50 towns in 50 days: New life in old Clunes

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NOT so long ago Clunes was a dying town.

Popular cafe/lolly shop Widow Twanky’s owner Tim Hayes recalls when he came to Clunes just over a decade ago most of Fraser Street had shut up shop in the former gold mining hamlet.

Fast forward a few years, and Clunes is a thriving township with most of its main street stores open for business and locals describing a relaxed and friendly community.

So what happened to rejuvenate the home of Victoria’s first official gold strike? In 2006, the very first Clunes Booktown helped put the town on the map.

Based on a European-style concept, Booktown is now Australia’s largest collection of rare, out-of-print, small press, second hand and collectable books.

Clunes has also since become an international Booktown and is described as a “vibrant, rural, cultural hub for book writing and ideas”.

Author Peter Merck also describes what attracted him to Clunes nine years ago.

Mr Merck came to finish writing a book and stayed for the peace and tranquility, plus the local fishing.

“You get to see all the beauty spots tourists don’t get to see, along the lower levels of the plain,” Mr Merck said.

Michael Spalding was also drawn to the town a few years ago and is now keen to set up a yoga retreat at nearby Durach.

“You can walk down the street and chat with people,” Mr Spalding said.

“And I love books. I’ve always loved books.”

The Basics

Municipality: Hepburn Shire

Population: 900

First settled: 1839

Main industries: Grazing, gold mining.

Claim to fame: Clunes was the sight of Victoria’s first official gold strike.

Five fast facts

1. Major Mitchell passed through Clunes in 1836 and pronounced it “good”.

2. Clunes is surrounded by rounded hills which are actually extinct volcanoes.

3. Clunes is one of the most intact 19th-century towns in the central goldfields.

4. The main street of Clunes, Fraser Street, has been the setting for many films, including Mad Max and Ned Kelly.

5. The first European settler was 21-year-old Donald Cameron, who named the town after his birthplace in Scotland, which means “a pleasant place” in Gaelic.

Five things to do

1. Head to the annual Booktown event, which brings together book sellers, writers and speakers from all over Australia and is staged right across the town.

2. The Mount Beckworth Nature Reserve was the site of bushranger Captain Moonlight’s hold-out and provides numerous walks, rides, climbs, camp spots, horse riding, rock climbing, bushwalking, bike riding, caving, bird watching and abseiling possibilities.

3. The Clunes Museum contains exhibits of life during the gold rush and early settlement, as well as maps, brochures and tourist information.

4. Mt Coghill, Mount Beckworth and Eastern Peake wineries are all located in the Clunes area.

5. Take a scenic drive or walk around the Port Phillip mine, the site of Australia’s first gold rush. There are plenty of plaques and old mining equipment to look at.

Clunes confectionary retailer Tim Hayes. PICTURE: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

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