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Clunes: From Gold Town To Booktown

By Edited Jan 6, 2016 0 0

A Pleasant Place

The site of Victoria (Australia's) first gold strike, Clunes is situated 146 kilometres north west of Melbourne.

Located in a steep valley surrounded by extinct, rounded volcanic hills, the picturesque township of Clunes was the site of Victoria's first gold strike. The first European settler in the district was a twenty-one year-old over lander from Sydney, Donald Cameron.

In 1839, he took up a pastoral run, naming it Clunes - Gaelic for "a pleasant place" - after his birthplace in Scotland.

Only three years earlier, the explorer Major Mitchell had passed through the area, describing it as "good."


Dugan Cameron - Donald's uncle - established a station at what is now Mount Cameron. It was on this property in March 1859 that a friend of the Cameron's, William Campbell, found the first traces of gold. News of the discovery was concealed.

 Throughout the 1840's, rumours abounded of shepherds finding gold in the area. In an attempt to keep the district a quiet pastoral area, the local squatters suppressed evidence of any finds.

 In July 1851, James Esmond, a veteran of the California gold fields, arrived in Clunes. After mining samples of quartz from Mount Cameron, Esmond journey south to Geelong, where he reported his discovery. News of the find was first published on 7 July 1851 in The Geelong Advertiser.

 Two days later, The Melbourne Daily News reported that gold had been discovered in what is now the Melbourne suburb of Warrandyte. The Victorian gold rush was on.

Clunes 1860

Clunes 1860
Credit: Family Collection

By 1857, Clunes was prospering. The small cluster of tents and huts quickly became a sizeable town. Two years later, Fraser Street was a "mass of mud," causing women to regularly lose their footwear. In 1861, Clunes' population reached 1,083 people, living in 470 dwellings.

 The town had its own council and five schools, attended by 292 children. By 1866, the population had grown to over 3,500. The town now had eight schools, seven quartz mines and five churches.

 At the height of the gold rush, Clunes was home to more than six thousand people. The town now hosted a Freemasons Lodge; Orange Lodge; several private schools; State Schools in both North and South Clunes; 15 hotels; 12 grocers; 1 baker; 6 butchers; 4 fruit shops; 4 boarding houses; 3 foundries; a gas works and several brick yards.

 In 1893, at the end of the rush, the mines had recovered more than 1.2 million ounces of gold.

Bookstalls in the historic Clunes Town Hall & Court House

Book stalls in the Town Hall
Credit: © Bronwyn Joy Hansen 2013

The Origins of Booktown

In 2007, a group of Clunes citizens met to explore ways to create a sustainable future for the town. The idea was that Clunes could be transformed into a permanent Booktown through the hosting of a weekend event. Tess Brady, Tim Hayes, Linda Newitt, Graeme Johnstone and research consultant Paul Miller, formed the core group in charge of organising and running the experiment.

That first Booktown is remembered as the day that Clunes saw more people than at the height of the gold rush. The only cash machine ran out of money; the restaurants and takeaways ran out of food - even the electricity ran out!

 Since that first one day event, Clunes Booktown has become a weekend lone celebration of all things bookish.

 A major regional festival, Booktown is run entirely by the famous red-aproned volunteers. It is estimated that one-third of Clunes' population volunteer to keep Booktown running smoothly.

 Over the years, the Clunes Booktown Festival has hosted sponsored writers from former Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, to internationally renowned writers John Marsden (Tomorrow When The War Began), Frank Moorhouse (The Edith Trilogy) and Sonya Hartnett (Of A Boy).

 Guests at the 2102 Festival included Geoffrey Blainey (Tyranny of Distance), publisher Michael Heyward, and Associate Director of The Wheeler Centre, Jenny Niven.

The Clunes Town Hall & Court House Building

Clunes Town Hall & Court House
Credit: © Bronwyn Joy Hansen 2013

The 2012 Clunes Booktown Festival saw over fifteen thousand book lovers descend on the town. Twenty-two building and several marquis acted as makeshift book stores. An amazing range of books was available for sale.

 New releases; second hand; military; antiquarian; children's titles; comic books; technical manuals. If a book has been written, there is a good chance one of the sixty booksellers in town for the weekend had it for sale.

 Clunes Booktown Festival also includes workshops on various book related topics. In 2012, subjects included reviewing, publishing and collecting books.

 Of course, the Clunes Booktown Festival is not just about books.

There is a wide variety of food and entertainment around town. In 2012, the Collins Place Rotunda hosted the Creswick Brass Band, and Wesley College Music Group and Band. Professor Whatsit's Punch and Judy Show entertained children of all ages in Fraser Street, where there was also free face painting, and performances by juggler, Eric The Red.

Fraser Street from Service Street, Clunes

Fraser Street
Credit: © Bronwyn Joy Hansen 2013

Collins Place also plays host to a range of food stalls, catering for all tastes from pumpkin soup, souvlaki, or just a good old barbecued sausage in bread with onion and sauce. If you would prefer a sit down meal, Fraser Street is home to a bakery, a hotel serving counter meals, and cafes.

If you are in Clunes on the first weekend in May and need a break from book prospecting, you might just find me at Widow Twankey's, enjoying a blue heaven milkshake.

Creswick Brass Band Performing in Collins Place, Clunes

Collins Place
Credit: © Bronwyn Joy Hansen 2013


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