Monday, November 14, 2011

New Norcia and talking papers

Artist unknown, early 18th century, head of Saint Benedict.  Wood.
Part of the exhibition, 'The Saints: Ancient + New' at the New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery

Today was my first day of conference-related activities - at 9am outside the brand spanking new State Theatre Centre I jumped into a bus, and Martin Moyle drove a bunch of us museum types (hi Edwina and Craig in the picture above) 130 kilometres north of Perth to a place he described as "a most surprising village out in the middle of the wheat belt".

And by gum but he was right.

We were most privileged to be met by Carmel, the CEO of New Norcia, Margie from the New Norcia Museum, and Dom Christopher Power, one of the monks in residence.

Here he is, telling us the story of the way pictorial representations of New Norcia proved a vital means for one of founders, Dom Rosendo Salvado to convince people back in Europe to donate to the monastery town.  And throughout his never less than charming, informative and funny narrative, Dom Chris kept reminding us that financial survival remains a constant challenge for the community.

He introduced us to New Norcia's full-time archivist, Peter.  Dom Chris explained that the archive was anything but a place for 'old moths', that indeed it was a 'glamour department' of the town.  Peter explained that he has plenty to work with because

Sound like my kinda guys.  We saw remarkably painted and appointed chapels, we saw an exhibition detailing the interactions of the monks with the local Aboriginal people, the Yuat (Moorara-Moorara) people, whose language Dom Bernard Rooney has compiled a dictionary for, we saw the olive press shed and the olive orchard, the restored blacksmithy, we ate lunch at the New Norcia Hotel (good ale!) and we scooted through the museum because we ran out of time.

And now I sip (swig, you mean!) at a VERY good New Norcia Abbey Vintage Port 2004 - thick and sweet and fruity - and reflect on some words from Dom Rosendo Salvado, really the main founder of the monastery in 1846 (recall that Perth itself was founded in 1829):

"This is an appropriate place to mention the kind of veneration which the natives have for books or any papers with writing - 'talking papers' as they call them.  They credit them with an almost magic power of revealing hidden things..."

The title of a plan drawing of the layout of the town - Norcia was the original birthplace of Saint Benedict, so here, two hours drive from Perth, would be the new one.

Back in Perth, it was time for the conference opening/welcome drinks at the Perth Town Hall, and boy, were they welcome!  Brian the bike and I swerved back down Adelaide Terrace to my hotel (the Goodearth - thanks Pearl S. Buck) to have a cuppa and prepare for the 'petcha kutcha' (Japanese for 'chit chat') presentation which I'm giving tomorrow afternoon and which is entitled, 'But is it Real?'


Is it?

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