In 1846 Dom Salvado, a Benedictine Spanish monk and his companion travelled to Western Australia to establish a mission and monastery at New Norcia, 170kms north of Perth.
The group outside St Joseph’s Church, Subiaco, ready to start
I first heard of Dom Salvado when visiting Samos Monastery in 2007 on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. On hearing that my friend and I were from Perth, a monk took us behind the scenes and showed us a statue of Dom Salvado who had also spent time at Samos.
In 2010 an ABC Compass program traced a group of pilgrims walking from St Joseph’s church in Subiaco to New Norcia. Since then there have two pilgrimages each year. I was lucky enough to become one of 24 pilgrims to make the journey in August 2011. It took us a week to walk the 170kms.
Wyalunga NP beside the engorged Avon River (which turns into the Swan River)
After mass and a blessing we commenced the first day’s walk through the suburbs and the city of Perth then beside the Swan River to our first stop in the Swan Valley. I remember it being a very hot day for the end of winter. Apart from one evening and morning of rain, the weather was excellent for walking.
Each day after breakfast, leaving our comfort- able accommodation, we were taken by bus to the previous evening’s stopping point and walked for approximately 8 hours through countryside, farmland, bush paths and national parks. We were then picked up by our bus, which also carried our luggage. All we had to carry was a daypack and water. We stayed in various types of lodgings. Each evening after our excellent dinner, we would share and talk about our day’s walk and get to know each other.
I often walked alone in contemplation, interspersed with good conversation with the other friendly pilgrims from all over Australia. The scenery was uplifting and some early wildflowers were making an appearance.
We were told how Dom Salvado would frequently walk back and forth to Perth for supplies but also to play the piano at Tranby House, formerly Peninsula Farm, the oldest surviving building of the Swan River Colony.
We were very happy to arrive in New Norcia to the sound of church bells ringing and were welcomed by the Abbot with a blessing and a foot-washing ceremony in the Abbey church.
Some of us shared rooms in the old nunnery which was said to be haunted. We left the corridor light on just in case!
All in all, I am glad I made the pilgrimage and although it did not have the atmosphere of the medieval Camino Francés in Spain, I felt the spirit of Dom Salvado and his companion and the difficulties and trials they must have gone through in those early days.