The popularity of the Clunes Booktown Festival shows that paper books are in no danger of being overtaken by e-books − at least not in our lifetime. During the first weekend in May, thousands of bookworms descend on the tiny town of Clunes (population 1656) for Australia’s largest book trader festival. Last Saturday I joined them for the festival’s 10th anniversary.
What is the Clunes Booktown Festival?
For two days, book traders, printers, self-published authors, illustrators and biblio artists set up stalls in Clunes’ main streets and public buildings. On the day I was there, they had a hay bale maze to keep the kids entertained, as well as wandering storytellers, street food and a brass band.
Whether you want to spend $1 on a battered, pre-loved novel or $400 on a rare first-edition, there’s something for everyone, with a good balance between fiction and non-fiction.
Where is Clunes?
Clunes is a historic goldfields town in northern Victoria, about 142km from Melbourne. If you don’t have a car, you can take a V/Line train from Melbourne to Ballarat (1 hour 25 minutes), where there is a connecting training to Clunes (25 minutes) on festival days.
At Ballarat station, we were greeted by local university students in costume who accompanied us all the way to Clunes, quoting Shakespearian sonnets.
Was it crowded?
Some of the shops got pretty busy, but it wasn’t as crowded as I’d expected. The organisers had set up hay bales and plastic chairs in the main street where we could put our feet up when we got tired of browsing. Locals told me that numbers were down on last year, possibly because of the weather and the increase in entry fee.
So how much did it cost?
Admission was $10 this year, but this included free entrance to the author talks that ran throughout the weekend in the local church.
What were the highlights?
Many of the locals had set up their own small stalls and garage sales. Out the back of one of the shops, I came across a small courtyard with yet more books on trestle tables and a stall brewing homemade chai tea. It was a great place to take a break from the crowds and read some of my purchases.
Another interesting discovery was a shop selling original nineteenth century newspapers from Melbourne and Hobart. They were surprisingly well-preserved, and I picked up a few to use as inspiration for some historical fiction I’m working on.
But I’ve missed it!
You don’t have to wait another year for the next booktown festival in Clunes. This town has an unusually high proportion of second-hand bookshops for its size, so it’s worth a visit at any time of the year.
Clunes is a member of the International Organisation of Booktowns. Take a look at their website to see if there is a Booktown near you.