IT WAS a festival borne from a desire to invigorate a very special little town that had some success as a set for international movie hits like Mel Gibson’s Mad Max and Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly.
The community of Clunes knew their town was unique with its sandy goldrush landscape, its rustic architecture and its tight-knit, friendly feel. They knew the town’s potential was bubbling away, untapped.
The brainstorming came to a head 10 years ago.
In 2007, with the help of 100 local volunteers (bearing in mind Clunes only had a population of about 900 at the time), a group of Clunes residents decided to host an event they dubbed “Booktown for a Day”.
They hoped that perhaps 1000 people would turn up to the market day of rare, collectable and antique books. Nearly 6000 people came.
Since then, the festival has exploded. This year’s festival, coming up soon on April 30 and May 1, boasts a 40-page program with dozens of author talks, exhibitions and family entertainment.
But the festival isn’t the only thing that has exploded. The population has since doubled in the past 10 years, now standing at nearly 2000 – a testament to the invigorating effects of an annual literary festival.
New artistic director Ailsa Brackley du Bois said she expected the festival to continue driving increased interest in the township of Clunes.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but I do believe the growth will be ongoing,” she said.
“I can see that in the range of interest and range of engagement.”
The range of interest is first and foremost for the Clunes Booktown organisers, who have been keen to extend appeal beyond a strictly literati audience.
This year’s festival will be headlined by former Queensland premier Anna Bligh and renowned journalist Stan Grant. They will be joined by a selection of Australia’s finest fiction writers including Cate Kennedy, Arnold Zable, Leah Kaminsky and Peter Yeldham.
But to appeal to tastes outside fiction, political commentary and memoir, Ms Brackley du Bois has also made concerted efforts to bring in left-of-centre additions, such as photographers and travel writers, and a Bluestone Exhibition with antique, rare and goldfields biblio art.
“We’ll have two talks on travel writing - Heather Ellis talking about her amazing motorcycle journey through Africa, one fraught with trouble and that ended up with her contracting HIV. Then we’ve got Fran Bryson, talking about a different type of travel writing in Brazil.”
A weekend pass to the festival is $10. For more information, visit. www.clunesbooktown.com.au
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.