Day Trips Festive

Clunes Booktown Festival 2016

clunes booktown festival

Books are everywhere. Cardboard boxes of bargain, second-hand novels line the roadsides. Rare and out-of-print volumes cover tables in the town hall. Small-press publications grace the benches in the cafes. And there are shelves, endless bookshelves, in the train station, the churches, the post office, the antiques shops, the community centre, the hardware stores … Books have taken over the town.

Sound like a dream?

For two days of the year, this is a reality in the small former gold-mining town of Clunes when the Booktown Festival arrives.

The Booktown Festival brings together dozens of book traders in one place, their wares overflowing from every public premises in town. It’s Australia’s biggest book trader festival.

Supply the books, and the bibliophiles shall come … And they do, all 15,000 to 20,000 of them. The town’s population swells by a factor of 20 during the festival.

Booktown Festival 2016 Program

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the Clunes Booktown Festival started up, yet it’s just about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. With the big birthday bash, there’s going to be a lot of hoo-ha at this year’s festival.

hay bale maze during clunes booktown festival

For a start, the festival program is twice the size it was last year. There are:

  • 70 book traders
  • 50 authors speaking
  • 9 entertainment acts
  • 8 educational acts
  • Kids activities
  • A themed exhibition
  • Books … Did we mention books?

And it’s not just about the book shopping. The Clunes Booktown Festival is also a chance to listen to influential authors. The authors talks are spread out over the two days in various venues – this year’s notable luminaries includes Anna Bligh.

Then there’s the usual fare of additional activities. Embrace the feeling of going back in time as the kids clamber through the hay bale maze, families enjoy horse-and-cart rides, and musicians and bands perform in the town’s old-school gazebo. Drop the teens off at the circus workshop. And be on the look-out for the Jacques, the juggling, unicycle-riding French waiter.

There’s a new Artistic Director and CEO on board, so things to be a little different. For example, this is the first year to have a rather Whovian theme: “Journey through Time and Place”.

On entry, kids get a “Festival Passport” that allows them to track their journey through the festival by collecting stamps at various points.


Those who have been visiting since the festival’s inception might think the $10 entry steep (though it covers everything, including authors talks).

While it’s tempting to reminisce about the good ol’ days when a $2 donation gave you access to special rooms and authors talks, don’t forget that all money goes back into the community coffers (just what small-town Victoria needs!).

How to Make the Most of Booktown

If you want to make the most of the fare, book some overnight accommodation nearby and make sure you get in both days. Saturday’s are great to find rare and collector’s books, while Sunday avos are perfect to snap up last-minute bargains (when many booksellers drop their prices to lighten the load on their journey home).

Make sure you check out the Clunes Booktown Festival 2016 Program and mark those talks you would be interested in attending. You’ll want to be there early to be sure you get in to watch your favourite authors – it’s likely Anna Bligh and Stan Grant will be hugely popular.

You won’t need to bring your own lunch to this event. There are plenty of food stalls, cafes, bakeries, and even a confectionery to tempt you while you’re there.

Clunes History

Before Booktown came along, Clunes was notable only because it was Victoria’s first goldfields village. It’s set in a gorgeous wine growing region and has heritage bluestone buildings. But so do many towns in the area.

So how to stand out? Host a book festival. The first event, Booktown for a Day, drew 6,000 people and proved so successful it turned into a 2-day fun-fest for bibliophiles (not a surprise given its proximity to UNESCO City of Literature, Melbourne).

In 2012, Clunes joined an elite list by becoming the 15th international Booktown and the only one in the southern hemisphere.

Today, Clunes has a surprising number of bookshops for such a small town. Eight, in fact. Eight bookshops for 1000 people. Not a bad ratio in my books… Excuse the pun. It’s also got 2 online book traders and a bunch of other businesses that stock books.

And the town has grown so popular with the artistic world that today, it has a high proportion of writers, artists, and potters among its residents.

Fun fact: if you recognise Clunes’s pretty main street, it’s because it was a filming location for Mad Max and Ned Kelly.

church in clunes

Clunes Booktown Festival Tickets

When: The Clunes Booktown Festival runs 9am to 5pm Saturday 30 April and Sunday 1 May.

Where: Booktown is celebrated throughout the streets of Clunes, with pop-up bookshops residing in just about every public building in the town. Entry into the festival is located at 4 gates either end of Bailey and Fraser Streets.

Getting there and away: Clunes is some 36km north of Ballarat or 142km northwest of Melbourne (see the map below). It’s about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne – an easy day trip!

There is ample parking throughout the town, though if you arrive late, expect to park on the outskirts of town and walk in.

Alternatively, you can make it there via V/Line. Trains depart from Ballarat Station, with three extra services provided just for the festival. You’ll have to grab tickets since Mykis don’t work on this stretch. Keep an eye out for the honorary Town Crier who will usher you aboard.

Cost: Entry is $10, which covers both days and all events. Children 14 and under are free.

Please note, there are limited EFTPOS facilities and very few ATMs in Clunes. You can imagine the demand for ATMs, so I HIGHLY RECOMMENDED you bring cash – and more than you might expect to spend.

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