In the 80s, Debra Bishop, an up-and-coming young journalist based in Perth, couldn’t tell you much about its existence.
“It was absolutely in the middle of nowhere at the time. You’d have no reason to really be there. It was not the tourist attraction it is today,” Bishop told The Feed.
It remained largely unnoticed – until it became the centre of an international plot to ransack the place.
The strangest art heist you’ve probably never heard of
But it wasn’t the precise, thought-out and delicate procedure you might expect if you planned to resell “European masterpieces” on the black market.
The thieves had hired a flashy, gold Ford Falcon as their getaway car and police later found they had stuffed smaller artworks straight in the back. Larger pieces were “knifed” out and rolled up when their frames wouldn’t fit in the boot.
In a news report from right after the robbery, Bishop described it as possibly the best collection in the southern hemisphere.
The story made its way across the country, with many dumbfounded that the paintings were even in Australia, let alone housed in a small outback community.
It looked like the work of amateur criminals.
Putting the pieces together
In a hotel room the pair stayed in, more paint chips decorated the carpet where they had tossed rolls of canvas.
When police raided Nigel’s house, they found some of the paintings, alongside more evidence that confirmed his involvement on the day: pictures of New Norcia, a courier receipt for the stolen paintings and the name and number of his co-accused, Noel.
The paintings were headed to Manila in the Philippines, where they would be replicated for buyers.
Some were thought to be rare pieces by the great artists Raphael, Murillo and Titian.
Instead, the experts found they were all copies.
Watch ‘The Mission’ on SBS at 7.30 on Tuesday or on SBS On Demand.
https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/article/this-australian-town-with-spanish-monks-was-unknown-to-most-until-it-was-targetted-for-a-robbery/54vstvs6p This outback town of Spanish monks was largely unknown – until one of Australia’s biggest art heists