a guest post by Jo Canham of Blarney Books
When my partner and I still lived in Melbourne, I had a habit of browsing internet real estate, and usually looked up any place we had visited and enjoyed, fantasising about packing up and heading off. I thought it was an innocent enough pasttime, that nothing would ever come of my internet wanderings. The reality was that we had had enough of the city, and if an escape route were found, we’d take it.
Fortunately that opportunity arrived. Port Fairy is a small, coastal town that was one of Victoria’s original whaling ports, so it has a lot of history, a lot of old bluestone cottages and a mountain of charm. It’s a three hour drive from Melbourne, so the summers, while busy indeed, aren’t the dreadful chaos of coastal towns closer to the city. An old bluestone church on the outskirts of Port Fairy was for sale. I must mention at this point that it has always been my dream to have my own secondhand bookshop in the country, and that I knew it was only a matter of time until it was realised. I was 36 when I saw the ad for the church.
On ringing the real estate agent we were given the advice that it was much too small for a business like a bookshop and its location would be difficult, but that they did have an old Masonic Hall for sale in the town’s centre. We drove down for a look and instantly I could see that this was the place for my shop. From there it all fell into place – klonk klonk klonk – like destiny was just waiting for us to pull all the pieces together. My partner applied for several engineering jobs, and was successful in each of his applications. He has traded a road-rage inducing 45-minute commute each way, for a 4-minute cycle ride along a rail-trail, past cows and alpacas!
We had a couple of months to get organised from Melbourne. I placed an ad in the local papers calling for books. I met a lot of interesting people just through the buying of the stock, and some of these contacts I still have today. One memorable visit was to a private garage in inner-city Melbourne that looked more like a bookshop. It was lined with shelves, the shelves were fully loaded with books, they were all sorted into sections, priced – well, you know what a bookshop looks like. Thanks to this incredible find, we finally had enough stock to set up shop. We found some ex video shop shelving which was very ugly, but cheap and would certainly do “for now”.
One truck for our stuff, and another truck for the shop stuff, and we were on our way. I can’t describe the strange feeling we had setting off that day. We didn’t know a single person in Port Fairy. We had never opened a business before. What on earth were we doing? It was exciting, yes, but it was also incredibly frightening. Looking back now, I think we must have been running on some kind of adrenalin. I’m not very brave, usually. Did I mention I was 20 weeks pregnant?