International Program

Clunes – Australia’s First International Booktown

In April 2012 the then Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu announced the declaration of Clunes as Australia’s first International Booktown – the first such appointment in the southern hemisphere.

The declaration – by the International Organisation of Booktowns (IOB) – ‘puts Clunes on the world stage alongside the famous European booktowns of Hay-on-Wye in Wales and Wigtown in Scotland’, the Premier said.

Membership of the IOB had always been one of the key objectives of Creative Clunes, the community group responsible for the organisation of the Clunes Booktown Festival since its inaugural event in 2007.

By definition, a booktown is ‘a small rural town or village in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated’ and most booktowns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty. Most booktown maintain a strong cultural program for their citizens and for tourists.

There are 18 internationally recognised booktowns worldwide in Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and now Australia. The concept of a booktown was initiated in the early 1960s by Richard Booth in the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye. Born in Hay-on-Wye and educated at Oxford, Booth was concerned about the economic decline of his small market town village and wondered what activity could save it from this malaise. He opened a second-hand bookshop and travelled to America where he purchased and shipped back container loads of books. His example was followed by others and by the 1970s Hay-on-Wye was known internationally as the ‘Town of Books’. By the 1990s, the booktown concept, as a means of providing a previously unrecognised cultural tourism solution to overcoming the economic and developmental problems of rural areas, had been adopted by villages in Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Finland, South Korea and Malaysia.

Forging Links with South Korea 

Clunes takes its prestigious international accreditation seriously. In September 2012, Clunes was invited to present a paper at the World Booktown Symposium, conducted as part of the Paju Book Sori, in South Korea. Clunes is now working with colleagues in South Korea in developing a project focussing on the Australian photographer George Rose (1861-1942). Rose, who was born in Clunes, was one of the most prolific photographers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and his images of Korea taken in 1904 are considered by many to be his most significant works. 

In May 2013, a representative of Paju Book City (Mr Lee, Sang, Director of Planning, Paju Book City) visited Clunes during the annual Clunes Booktown Festival and further explored a cultural exchange focussing on the Korean images and works of George Rose. Mr Lee, Sang participated in discussions with representatives of AsiaLink, (Lesley Alway, Director Arts); Creative Clunes, (Dr Tess Brady, Chair Tim Hayes, Secretary and Alessio Cavallaro, Curator of Project); Wesley College (Dr Helen Drennen, Principal and Andrew McAree Director of Wesley Global); the Hepburn Shire Council, (Aaron van Egmond, CEO). 

In July 2013 Creative Clunes received a grant from the Australia Korea Foundation to further reaffirm the ongoing relationship between Clunes Booktown and Paju Book City, and to explore and develop a productive relationship through community-focussed creative exchanges. 

A delegation from Creative Clunes visited Korea from Saturday 5 October until Wednesday 9 October 2013. The purpose of this visit was to: 

  1. Attend Paju Book Sori to further develop linkages between the ‘sister cities’ of the book;
  2. Explore potential to develop a professional artistic exchange project that will promote bi-cultural understanding based on the significant photographic legacy of George Rose and his relationship to Korea;
  3. Scope/meet with potential photographic artists and with potential project partners in Seoul and Paju (including galleries, museums and cultural funding agencies).
  4. Meet representatives of local schools in Paju to promote and engage student participation in the project that will enhance inter-cultural appreciation.
  5. Explore the options for the documentation of the final phase of the project. 

The delegation to Korea comprised:

  • Dr Tess Brady, Chair, Creative Clunes Inc
  • Mr Alessio Cavallaro, Curator
  • Mr Andrew McAree, Director Wesley Global, Wesley College Melbourne
  • Mr Graeme Johnstone, Vice Chair, Creative Clunes Inc
  • Mr Tim Hayes, Secretary, Creative Clunes Inc
  • Mr Richard Gilbert, Board Member, Creative Clunes Inc
  • Ms Jang Eunjung E, Korean Teacher, Yuille Park Community College (Ballarat)

The happenstance that George Rose’s (who was born and bred in Clunes) seminal works were a series of historically potent streetscapes of Korea, taken in 1904, has created a tangible link between the two booktowns, Clunes and Paju. This shared history allows us to move to a shared future through the development of literary, artistic and youth exchanges.

These aims align with the sentiments expressed in the Australian Government White Paper ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ (2012):

‘We encourage the arts community and arts institutions, including those in regional Australia, to look to Asia when planning programs and future growth strategies.’ 

Further, our objectives have been supported by most of the key recommendations of AsiaLink’s On the Ground and in the Know: The Victoria-Asia Cultural Engagement Research Report, (2013). In particular:

  • ‘Develop long term, sustainable relationships rather than one-off projects’
  • ‘Support opportunities for two way exchange in projects’
  • ‘Coordinate opportunities for peer to peer networking’
  • ‘Promote the ‘value’ of cultural engagement with Asia through advocacy and leadership at the political, bureaucratic and key agency levels to other areas of government, business and the community’ 

International Program at our Festivals

Plans were already in place to have an exhibition of artists books at the 2014 Clunes Booktown Festival and recognising the importance of this form in Korea we invited the award winning artist Ms Ahn Kyunghee to the 2014 festival to take part in the exhibition and display of artists books.

The Board of Creative Clunes agreed to fund Ms Ahn Kyunghee’s trip to Clunes as an on-going gesture of goodwill and to maintain the energy of our international program.

The George Rose Project

2015 saw the completion of the George Rose Project. Curated by Catherine Croll and supported by Festivals Australia (Australia Council), Australian Korea Foundation ( DFAT) , AsiaLink (Uni of Melbourne), Korea Foundation and Culture Victoria, two internationally renowned photographic artists William Yang (Australia) and Koo Bohnchang (Korea) visited Clunes in March running workshops and taking images. They then visited Paju Book City in Korea doing likewise. The combined works were exhibited at the 2015 Clunes Festival and in Paju later in the year. The artists were guests of the 2015 Festival.  The images were then exhibited at the Korean Cultural Centre in Sydney in 2016.

We thank the Korean Consul, Melbourne; State Library of Victoria and the Australian embassy in Seoul for considerable assistance and support for this project throughout its long planning stage.

A Visit from Hwang Sun-mi

We were enormously thrilled to host a visit of the author of the internationally best selling parable The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. Ms Hwang was a guest at the 2015 Booktown festival.