By Lily Mason
When I first decided to leave my city upbringing and live the dream in a small Victorian town, I assumed I’d be sacrificing a lot. But very quickly I adopted the slower pace, the fresher air and realised that I wasn’t missing out on anything. In fact, I’d gained so much. Clunes, has a population of roughly 1700, it’s about half an hour from Ballarat, serviced by a few trains a day and is steeped in gold rush history. The town has more recently become known for its International Booktown status and is home to a campus of Wesley College.
I was born and raised in Birmingham in the UK. I’d spent my late teens-early twenties in London and moved to Melbourne at 24 in 2000. Moving to Clunes in 2008, the town was tiny. A bit run down, but very pretty. Fewer shops were open in the main street. Coffee could be found at the bakery, wine at the pub and a little bar open one night a week, but options were limited. I was commuting to Melbourne to work each day, so at first I didn’t notice the difference too much. But there was something lovely about reaching Pentland Hills and seeing the city fade behind me as the countryside opened up. I quit my job six months.
Life in Clunes has always been busy as I was quickly cajoled into joining a couple of local volunteer organisations. Clunes has one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the country making it a very active and inclusive community. For instance, each Tuesday night a big crowd of us head to the Town Hall for the Open House Dinners – a chance for people to connect with each other over an inexpensive meal created by volunteers and enjoy one of the town’s most beautiful, significant buildings. Food brings us together a lot here. Clunes is growing and it looks very different to the town I moved to twelve years ago. We have a handful of great cafes and restaurants and now most of the shops are occupied, there are semi-regular circus shows and live music, but with the same small town community feel. I’m glad I quit my city life and stayed on.