For the love of books: Clunes Booktown Festival 2017

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We arrive in Clunes just before noon. A scattering of clouds suggest rain isn’t far away but it does nothing to dampen our enthusiasm.  There are, after all, books to be browsed and discovered and bought and shoved into oversized totes brought along especially for the occasion.

Fewer than 2000 people live in Clunes in western Victoria. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise during the first weekend of May when nearly 20,000 people descend on the tiny town for the Clunes Booktown Festival.

Clunes Booktown, which began as a one day event in 2007, has become a fixture on the calendar of bookish folk. And with good reason!

More than fifty booksellers—selling a veritable goldmine of new and secondhand tomes— fill the town across the two day festival. But books are not the only thing on offer, with a range of author talks and workshops, exhibitions and live music also on the schedule.

 

We park a few hundred metres from Fraser Street, the main hub of the festival, and wander along tree lined streets towards the book treasure we hope awaits. My companions exclaim over the kaleidoscope of autumn colours and the tyre swing handing from an overgrown tree. They’re not country folk.

I’m slightly anxious; hopeful that the encouragement and cajoling I employed to get them here will pay off, that there will be a Dorothy Porter or Angela Carter to be found.

Once through the giant book that acts as the entrance, any anxiety begins to melt away. My companions are instantly enthralled. We attempt a plan: we’ll wander down one side and then back up the other. But the plan is soon abandoned as our attention is caught by hand drawn signs announcing $1 books, and we find ourselves criss-crossing the street.

The rain that had earlier threatened arrives but it’s only a brief shower. While we huddle under an umbrella, waiting for it to pass, I ask, somewhat tentatively, what my companions think. Their enthusiasm is immediate and palpable and whatever traces of anxiety still remain are swept away. The rain clears and we fold the umbrella up and drift over to another table laden with books.

There is a romance to secondhand books that I find particularly attractive. Yellowed pages, once sharp corners worn smooth, personal inscriptions (extra points for those that come with a ‘love from’) notes in the margins, dog-eared pages—I adore it all. It probably explains why I’m drawn to festivals likes the one at Clunes.

But it’s not the only reason.

The literary community in Melbourne can feel like a closed shop sometimes, one that requires a special password for entry. When you live outside the city, where there are more trees than buildings, more sheep and cows than people, that password feels elusive.

Clunes Booktown delivers upwards of $4 million dollars to the local community. But more than that, it injects a freshness and vitality into the cultural life of regional Australia. It demonstrates powerfully that those of us who live beyond the city limits appreciate and desire the type of cultural experiences that are often taken for granted in cities. It says investment in the cultural life of regional Australia is worthwhile, important and necessary.

Before long, our tote bags are hanging heavy on our shoulders and as we wander back through the giant book, we ask a woman to take our photo; a snapshot of a moment, a tangible memory of a day well spent.

When I get home, I pull out my treasures and pile them up. I run my hands over their aged covers and note the inscriptions inside their pages. I’ll be back at Clunes Booktown Festival next year, not just because I love secondhand books, but because I understand the significance of such an event to regional Australia.

A value that extends beyond a book or two or five.

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11 thoughts on “For the love of books: Clunes Booktown Festival 2017

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Clunes for the Book Fair. Your post reminded me to put it on the calendar for next year. It’s a bit like the WAFL – you can talk about it forever but eventually you’ll run out of reasons not to do it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a great review! When so much of literary culture feels like it’s stuck in a city-wide radius, it’s such a great feeling to see lots of passionate bookworms get together from all over Victoria and break down some of that gatekeeping. Also, those are some great bookhauls.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for being an enthusiastic ambassador for ‘books beyond the city’. Your comments about regionalism ring so true for me, a country girl at heart. You remind us how important it is to value and support the cultural and intellectual life of regional centres so they continue to flourish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh of course! Yep, it’s so important to support these types of cultural events in regional areas. Not just because we deserve cool stuff in the bush but because they often have a really significant financial benefit to the community.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wish I a was able to make it the festival. Your review was so great, and your passion for reading and for books really shone through. The Clunes festival sounds like a wonderful example of a regional Victorian town engaging with the arts, and I’ll be sure to support it next year.

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  5. I’m a fellow child of the regions, and am totally with you on the benefit of events like this for reinvigorating country towns. Some years ago, I remember reading about how Clunes’s population was increasing, against the trend of most other rural towns in Australia! That population increase was attributed to the impact of gaining Booktown status, putting on this festival and regular author events, and building on that status of a small town with big culture to offer. All power to them – and to you for bringing their tale to us! Happy reading.

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  6. Loved this Kirby! This year was the first time I actually made it to Book Town, and this so perfectly encapsulated the experience! From the mysterious beauty of the second hand books up for grabs, down to the the brief yet horrific scenes of rain pouring down on stacks of books at the less covered stalls.

    Also so true that people from the city (myself included) may take for granted these types of events, but also the beautiful regional towns outside the city borders. I really fell in love with Clunes that weekend, and I loved reliving the experience through your review.

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  7. Great review.

    I’d love to join a PWE day at Clunes in 2018. Not only have I not made it there yet, I’ve avoided much of the what the city has to offer a passionate book-lover (and reader) because of the gated-community-feel I associate with (some) festivals (some of the time). Your description of yellowing pages and piling up treasures back at home made me want to get over myself and get in on it all. Thanks.

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  8. Ooh! This sounds like the perfect excuse for a road-trip! I haven’t been to Clunes for years and last time I was there it felt like a ghost town, so I imagine the locals would be thrilled to see it busy and alive. Will definitely put this on the calendar for next year! Yay books!

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