Sunday, 6 May 2012

Clunes by the Book

One of the best things about living in Melbourne but not having grown up here, is that I have many undiscovered towns to visit outside the city in the state of Victoria.

One of these was Clunes, where I've spent the weekend. A small town of 1000 people north of Ballarat, it's famous for being a book town along the lines of Hay-on-Wye in Wales.

There are several bookshops operating here throughout the year, bolstered by the arrival of numerous additional booksellers for the annual Clunes Booktown Festival in May. At this event they're housed in all sorts of venues around the town, slipped into nooks and crannies within historic buildings and existing businesses.

As pleasant as the festival this weekend was, I particularly enjoyed spotting the historic relics of a town which housed 9000 inhabitants at its goldmining height in the 1880s. Here are a few highlights...

1. Outside the venue for the festival's opening dinner I spotted this sign attached to a shed. Jerilderie is a fair distance away across the border in New South Wales, so what was it doing here? Turns out it was a prop from the 2003 film Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger, which had been partly filmed in Clunes:


2. And when you see the main street (Fraser Street) you can understand why this was the place to set a 19th century saga:


3. This is the old post office (now a bookshop). It's implausibly grand for a town of 1000 people, but at its gold rush height Clunes demanded nothing less than two storeys:


4. Surpassing it in grandeur is the former Town Hall:


5. On the topic of old-fashioned and possibly obsolete relics, I spotted this distinctive marker at the festival, used to indicate the location of temporary bookstalls. It's made mostly of outdated encyclopedias bolted together into a column. Sacrilege or the best use for them - what do you think?


6. Here's the accommodation we stayed in first, Keebles Country Guest House, which opened in 1863 as the Telegraph Hotel. It's quite plush now, but we were told the place had been everything from a bus station to a brothel in its time:


7. And finally, we hauled up the hill west of the shopping strip to check out the Clunes Bottle Museum inside an old school. Here's the attractive historic building:


8. And here's one of the most interesting exhibits in the museum. It's an unopened 1850s bottle of root beer which we were told has largely turned to sulphur dioxide over the years, due to the presence of SO2 in the original aerated drink. Not nice to sip - but a beautifully formed piece of history:


Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of V/Line (as passenger rail services have just returned to Clunes, hooray!) and Tourism Victoria.