The monk and the Flamingo Dancer

Perth Jan5 2013 101For days Daughter2 and I talked of driving out to New Norcia and touring the historical Benedictine settlement that is situated there. The thought of sighting a monk in his natural habit and habitat was exciting in a strange sort of way.

So two hours drive out of Perth, on a 40C day we started our pilgrimage. Now, I thought that the monks would be as excited that I was coming to visit them, as I was to be viewing them. It appears not. In fact it seems that of the 8 monks still in residence, 6 were away on holiday. Monks on holiday. Geeze, what happened to the old days when you forsake/forsoke?  all others and kept youself only unto the Big Whatever. Home for Christmas! Isn’t that like their busy season?

So I felt a bit jibbed to be told only 2 monks were in residence and they had the Do Not Disturb sign out.

I was so distressed that I made my first stop the New Norcia Hotel, where I partook of a glass of the monk’s finest Chardonnay, and D2 tried the Abbey’s ale. I even ordered a ploughman’s lunch to harden the resolve to face heat, dust and flies on the 90 minute tour.

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The hotel apparently was built in anticipation of Queen Isabella II of Spain coming to visit, but she was rude enough to die before she could make the journey, so the monks turned it over to visitors to use (parents visiting their children at the boarding school) and then to a hotel. I think they were under the impression that Bella would bring some of those Spanish pesetas with her, and so toiled in the heat and dust to make the bricks to make a palace fit for a Queen, and then when she was a no show, and even more so her money, promptly did nothing to maintain the place ever again.

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Leading to the ladies rest room - monk chic.

Leading to the ladies rest room – monk chic.

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Over lunch I started me repartee of monks and little boy jokes (I am a lapsed Catholic, I have every right to use sarcasm and truth against my own religion). D2 was a little worried about how Mama was going to conduct herself on the tour, but I told her as long as I didn’t have a second glass of wine I would manage to keep my mouth closed and inside words, well inside. I did reserve the right to roll my eyes/eye in disbelief though.

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The lunch view - real West Australia and did I mention 40C?

The lunch view – real West Australia and did I mention 40C?

The disbelief came pretty thick and fast, especially when we were told that they converted the Aboriginals over a cup of sweet tea.And apparently it was a mild inconvenience when the Aboriginal Post Mistress and her replacement died in a measles epidemic that killed 85 percent of the indigenous population at New Norcia.

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There was both a boarding school and “orphanage” at New Norcia. The joke is that the orphanage wasn’t filled with orphans at all,  but “indigenous children whose parents sent them for a better education”. Reading between the lines one can only read STOLEN GENERATION. 

I know those letters are really monkish for Do Not Disturb

I know those letters are really monkish for Do Not Disturb

The Monks hang out here

The Monks hang out here, this was taken through the railings of a locked gate.

The race/gender WALL

The race/gender WALL

Better still, there was this big brick wall, or walls, that separated the “European boys” from the “Aboriginal boys”. At one stage the school went co-ed with nuns running the place, so not only were the walls there to separate race but also gender.

New Norcia is known for the bread it makes, and we toured the old flour meal which was shut down due to those pesky work place health and safety laws and the fact that they didn’t have a ready supply of boys to work there instead of being in school. I think by now you all have a pretty strong grip on how I feel about the subject.

By the end of the tour, we had been through three chapels, all very beautifully crafted by the monks, but were not shown any reality. All I could think of was the utter misery that those children must have experienced there. I felt as though every brick was crying.

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Head Monk's tomb

Head Monk’s tomb

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The organ

The organ

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Confessional used by the monks to hear the children’s confessions.

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The dead centre

The dead centre

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On the lighter side, may I mention again that is was 40C and we went on a 90 minute walking tour. I had a water bottle with me, and I tried to be nice and share the dregs with D2 but in the last chapel I barely had the strength nor the will to life my camera. I was ready to cut and run when the guide announced the end of the tour. D2 and I were off like gazelles to our car and down the road to the service station where I bought a lemonade ice block, and orange drink and a bottle of water which I guzzled down while sitting in a cafe that seemed to be filled with the cast off furniture from the monk’s own dining room; except for the pew near the door, which naturally would have come from one of the three churches.

Rogues gallery of monks in the road house cafe. Monk 4th from right was "the bookbinder and the gatekeeper".  The GATEKEEPER!

Rogues gallery of monks in the road house cafe. Monk 4th from right was “the bookbinder and the gatekeeper”. The GATEKEEPER!

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So perhaps it was better that I didn’t come across one of the monk’s because it may have been more than my control could have taken. We also have to face that with only 8 in residence, well 2 and the 6 at the beach, my mere presence may have caused the end of the order, because obviously being monks they aren’t used to a women of my calibre, so by not crossing paths they get to pray another day.

