I was moving quickly on the country roads. Eucalyptus, pasture land and windmills merging into single blurred images in my side windows. The drive had been a pleasant one, the sprawl of the city soon yielding to the rolling hills and farmland of the hinterland and the one hundred and thirty kilometres that separates New Norcia from Perth passed quickly.
Straddling the Great Northern Highway, New Norcia is a collection of beautiful historic buildings set on a compact grid of dusty streets. Founded in the 1840s by Benedictine monks, the town was initially planned as a monastery but soon grew as additional buildings were added including a convent, college and orphanage. When they were not attempting to convert the native tribes though, the monks busied themselves with a host of commercial endeavours including olive oil, wine, honey and beer production and the related buildings and machines dot the surrounding landscape.
One of the great achievements of New Norcia is that it has managed to stave off the commercialism that has crept into so many of Western Australia's historic towns. Aside from the discrete museum and gracefully ageing hotel, the buildings of the town have been left in their original form. To walk these old streets is to experience New Norcia as the founding monks would have. No whistle of espresso machines or brash signage, just your thoughts and the gentle swaying of the trees.
The best way to explore New Norcia is on foot, so park at the museum and grab a town map (also available online). From here take a slow amble through the town and take in each old building, stopping to read the notes and information boards beside each place of interest - the convent and college with their soaring facades and elegant towers, the expansive monastery complex with its palm lined walls and cool courtyard gardens, and the gorgeous chapel and its humble bell tower – pieces of old European Catholicism in the heart of Western Australia. An alternate option is to join one of the town tours (departing 11h00 and 13h30 from the museum), which also gain you access to the inside of many of the buildings that are otherwise closed to self guided visitors.
And finally, with your feet tiring and the heat picking up, take a seat at the New Norcia Hotel where the delicious Abbey Ale is available on tap. When I sat down, a thunder storm was rolling in, rattling the rafters with each distant explosion. The Abbey Ale was ice cold and deliciously bitter. If I was feeling particularly energetic, I could have walked an additional loop past the river, taking in some additional sights... but I was far too comfortable, the Abbey Ale far too refreshing and the lighting far too sensational. I decided to stay put instead and contemplate on all that is special about this lovely little town.