Review: Clunes Booktown Festival

29 May 2017

There really is nothing like the look and feel of a good book: you can smell the authenticity of each page, and feel the creases and textures in the paper. This love of books is the reason that Clunes Booktown Festival is now in its 11th year, and still going strong.

You could be excused for not knowing about Clunes, as it is only a small country town with a population of just over 2,000. But Booktown has been putting Clunes on the map since its conception in 2007, as a way to bring people together and celebrate all things literature. Run by local volunteers, the festival was initially created as a market day for rare and unique books, and has evolved into the Booktown we know and love today. Held annually on the first weekend of May, the festival attracts an increasingly large crowd, with this year’s total estimated to have been around 18,000 festival-goers.

I attended this year’s Clunes Booktown Festival, and was transported into a whole new world of literature. The main street was transformed into a treasure trove of new and old books for sale, with authors meeting and greeting fellow book lovers and musicians creating an amazing atmosphere. From spiralled potatoes to Indian cuisine and rainbow gelati, the food on offer catered for most everyone, and created a wonderful aroma that carried right down the main street.

The event is undeniably family-oriented. Not only were there books for all ages, but there was a craft station for the children, along with a hay bale maze and a large interactive world map with ‘famous landmarks’ puzzle pieces for those of all ages to test their global knowledge. At the same time I saw a lot of older reading enthusiasts, as well as teens on dates and with their friends, so it is really an occasion for one and all.

Clementine Ford is a well-known feminist author who recently spoke at The University of Melbourne, and continued her tour by speaking at Clunes Booktown. Other authors in the spotlight included former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher, Kate Grenville and David Holmgren, who are all well regarded in their respective literary fields. The event offered various panel discussions and author talks to connect authors and industry professionals with festival-goers. These unique opportunities to engage with established authors provided a space for aspiring writers and literature-lovers to have their burning questions answered, and were a highlight for many in attendance.

A special program on offer to those of all ages was A Magazine In A Weekend. Whilst I did not participate, the program encouraged attendees to write, edit and design work for publication, giving a valuable and holistic overview of the industry.

At only $10 for the entire weekend, the festival itself is a very affordable event. The only additional costs are any books or food you wish to purchase, as well as some high-demand author discussions (although most could be attended free of charge).

I would highly recommend making the most of the VLine service for this event, as the parking situation is understandably limited. Booktown is accessible by train from Melbourne via the Maryborough line, with free shuttle busses driving attendees from Clunes Railway Station to the festival and back again throughout the day. If you are driving, it is only around 25 minutes from Ballarat, or just over an hour and a half from Melbourne.

While in Clunes you can also delve into the rich Gold Rush history of the town, partake in a walking tour and take in the 19th century buildings, or simply enjoy the countryside and escape the hustle and bustle of Melbourne. I personally found it interesting walking down the main street, recognising where scenes from the 2003 Ned Kelly movie starring Heath Ledger were filmed; some of the buildings have kept their Ned Kelly exteriors to this day. Clunes has also been a backdrop for Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, as well as other movies and TV series.

I would certainly recommend Clunes Booktown to anyone who loves reading or writing, or who simply needs to stock up their home libraries. Filled with entertainment, author-engagement and all things books, Clunes is the place to be on the first weekend of May.

Pencil it in your diaries now folks: Clunes Booktown, May 5th and 6th, 2018.

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