On the drive back to Perth we stopped at a bakery for tea and pastry and my heart jumped for joy, as the deck ceiling sported a water spray system that misted the area every few seconds with a very fine mist that instantly evaporated but managed to cool the area a little. If anyone gets a sainthood it should be the owner of that bakery, bless them. In case you didn’t read my words – it was 40 DEGREES CELCIUS, people. DAMN HOT.

Sometimes the simple things in life are often the best - in this case ceiling water spray system

Sometimes the simple things in life are often the best – in this case ceiling water spray system

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17 thoughts on “The monk and the Flamingo Dancer

  1. Wonderful old architecture and all that, but I really appreciate the reality of your feelings about the true history of the place. It was made to look beautiful and sanctified, but the actual use was much more base and to pretend otherwise is just fooling oneself.

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    • I was a bit frustrated as they are not making the most of the heritage site that it is. They need a good marketing plan and a curator with energy… and a bag of money. The catholic church does not fund them but the farm is 27,000 acres and they raise sheep and grow crops such as canola. They had pigs in the beginning but the monks found the smell distasteful.

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      • I was on the patio of a bar in Bisbee, Arizona in July. It was miserable hot. But they had these misters stationed around the perimeter of the patio. That was THE place to be. Everyone’s butt was wet, but no one cared a bit.

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  2. What a lovely place for a monastery! It reminds me of the old Spanish missions here in California, which were built to convert the Native American tribes to Christianity. They ended up killing most of them off, of course, due to disease and overwork—some missions were run like slave plantations.

    Monks making wine and beer are putting their time to good use, in my opinion. It keeps them too busy to bother the children.

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    • The Benedictine monks originated as a Spanish order. The tour guide said that in the mid 1800s an anti catholic govt came to power in Spain and many of the religious took to the seas to convert other peoples. WA would have been looking for teachers to educate the children and so no doubt would have assisted them. The Aust govt handed over a whole generation of indigenous children stolen from their parents, and then the British shipped out their young after WWII. The monks would have had a ready supply of young ones for some time. To be honest a number of religious institutions participated in the victimisation of children, right up to the 1980s if not longer.

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  3. I’d love to go through the place with you as a tour guide.
    Some time it isn’t 40C though.
    You have my amazed admiration for your restraint – though the presence of one’s offspring can work wonders that way.
    One shouldn’t embarrass them accidentally – only with malice of forethought, of course.

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    • We would need D2 to threaten me and to keep me behaving well. I can get a little sarcastic and angry at times but I try to control myself in front of small children. As an history teacher I have learned to look at both sides of history and most of the time I find it manipulated beyond reality to the point of myth.

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  4. I am always amazed at the funding that has to back these establishments. One wonders where it all came from. WA also has a history of white children taken from their parents and brought in orphanages – particularly from Great Britain. See “The Leaving of Liverpool”. It is interesting to consider the swings and roundabouts of history. At the close of the 19th century, white Australia thought Aboriginal Australia would become extinct. Missions where set up as an alternative to shanty towns on the fringe of white towns – alcohol and opium were considered the 2 big risks. Many of the older black activists of today got their start from being educated in the white mission system or being raised in white culture. This separation from their native culture has caused great resentment, and here there are parallels with British and French colonies – the revolutionaries/independence leaders were all fostered in Western universities. Today it is keep the children with the families at all costs. No-one quite predicted how the “family” would fracture however, and now it is almost impossible to define. Intervention to provide a better outcome for the obviously disadvantaged or abused is an instinctive reaction of Western civilisation – we believe we can fix things with the right technological application. It is proving harder and harder to achieve with certain groups within societies. Despite billions being poured into indigenous support in Australia, there is widespread failure that appears to outweigh whatever has been achieved. Ratty.

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    • The monks, or their minions I expect, farm 27,000 acres. One third sheep, one third canola this season, and one third natural bush (ant country). They need a good marketing director and marketing plan, and a curator to get the place buzzing. 6,000 school children pass through the education centre each year, being indoctrinated in their HIS story. They get no funding from the church.

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  5. Thanks for bringing the reality of the place back, beyond the carvings and the light. The Goddess has nothing to fear from The Gatekeeper.

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    • It helps that he is dead now! There was indeed only one gate into the indigenous students area. They went in and did not come out until they were 20 or married. I don’t know how they married from behind the wall but miracles do happen. Most “Australian kids” at this stage were leaving school at the age of 13 or 15 and working from then on. We did not count our indigenous on our census until 1968, so basically they didn’t have citizenship in their own country until 1968.

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    • I regret not bringing my larger camera with a finer lens, but it takes up so much room in the luggage and lugging it around is a pain, so I just grabbed the point and shoot so the quality is questionable but it gives everyone an idea of what is and where. I am a hit and miss photographer at the best of time, but I do like the images to tell a story. It was an interesting spot to visit, as has been all of Perth and Fremantle.

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