Wednesday, 1 October 2008

New Norcia

Its been very windy last night (good thing I took down my awning last night) and there hs been some rain as well. Yes, it was blue skies all day yesterday, but…
After Breakfast I break camp and drive back to Cervantes where I forgot to return a key at the campground, then head on out towards New Norcia. I cross the main highway and follow a dirt road for the next 22km. Good road, well maintained and thanks to last night's rain, no dust either. Beautiful open country either side, everything looking lush and green, some grain growing but mostly pasture, populated with large numbers of sheep, happily gracing today's breakfast. In some fields I also see cattle, half of them grazing, the other half lying down on their stomachs, happily chewing the re-gurgitated grass they ate earlier today.

Countryside covered in a carpet of blue, just before Moora

I stop at Moora to make a phonecall as my Mobile is, once again, out of reach. I walk into the Hardware Store to ask for the Post Office but find no-one in the store, as I wander through the isles. Quite amazing how much more trusting the country community seems to be, anyone could have walked in and helped themselves with whatever there is on the shelves. I go into the camping equipment store next door, find the Hardware man in conversation in there as well. Post Office is just around the corner and down the road - easy. Outside , the only public phone in town. Across the road from there, I see Tourist Information where I collect a few brochures and a map from a very helpful young lady. Sealed road all the way to Norcia. Countryside same as before, all green, the dams full of water and the rivers I cross, all running water.

I arrive about 11.00am at New Norcia, park my van and stroll around this monastic community, started by Spanish Benedictine Monks, back in 1849.

This building also houses the St. Gertrude Chapel

Quite surprising really, to see what they have achieved, the beautiful art that is on display at their Museum/ Gallery. Its been raining on and off for most of the day and during the 2-hour guided tour around the various places inside the monastery, I got wet a few times, every time we had to go outside.

The monks also bake all the bread for all the people in the village, but having just had a long weekend, there will be no fresh bread tomorrow. I have heard that this bread is simply excellent and, as it won't be happening tomorrow morning, I will move on instead.

The beautiful Altar in the Chapel

In its heyday, there were over 50 monks living at this monastery, now, only 9 remain. The buildings all look as if they could do with a major upgrade, a lick of paint would also go a long way.

Gum Tree blossoms in the Chapel garden

All buildings are suffering badly from rising-damp and only one of them, the Chapel has been repaired. There were three schools, run quite separately and were kept apart with high brick walls, one for girls, one for boys and another for Aboriginal children. The walls have all been removed except for a short stretch that is also suffering from rising-damp. At one time the monastery held about 1 million acres of land, now only 40,000 acres remain.

The New Norcia Hotel is a building that was originally built by the monks and was intended to house members of the Spanish Royal Family, to whom an invitation had been extended - as the tour guide said: "…they are still waiting for that visit…" In the meantime, that grand old building also looks run-down and would require a major injection of funds to bring it up to modern standards. It has a nice "old World" ambience that reminds me of some of the old country houses in Ireland.

There is also an Art Gallery, displaying some interesting paintings, some of them from the 16th and 17th century. Thieves stole 26 of them back in 1986. All, except one have been returned a short time later but there was extensive damage that needed to be restored.

In a shed in the back, some old farming machinery is on display, some made on the premises, others, like an old "Lanz Bulldog" Tractor, the kind I remember from childhood.

Front end of a "Lanz Bulldog"

A single cylinder engine that had to be pre-heated with a kind of blowtorch and a big handcrank to get it started. I remember that machine rocking in place when idling at a stand still. (Not really surprising with a single cylinder engine)

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