Clunes is an international booktown. It’s only a short drive from where I live in Beaufort, central Victoria, and on the weekend just gone it was a hive of activity, with the Clunes Booktown Festival in full swing.
A readers and writers festival with a particular emphasis on celebrating books, (and encouraging visitors to buy copious numbers of them!) it really was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon pottering about the quaint town. Perfect weather too.
What was involved? The town’s 8 regular secondhand/antiquarian bookstores (yes 8! We’re talking about a town of just over 1,500 people here, mind you) were joined by around 50 book sellers from around the country who set up temporary stalls and shops for the weekend. There were workshops, talks by writers, book launches, entertainment, food, and the special guest for the weekend was Mr Jan Kløvstad, President of the International Organisation of Booktowns.
What’s an international booktown I hear you ask? Let me quote you from the Festival’s programme:
By definition, a booktown is ‘a small rural town or village in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated’ and most booktowns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty.
There are now 17 internationally recognised booktowns in Europe, Asia and now Australia. The concept of a booktown was initiated in the early 1960s by Richard Booth in the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye. Born in Hay-on-Wye and educated at Oxford, Booth was concerned about the economic decline of his small market town village and wondered what trade could save it from this malaise. He opened a second-hand bookshop and travelled to America where he purchased and shipped back container loads of books. His example was followed by others and by the 1970s Hay-on-Wye was known internationally as the ‘Town of Books’.
By the 1990s, the booktown concept – as a means of providing a previously unrecognised tourism solution to overcoming the economic and developmental problems of rural areas – had been adopted by villages in Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Norway and Finland.
And does it work? Hell yes I’d say! I could have visited Clunes any weekend since I moved to the area. However, apart from a brief stopover when I first headed out to research the Pyrenees shire before my job interview – when I’d found the town a little disappointing to be honest, a victim of bad timing I believe – I hadn’t yet done so. But I couldn’t resist going to check it out over the weekend.
Interestingly enough, all my purchases (except for official festival merchandise of an entry badge and bag) were in regular Clunes businesses, not any of the visiting vendors.
And I was pretty pleased with what I found! I will certainly be heading that way again to frequent the butcher/smallgoods delicatessen and the fruit and veggie vendor. Mission achieved on their part – well done to the Creative Clunes team and all involved who make the Festival happen and who sought the international status.
Heaven knows small rural communities need all the creative and innovative thinking they can find to survive and thrive. I have read (but not verified) that the last two census figures for Clunes support the positive impact such creativity can have on growth: in 2006 (before the event and international booktown designation) it was apparently 1,026 – but only five years later with the event into it’s fourth year it was 1,656. That’s phenomenal growth in anybody’s language!
PS. I also really enjoyed re-living life in Sweetie – we had an adventure on the way, stopping to collect firewood at a designated site in the state-managed forest, then I stopped by the river in Clunes on arrival to enjoy a coffee made on her stove and some cake before I tackled the festival. Nice. 🙂