Nestled in the dry sands of the West Australian bush is a hidden slice of Spanish history. For nearly 150 years the New Norcia monastery has been home to a congregation of Benedictine monks. It’s also the scene of one of the largest and strangest art heists in Australian criminal history.
In a new three-part series by SBS News Documentaries – The Mission, award-winning journalist Marc Fennell unpicks a 40-year international mystery that stretches from a bush mission all the way to a presidential palace.
In January 1986, 26 paintings – thought to be valued at millions of dollars – were brutally slashed out of their frames at the art gallery of the New Norcia Monastery in the West Australian wheat belt, leaving detectives baffled.
What on earth were “European masterpieces” doing in a bush monastery? Why was such a complicated art heist left to a bunch of amateurs? And who was really behind the audacious plot to smuggle these paintings out of Australia?
Host Marc Fennell (Framed, The Kingdom, Stuff the British Stole) leads viewers on a global treasure hunt from the dirt roads of the Western Australian bush to the busy streets of New York and London, to the chaos and calamity of old town Manila.
Along the way, Fennell will talk to a rogue’s gallery of the leading players caught up in what was an extraordinarily ambitious and yet comically flawed heist.
“The moment you step foot on the grounds of New Norcia you sense – almost immediately – that you are stepping into history. The Mission is the epicentre multiple crimes committed over generations that range from the farcical to the downright evil,” said presenter, Marc Fennell.
Through incredible film archive and dramatised recreations, The Mission takes us back to the heady days of the mid-1980s, where seemingly everyone had a plan to live fast and get rich faster.
Written and Directed by Corrin Grant, the creator of the hit SBS art-heist docu-series Framed, this series blends incredible archive and unearths previously unseen court documents to bring to life the hilarious capers of an unlikely set of art thieves.
But this is also a story of parallel histories and crimes far greater than any art theft. From an infamous overseas political plunder to a dark historic legacy that still haunts both New Norcia and modern Australia.
This isn’t just a story about stolen paintings – this is a story about stolen futures and stolen lives. This is The Mission.
The three-part series is set to premiere on SBS and SBS On Demand at 8.30pm on Tuesday 24 October 2023. New episodes will air weekly. For more information, visit: www.sbs.com.au for details. Checkout the trailer here!
Image: Marc Fennell embarks on a global hunt for answers in The Mission – courtesy of SBS