For 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.