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Tuesday, 01 November 2016 10:30

New Norcia tour brings Benedictine history alive

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new norcia toursMembers of the Perth Catholic community and wider public have the chance to learn about Australia’s only monastic town, New Norcia, and its Benedictine heritage in a new tour experience, writes Rachel Curry.

Members of the Perth Catholic community and wider public have the chance to learn about the untold story of Bishop Dom Rosendo Salvado and New Norcia and pray with the Benedictine monks in a new tour experience that departs from Perth.

Perth man Mark O’Brien has recently started running day tours to New Norcia, which operate on Saturdays and Sundays and also visit the historic town of Gingin.

Mr O’Brien said he thought New Norcia was an overlooked treasure in Western Australia and, as a practicing Catholic, believed it should be more well-known.

“There are so many people that when you mention New Norcia say, ‘I think I’ve heard of it’. They have a very vague look on their face and they don’t know the history of it,” he said.

“It’s the only monastic town in Australia. When you look at the history and what Salvado established 17 years after the Perth colony, it’s a huge piece of Catholic history.

“You could say it’s a Catholic town established in March 1847. It’s something that people weren’t aware of and probably still aren’t aware of.”

Mr O’Brien explained that the life story of Bishop Salvado – the Spanish Benedictine monk who co-founded New Norcia and was its Abbot until 1900 – had remained a mystery until relatively recently, when his diaries were translated.

Bishop Salvado is admired for his sheer strength of will in establishing the mission amid extremely harsh conditions, as well as his care and respect for the local Aboriginal people.

Unfortunately, not many people know his story, Mr O’Brien said.

“Back in 1988 the Bicentenary Committee was looking for noteworthy citizens. They didn’t include Salvado because nobody knew anything about him,” he said.

The new tour departs from Perth at 8am, stopping for morning tea in Gingin, which was settled only two years after the Swan River Colony and boasts many original stone buildings.

It then moves on to New Norcia, arriving in time for attendees to join the monks in the Monastery Oratory for midday prayers, or alternatively spend some extra time in the town’s fascinating Museum and Art Gallery.

After lunch, attendees enjoy a two-hour guided tour of New Norcia and its richly decorated Spanish style buildings, 27 of which are listed on the National Trust, before heading back to Perth.

Mr O’Brien said he had wanted to offer something unique in WA’s tourism industry, since other tour operators only drove through New Norcia en route to attractions such as The Pinnacles.

“The reason why we wanted to try and do this was to raise people’s awareness of the town. If you look at the life of the monks, it’s fascinating, it’s an amazing thing,” he said.

Photo (supplied): Mark O’Brien (right), has started running day tours to New Norcia to raise awareness of Australia’s only monastic town. He is pictured with tour guests Adam and Joleen Brown. 

This story, written by Rachel Curry, was first published on 13 October 2016 in The Record, a publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth.