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A pub with no beer: New Norcia community devastated by sudden hotel closure

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Abbot John Herbert and former staff member Nicky White enjoy an Abbey Ale at the New Norcia Hotel back in 2013. Brewing beer and making wine have been Benedictine traditions for centuries.

The community of New Norcia are devastated by the recent, and surprisingly sudden, shut-down of their beloved local pub, the historic New Norcia Hotel.

The Hotel Manager arrived on Monday morning 6 January to discover the hotel was permanently closed – and now the 13 staff of the establishment, which is a hub for locals as well as a popular tourist destination, have been made redundant.

A letter dated the same day from Father John Herbert, Abbott of the New Norcia Benedictine community,  was circulated to local residents stating that: “After long consideration the Board of the Benedictine Community has reached a decision to permanently close the New Norcia Hotel.”

The Abbott went on to say that,“As a community we understand the New Norcia Hotel has been of significance to generations of locals and the decision to close it was not taken lightly.” However, he has remained silent since, refusing to comment to the media and curtailing emails from concerned community members with no further explanation.

While no press release has been issued by the Benedictine community since the letter to residents, the word hotel on the official website of New Norcia has been replaced with the word hostel, and the page picturing the former hotel now states that the building, “Originally built as a Hostel for parents of the boarders at the New Norcia Colleges, and for many years operating as a Hotel,” is available to be booked for accommodation, although the details of how this will work are yet to be revealed.

Perhaps it’s always been an odd marriage. Monks owning a pub. Yet in the 90-odd years since the Hotel was built the monks have welcomed everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, citing hospitality as one of the primary Benedictine values. For generations of locals, the pub became the local watering hole, the meeting place for friends, for book clubs, political parties and sporting groups. The Hotel has held hundreds of events, weddings and parties, it’s operation seemingly happily co-existing alongside its role as part of a sacred community hosting spiritual gatherings, classical music recitals and religious studies.

When interviewed by the Northern Valleys News in 2013, Abbot John Herbert was enthusiastic about the unlikely union of Benedictine philosophy and a pub which frequently hosted rowdy Friday night sessions.

“Our monastery began with a mission era, then an education era and we have now moved into the era of extended hospitality, to which the hotel is integral. It is not just a pub, it’s a pub in the midst of a monastic tradition which is about welcoming travellers,” he said.
Whilst admitting to be personally shocked and saddened, Shire of Victoria Plains President, Pauline Bantock reiterated that the decision rested entirely with the Benedictine Board, and encouraged people to write directly to the Board with their concerns.

“I personally know the hotel has been more than just a business and building to us locals. It has been a place to gather. One local described it as the community hub. Losing the place where we socialise is devastating and I hear your comments regarding the wellness impact this will have,” she posted on Facebook.

While no-one is sure exactly what caused the Board decision to close the popular pub, which was an income source for the monks, conjecture includes concerns that the New Norcia bypass has cut off the hotel from passing traffic. A recent burglary involving the theft of money from the hotel safe has also been suggested as contributing to the decision.

Maybe running a pub simply no longer fits the ethos of the ageing Benedictine community, whose decision to lead a life of peace and prayer is very integral to their commitment. In any case the monks remain silent for the time being and it may be some time before the real reason behind the closure rises to the surface.