Located halfway between Ballarat and Maryborough, Clunes’ Town Hall is continuing to make a positive impact on the town’s community spirit.
The rich heritage behind some of Clunes’ most well-known buildings dates back to the era of Victoria’s gold rush in the mid-1800s.
After gold was first uncovered in Clunes, a wave of iconic buildings was constructed. These buildings continue to play their part in the town’s identity to this day.
One of the town’s oldest buildings – the Clunes Town Hall – was built in 1872 and is still hosting community events and organisations. The Hall is also available for hire for weddings, fundraisers and other functions thanks to its kitchen and meeting rooms.
Recent works to maintain the Hall were made possible through the Victorian Government’s Living Regions Living Suburbs fund in 2020, including new brickwork and painting.
Today, one of the hall’s most important and well-known uses is for the Clunes Booktown Festival.
Established in 2007 by Creative Clunes, Booktown has blossomed from a small book fair into a key event for regional Victoria, attracting visitors from interstate and beyond.
It’s one of 18 booktowns worldwide recognised by the prestigious International Organisation of Booktown, putting the Clunes Booktown Festival on the global map.
Creative Clunes Chief Executive Officer Sue Beal says the festival returned bigger and better than ever this year after a two-year break.
“Booktown is a real magnet for people to come to Clunes and also for the local community to come together,” she says.
Since its inception, Booktown has grown to become Australia’s largest trading book fair showcasing rare books for sale around Clunes, with the town hall being used for writer panels where visitors can engage in discussions with some of their favourite authors.
Sue’s team are looking to add more elements of storytelling to the festival through other creative mediums.
“It’s a very eclectic broad spread of writers from film and television, along with author talks and interviews – the town hall and courthouse are central to that,” Sue says.
Next year’s Booktown Festival will take place in March 2023 and is hoping to attract thousands of visitors to Clunes once again.
On top of its importance for events like Booktown, the Clunes Town Hall caters to other key organisations like Clunes Neighbourhood House.
The organisation supports locals with meal deliveries and other community activities to connect locals across Clunes.
Up to 70 meals are made in the hall’s kitchen each week by Clunes Neighbourhood House volunteers, supporting a wide range of residents, using fresh produce from local farms in regional Victoria.
“Our Open House Meals program is an affordable, healthy food program in a town where last census was found to have high rates of chronic disease – so it’s important that we have this in place,” Clunes Neighbourhood House Manager Lana de Kort says.
“It’s the backbone of our community care program.”
Clunes Neighbourhood House was founded in 1992 and currently has 27 volunteers doing their bit to support and help out locals.
This is particularly important for small towns like Clunes which hold a strong history of community participation that strengthen the bonds between locals.
“Being able to use our towns assets to create activity and learning connections for people can be a tipping point for it to be a lovely place to be,” Lana says.
Several other buildings across the town are used for Clunes Neighbourhood House’s activities, including the Attitude – Ageing Well in Clunes initiative at the town’s senior citizens centre to deliver activities targeting people over the age of 60.
Launched during the pandemic, the initiative provides activities including yoga, film nights and bus trips to connect Clune’s older locals.
“When I joined the organisation, the committee started a new strategic plan to work on activating the spaces across the community so many of the activities and offerings were community led,” Lana says.
“That has enabled us to subdue the impact of the pandemic on the community with our offerings.”
Clunes is certainly putting its best foot forward as a community with a range of unique ways to support and entertain locals and visitors alike.
Read more below about how other community halls are helping local communities across regional Victoria.