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article imageBooktown Australia: A community event presented by volunteers Special

By Robert G Cope     May 16, 2011 in World
Clunes - An annual community event run entirely by volunteers, Booktown Australia -- rivaling similar festivals worldwide -- attracts thousands of book-lovers to a town of fewer than 1,000.
In its fifth year, the Booktown Festival in Clunes already rivals the Mother of Booktowns, Hay-on-Wye in Britain, as well as Canada's Sydney-by-the-Sea, Scotland's Wigtown Festival, and even the Continent's standout, Bredevoort in the Netherlands. And there is nothing like it in America. This Digital Journalist shares the spirit and charm of a small Australian town starting with the kick-off BBQ.
Two bibliophiliacs sat next to me. They arrived that day from Tasmania, the remote island-state south of the Australian mainland. With a rented van, they crossed the Bass Straits on an over-night ferry and, after stopping to buy a dozen IKEA bookshelves to stock their new, on-the-sea home, they arrived in Clunes to buy books. Lots of books—maybe 1,000.
The others at the BBQ – a hundred or so – were book dealers, event volunteers, authors, and more book buyers. The Australian media, forty strong, and Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, had arrived and gone. Fifteen thousand more bibliophiliacs and a former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, are anticipated over the next two days. It's Booktown.
It rained steadily the previous days, but on Saturday morning, May 14, the sun shone and the sky was a bright blue. By mid-day buskers entertained on the main street, stands were set to serve all manner of foods, some of the town's 70 volunteers were at the information tent or arranging chairs and tables along the wide, almost a mall-in-itself, Fraser Street. Sixty to seventy book dealers in about twenty locations were already selling some of (the author estimates) 300,000 books.
The more serious, volume-buyers, steer two-hand, two-wheel movers, sometimes glancing sideways, envious of shopping-cart size, four wheelers. Antiquarian buyers sport shoulder bags.
At the town Information Centre, where sales support a glass bottle museum, about 6,000 pre-loved books are each 50 cents; across the street from the Booktown Bookstore (with fifteen or so thousand neatly arranged books), in tents, piled over tables, all new books are ten dollars, or thirteen books for one hundred dollars; next door, Ian – otherwise an antique dealer – estimates he has six or seven thousand used books. He is still opening boxes as I chat with him. Every book is five dollars. He doesn't stop to count.
At other venues books are one dollar each. No prices at The Book Fossicker; at the back table the grisly-looking chap says, “Make an offer.” I offer fifteen dollars. I get a treasure. Joan, the shop's owner, at the front, smiles sweetly as she notes a happy grin, saying, “Hope to see you again.”
Nearby a shuttle bus from more remote parking locations arrives every ten or so minutes. Teenagers meet the shuttle, offer directions and hand out guides. More than books to buy, they tell where authors address audiences, what times to see Judy punch Punch, point to the park and its many food stalls, and generally make everyone feel welcome.
Parking my camper van at the edge of the main street, with my dog for company, I lived in Aussie country hospitality for two days: Jill – a book seller from 30 km away – delivers warm donuts. Across the street, she and four other small book sellers fill the Senior Centre for those two days. Happily, taking my cue from the meaning – in Gaelic – of Clunes (pleasing surroundings), I drove the two hours to the UNESCO City of Literature, Melbourne.
While observing the hard-at-work volunteers, I learned, after the gold mining days, a hundred and fifty or so years before, Clunes – almost a ghost town -- is renewing itself. Guided by a team of interested citizens, calling their effort 'Creative Clunes,' I saw how immigrant food providers, mothers of local school children, wine producers, organic shops, scouting troupes, Punch and Judy, and about thirty local service organizations continue a heritage from where gold was first discovered.
Marking my calendar for 2012, I'm remembering not wanting to know what was in the “Heart Surgery Handbook,” or wanting to use the book “How to Shoot Lions in Algeria,” however, “How to do an Australian Pub Crawl” has possibilities.
More about Australia, Travel, Books, Festival, booktown
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