In which we visit Australia’s only booktown and purchase a fake pearl necklace, some plastic toys, and no books

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Book Town, defn: “A Book Town is a small rural town or village in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Book Towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty.”
International Organisation of Book Towns (IOB)

When gold was first discovered in Victoria, it was discovered in the pretty little village we now know as Clunes. Today, Clunes is home to 1600 people… and at least 15 bookstores. It is the only officially recognised “booktown” in the southern hemisphere, and one of only 17 in the world.

Once a year, this already very-literary town spills its books out into the streets, and literature completely takes over the town, for the Clunes Booktown Festival. I’m not kidding. You walk into the local hairdressing salon, complete with old-fashioned hair-dryers on the wall, and the rest of the salon is filled with books, wall to wall. Nearby at an antique store, furniture and curios have been moved out of the way to make room for more books. And inside the local cafes? You guessed it, more books. There are books on tables in the street, in market-stalls that line the middle of the road, out the front of the museum, in the post office, and spilling out of residents’ garages.

Actors perform Shakespeare on a makeshift stage made out of a ring of hay-bales, children learn the antique art of book-binding, and storytellers and author-talks and book-signings continue throughout the day. The air is filled with the delicious smoke of a hundred food stalls and cafes and bakeries and coffee carts, and all the dogs look happy and the children even happier. It is bustling but not impossibly crowded, and essentially it is my idea of heaven.

When we visited Clunes on the weekend, the rain held off but made mist around the surrounding hills. The streets were wide and the gold-rush era architecture absolutely stunning, with original painted signage still on many of the shop windows and walls. I ate a pulled-pork-and-coleslaw filled roll at the Bread and Circus Provedore that I would recommend to anyone.

The only fly in my personal book-browsing, book-buying ointment turned out to be my “parent” status, since it would appear that hunting for books amidst piles of other books for hours on end is not something that the average toddler likes to do. Even when you give them spending money and say “go for it.” Who knew? But since I happen to believe that being a parent is the best thing ever, even better than shopping for books, I’m not about to change that status any time soon.

So we went to the Clunes Booktown Festival and bought a double-string of fake pearls (Scout), a Peppa Pig activity-book with plastic duck toys (Ralph), delicious lunches for four, chocolate ice-cream (Scout), a chocolate milk-shake (Ralph)… and no books.

Yep, not one. But we’re going back next year!

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