Meeting the Monks of New Norcia | West Australia

by Fiona Harper

darkryesourdoughI’m a bit of a sucker for bread. Honey coloured sourdough, chewy and texturous crust (is that a word? if not it should be as it perfectly describes the sort of crust I adore) on the outside, a soft off-white shade inside that resists my knife slathered with butter just so. I’m salivating thinking about it, conjuring an aromatic flattened football shaped loaf emerging from a wood fired oven as I write. My grandfather was a baker – I blame him for my bread addiction.

But I digress. I was going to talk about New Norcia. A town that not so much featured in my West Aussie childhood, rather it lingered like an unpopular cousin lurking near the door looking for an excuse to bolt. Our family took regular  extended road trips through the wheat belt visiting relatives or relocating to featureless country towns as my father moved up the Education Dept’s pole of promotion. We always seemed to pass by or through New Norcia when travelling to or from Perth. Country stints in hicksville towns, where our house and the adjacent school comprised of ‘town’, were par for the course back then. They probably still are. Thankfully I’ve moved on to lusher greener pastures.

I’ve digressed again. Back to New Norcia.

Ever since the mid 1840’s a devoted coterie of Benedictine Monks have lived a traditional, prayerful life amidst sun-baked olive groves at the Benedictine Monastery in New Norcia. Though visitors need not show quite such devoutness, devotees of fine breads and exquisite cakes can be found paying their respects daily at New Norcia Bakeries. Their authentic sourdough breads alone are worth the two hour drive beyond the Darling Ranges, deep into the undulating wheat belt.

Do you see where I’m coming from now? Using a wood fired oven dating back to 1886, monks produce delicious artisan breads with chewy, golden crusts characterised by a smoky, toasted wheat flavour. Yum! I’m salivating again.

But it’s not just dough and bread that makes New Norcia an appealing weekend destination. The town itself is registered on the National Estate with an eclectic mix of 27 buildings classified by the National Trust. Visitors will discover influences of splendid Spanish architecture now housing museums, art galleries and cafes as well as the aforementioned Monastery. Indeed, Mediterranean influences, surrounded by wheat and sheep farms amid a smattering of eucalypt dominated Australian bush, sit comfortably alongside Nyoongar Aboriginal culture. A guided tour offers a fascinating opportunity to view artefacts, frescoes and extraordinary interiors.

Charming accommodation is available at New Norcia Hotel, or for those seeking spiritual simplicity, bed down amongst monastic rhythms in the Monastery guesthouse.

I think it’s time I paid New Norcia a return visit. What about you? What would entice you to revisit a town from your childhood?

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We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and waters on which we live, work and travel. As people who seek meaning and knowledge through storytelling, we recognise that the First Peoples of this land have been doing so for over 60,000 years. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.