Pax Tibi…..Peace to you. The motto of the Benedictine monks that welcomes you to their little mission town of New Norcia. It seems strangely out of place in the Australian countryside with its Spanish style Abbey and Monastery, and it is unique, the only one of its kind in Australia. Famous for their crusty bread baked daily in wood fired ovens, fragrant olive oil from the many olive trees some over 100 years old, and a very fine matured Port from their vineyards. Oh and let’s not forget the great Abbey Ale which Mr. T found irresistible. We had no option but to sample these delights whilst camping on the playing fields near the Abbey church, it was a real hardship. Those first pioneering Spanish priests, Rosendo Salvado and Joseph Serra started the mission in 1847 just 17 years after the Swan River colony was established. The monk’s community life is based on the Rule of St Benedict which balances periods of prayer; seven times a day, the reading of scripture and work. There are also two silences; the “small silence” at mealtimes, and the “grand silence” when they sleep. What about the snorers among them I hear you ask? Perhaps they have a special dispensation!. The peace was tangible when I joined with others at Vespers one night as they sang Psalms in a side chapel where a beautiful altarpiece of the Black Madonna of Guadeloupe held pride of place. The monks established the first road through to Perth though I am sure that they could never have imagined the volume of traffic that now cuts their community in half as the Great Northern Highway. Monstrous road trains 60 meters long now shake the monastery buildings with their beautiful frescos to their very foundations.
|Gay Galah Garden Party|
We are on our way north to the “Top End” through the Goldfields region of Western Australia. This is dry arid country which borders the Little Sandy Desert and the road is long straight and monotonous. You can see where you are going to be an hour ahead. We dodge huge black eagles as they feast on Roo road kill. With their 6 foot wingspan their take off is slow and if you hit them at speed can cause serious damage to your rig. The soil in this area called the Pilbara is a rusty red ochre and coats everything with a fine dust; nothing escapes it tenacious grip and it’s impossible to remove from clothing, don’t wear white unless you’re partial to pink. The biggest deposits of iron ore and copper in the world have been found here and it is rich in gold and other minerals but it doesn’t make for pretty scenery, open cast mining and huge mulluck heaps dominate the skyline, and most of the little towns we pass through look sad and neglected.
|Once a jolly swagman........under the shade of a collibar tree........|
Finally we pull off to our first bush camp, a peaceful billabong fringed with white gums near the Gascoyne River. This is the part I love the most about travelling through Australia, finding little sacred spaces with water and shade in the midst of the heatand dust.We set up camp and today like so many millions of women around the world I have cooked over an open fire ,hand drawn water do my washing, hung it over bushes to dry and swept my home. There is comfort in connection through time and space to other women and a quiet contentment in doing daily chores slowly and quietly. But I miss the constant friendship of girlfriends. The friendships and connections that you make with likeminded women on the road are all too brief. Each encounter brings a new perspective and hopefully somewhere down the track we will meet again. There is an art to letting go and I am learning. For now I have the blessing of birds of a feathered variety! As I sit here on the bank a flock of tiny zebra finches have flown past, with their bright red beaks. Two western rosella parrots are sitting in the branches of the gum tree above me and a quail with her chicks have just come down to the water to drink. Suddenly there’s flash of brilliant cobalt blue, a kingfisher skims the surface catching dragonflies. Pax Tibi…….the peace of New Norcia has followed us and if it wasn’t for the distant roar of the road trains on the highway behind us it would be Heaven.
Soul Food Kitchen
Billabong Damper. (for two)
Nothing tastes as good as food cooked over an open fire, and feeling the need for something sweet I had a go at making “damper”. Once a girl guide always a girl guide…….this took me back to my girlhood guide camps where it was a staple item on the menu.
Clean the bark off 2 nice long fat sticks about a metre long
Mix together I large cup of self raising flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, a pinch of salt and enough warm water to make a stiff dough.
Knead for a few minutes and shape into 2 long rolls, rolling them between your hands. Coil each roll around the stick and cook over SLOW coals till the dough has risen and is a golden crusty brown. It will pull off easily from the stick if it is done.
Now the best part……….drop a big knob of golden butter into the damper so it melts down the hollow center and drips onto your hand. Then fill it up with jam, syrup or anything sweet that takes your fancy. I have known the truly decadent to use a stick of chocolate
There will be much licking of fingers…….but the elbow is impossible. The singing of Kumbyya is optional!