Australia’s only monastic town has sold a large part of its farmland to billionaire businessman Andrew Forrest for $17 million.
It is the first time land at New Norcia, located in the wheatbelt just 90 minutes north-east of Perth, has changed hands since it was leased to the Benedictine monks over 130 years ago. About a third of the almost 8000-hectares up for sale has now been sold, with the remainder expected to settle within the next 12 months.
Mr Forrest’s Harvest Road, part of his Tattarang private investment company, purchased the land surrounding the historic town site as part of the growth of its cattle and beef supply chain across Western Australia.
Tattarang Chief Investment Officer John Hartman said it was committed to protecting and enhancing the iconic property’s status as some of the best farming land in the state.
“We pay tribute to the outstanding stewardship of the Benedictine community that has preserved the exceptional productivity of the land for almost two centuries, and we are committed to further developing the farm’s productive capacity,” he said.
“We know this is an iconic place with an unbroken 175-year agricultural legacy that has helped support generations of regional farming communities.
“We are committed to investing into New Norcia’s future and we look forward to working with the surrounding shires to create new value for local communities and unlock long-term jobs.”
Named after Norcia in Italy, the birthplace of St Benedict, it has had many purposes including as a mission, a monastery, a provider of education and now as a place of spiritual retreat and tourism.
The town itself, inspired by Spanish-style architecture and boasting the Abbey Church, monastery, two boarding schools, an old mill, a hotel, general store and post office is not part of the sale.
Once one of the jewels in the crown for Catholics in Western Australia, the Order’s 175-year history has been permanently scarred by the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse during the period between the 1950s and 1970s.
It established the number of priests who were perpetrators in the Catholic Church in WA was higher than the national average. In a statement, the Benedictine Community said: “Due to its liabilities relating to redress for historical abuse, the Benedictine Community of New Norcia has made the difficult decision to sell the majority of its farm.
“It is anticipated that this sale will generate sufficient capital to meet our commitment to redress, and enough capital injection into the organisation to sustain New Norcia well into the future.”