Welcome to Australia’s first Booktown

Australia’s First Booktown

The Southern Highlands Booktrail is part of the international Book Town movement started in the UK town of Hay-on-Wye over 30 years ago.

A Booktown is usually defined by a rural location with a high concentration of mainly secondhand and antiquarian booksellers, who co-operate to celebrate the literary heritage of their district, as well as the art and craft of the book.

These bookshops are often complemented by artisan enterprises such as paper production, calligraphy, printing, book design, book illustration and traditional bookbinding.

What is a Booktown?

Way back in 1960, a self-confessed “eccentric” Englishman named Richard Booth bought an old run-down castle in a little UK town in Wales, called Hay-on-Wye.

Richard set up a bookshop in his castle, and he began trading in second-hand or antiquarian books. He did such a good job of attracting publicity with his mad-cap promotions that people began to travel long distances just to see what all the fuss was about.

Other book traders caught the scent of a good idea – and moved to set up shop in the village just beside the castle. They reasoned, quite correctly, that anyone coming into town who loved books would also find their way to the nearby shops -–and they put their faith in a concept called synergy (“the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”).

It’s the same kind of phenomenon that you see with motor vehicle dealerships; antique centres; fast food outlets: a kind of dynamism takes over, fuelled by competition, and the prospect for the buyer of variety of choice…

Today, Hay-on-Wye is known world-wide for its thirty-plus specialist bookshops, and its festival of literature and arts. The world beats a path to its splendid rural doorstep in search of books of all descriptions. A small town had survived and prospered in defiance of big bland shopping malls. And it was all thanks to lovers of good recycled book.

But Hay-on-Wye was only the beginning. Other towns soon mimicked it – right throughout the world. Just about every country, including Australia, now has its own book town (yes – the Southern Highlands is the nation’s first!). Some countries, like the USA, have several book towns.

Books are our time machines and our mind expanders. Please come and buy a book or two and enjoy the journey in good company