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.
Books, author talks, food, music, entertainment and more! It all starts tomorrow from 8am til late in Clunes! Then again 8am til 4pm on Sunday! 📚 Be sure to head to The Warehouse and check out the workshops for emerging writers, editors and designers as you play a hand in launching a 'Magazine in a Weekend'. Plus meet the team behind @kyd_magazine, @voiceworksmag and @liftedbrow! 👌🏻 $10 Festival Passes on entry or online via the link in our profile! Pic: Tony Evans for @visitballarat
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.
Today I went to the Clunes Book Town Festival! Held in a tiny rural town there were DOZENS of bookstores/stalls, all filled with secondhand books! Dear friends, it was heavenly!! Check out my story for more pics & the most adorable band of kids playing the Harry Potter theme music. A vlog is up on my YouTube channel, link in profile. Now tell me honestly, can you resist secondhand book sales?! . #clunesbooktownfestival #clunes #booksale #secondhandbook #seaofbooks #booklover #seeaustralia #Aussiereaders
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.