Story by Richard Cornish
Photography by Tony Evans for Visit Ballarat
Back in 2007 the millennial drought was well under way. The country was dry and farming communities were hurting. Clunes, the historic town 40km west of Daylesford, was suffering. Shops were closing and there was an uneasy sense of decline in the community. A group of locals put their minds together and decided to gather some book traders and turn Clunes into a mini book fair for a day. They expected a few hundred people. Six thousand showed up. Not only that, but out of a population of 900 people, 100 volunteered to help. They called it Booktown and next month sees the 11th annual Booktown at which 18,000 are expected to attend.
A book town is town or village that has a large number of used book stores or antiquarian book sellers. Many are members of the International Organisation of Book Towns whose aims are to strengthen rural economies and raise public awareness of heritage by promoting the events held in like-minded towns. Other book towns around the world include Damme in Belgium, Montblanc in Catalonia and Becherel in France.
“The flow on effects of Booktown are quite remarkable,” says Louise Permezel, Deputy Chair, Creative Clunes, the body that oversees Booktown. The changes to Clunes over the past 11 years are self-evident. The population has doubled, the shops are nearly all occupied, there is now a train service and the station has been renovated.
This year’s festival is running 5th and 6th of May where the historic main drag, a beautiful wide street with stone edging following a broad arc, will be blocked off. Filling the streets are 65 different book traders many specialising in one field of literature. Some come to sell rare books and valuable collectible books, while others focus on books for children.
Clunes Booktown teams up with different partners and Louise Permezel, a secondary school English literature teacher, is proud that Victorian Association for the Teaching of English is one of them. They are promoting a stream of authors of young adult fiction who are speaking on panels or giving author talks. Those authors include
Jaclyn Moriarty who wrote the spell-filled adventure novel The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Also appearing is Ellie Marney who writes about relationships between young adults.
Although the festival does focus on the trade of used books, the extensive authors’ talks programme sees swathes of living writers presenting their work. Some of the big names include Richard Flanagan who will be discussing his new work First Person. Another fascinating author is Ross McMullin who is discussing his biography of WWI Australian Brigadier-General Harold "Pompey" Elliott who was a charismatic, tempestuous leader of men. On the Western Front he left his office and toured the front line learning first hand of the chaos and confusion. He was instrumental for reinvigorating the Australian effort and saving the town of Villers-Bretoneux from the Germans.
After speaking, authors move to the Reading’s Tent where they sign new copies of their books. The sessions are free but attendees are encouraged to go to the website and book tickets for each session. “What I really love about Booktown is the pace,” says Louise. “It is so relaxed and so slow,” she says.
Booktown Clunes, 5-6 May