenery and good roads.  If you have a day off and feel like a short day trip into the bush, I recommend New Norcia.  Just pick up your bread first before anything else.

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