Hope brings back bookish ideas from Oz

By Erin Kavanagh-Hall

BOOKS AND MORE: Hope Sexton, with fellow Featherston Booktown volunteer Patsy Wools, hopes to see Booktown in Featherston grow and be as successful as the Clunes event.
BOOKS AND MORE: Hope Sexton, with fellow Featherston Booktown volunteer Patsy Wools, hopes to see Booktown in Featherston grow and be as successful as the Clunes event.

Featherston's Hope Sexton can add work experience with one of the southern hemisphere's most vibrant cultural events to her resume.

The 19-year-old, who was presented with a community service award from South Wairarapa Rotary last week, has returned from Australia, where she was an intern with Clunes Booktown.

The annual literary festival, which regularly draws crowds of thousands to the small Victoria township, was the inspiration for Featherston's Booktown event -- brought to the region by Featherston Booktown chair Lincoln Gould.

For her internship, Hope was based in Clunes for four weeks, where she was part of the administrative team leading up to the weekend-long festival which featured over 50 book traders, 50 presenting authors, about 20 entertainment acts, a kids' carnival and an exhibition.

Hope, who is well-known in the Featherston community as a youth leader for Rangatahi to Rangatira and a Youth MP, said her internship was initially daunting -- especially as this was her first time overseas.

"I was pretty hesitant but I fitted in really well, and learned so much.

"It was so cool to see it all happening in Clunes which, like Featherston, is only a small town, and its Booktown brings in about 16,000 people.

"Featherston Booktown can get that big with time."

Hope was invited to Clunes Booktown last year after meeting festival supporters Andrew Reeves and Cora Trevethan at the first Featherston Booktown.

Impressed by her professionalism, warmth and local knowledge, the supporters offered her an internship, and the chance to bring ideas and initiatives back to Featherston.

"I guess they thought I was a good host," Hope said.

Arriving in Clunes, a gold-mining town an hour out of Melbourne, she was surprised to discover it was smaller than Featherston -- an "extremely tight knit" population of 900 residents to Featherston's 2000--- with only two main streets.

Clunes Booktown, running since 2006, receives funding from the Australian government, and has become an integral part of the country's events calendar.

In preparation for the festival, the roads are closed off and the main streets lined with tents, gazebos, food stalls and pop-up theatres, and hundreds of volunteers keep an eye on proceedings.

Hope's duties included liaising with booksellers and presenting authors, doing promotional presentations, and making sure authors were looked after during the weekend.

Most authors, she said, were "lovely", but others needed careful handling.

"Some were a bit picky -- they kept asking if there'd be a cup of tea ready.

"They have so many questions, like will there be a white board, who's meeting me there, can I sell my books?"

She served as one of the security crew on the Saturday night, making sure the Booktown village came to no harm and "having to toss drunk people out".

Her help was also needed following some weather-related incidents, such as a deep frier coming unseated in a fierce gale, spilling 40 litres of oil, and a tent leaking and damaging $200 worth of books.

"But you just do your job and get on with it."

Hope said the numbers of people, late nights and early set-ups made for a "manic" weekend but one she'd love to see repeated in her hometown.

The Featherston Booktown crew is now working on improving fundraising and publicity based on Hope's internship, and some of Clunes' events are being considered.

These include its "Booktown on Sundays", where authors give presentations in the town once a month.

"It's really cool -- people go down to the wine bar, have a catch up, listen to great writers, and swap books."

- Wairarapa Midweek

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