Clunes: a culture of volunteering

When Dr. Tess Brady moved to Clunes eight years ago, she was new to volunteering.

With the May 2012 sixth annual Clunes Booktown Festival a great success and all wrapped up creative director Tess says 'It’s the volunteers who make the festival possible and sustainable.'

Around 300 local volunteers contribute their time and effort to the annual event, held on the first weekend in May – in a town with a population of 800 that's a huge commitment by the whole community.

Tess confides that Clunes has one of the highest volunteer ratios in the country. 'If you're not volunteering, it's a little bit strange,' she says, 'and most people volunteer for more than one group.'

At Clunes Booktown Festival, volunteers are treated like royalty. 'Every volunteer need is respected.  We make sure that every volunteer has a role that fits the time they have available and their physical needs. Nobody is put in a position where they might feel uncomfortable.'

'There are 101 tasks that need to be performed to make this thing happen. Our philosophy is that if everybody does one shift for around two to three hours, the job's done.'

Logistically, that means that volunteers are rostered in groups at different locations around the town, and volunteer coordinators help keep things running smoothly.

The Volunteer Kitchen is the heart and soul of the volunteer effort. It's a central hub where volunteers can   grab something to eat or drink or catch up with other volunteers.

'The Volunteer Kitchen coordinator is one of the few people with a direct line to me,' explains Tess, 'and if they ring me with a problem I stop everything else – no matter what – and prioritise that. Nothing is more important.'

At the end of every Clunes Booktown Festival, there's a party for volunteers to catch up and compare notes and stories from the weekend but mainly to celebrate what's been achieved. 'It's an acknowledgement that the festival is unquestionably a team effort. We all make it happen.'

Tess says that during her time in Clunes, her understanding of how communities work has changed. 'This really is a team effort,' she says. 'Volunteers and volunteer organisations provide a structure that allows a community to respond effectively to any challenge.'

Clunes Booktown Festival is an annual event run by Creative Clunes Inc., a Not For Profit incorporated association that aims to develop the town as a cultural hub. Read more about the festival on the web at