Chris O’Donnell first visited Clunes on a day drive from Melbourne to attend the town’s first Booktown Festival eleven years ago. She felt drawn to the place, so when she started looking to buy land for her ‘place in the country,’ Clunes is where she headed.
That was four years ago and oddly, soon after she arrived, Chris discovered that her great-great-grandmother had emigrated to Clunes from Ulster in Ireland at the beginning of the gold rush. She ran a pub in the town’s main street for sixty years and Chris’s great-grandmother was born in the town.
“I never knew any of that until I had moved here,” she says.
Chris is happy to be described as a bit of an adventurer. Not only did she uproot herself from a life in Melbourne (where she had lived all her life), leaving behind a fifteen-year career in IT as a business analyst, but she and her new business partner, Christine Lethlean have just opened an art gallery in Clunes – “now the family is back in the main street,” she quips.
And then there is her fascination with Papua New Guinea. She’s visited four times.
“The first time I won the tickets to go there and the second time I went, I had boldly decided to walk the notoriously difficult Kokoda Track. I trained for months and it was still tough but I’m glad I did it. It was an incredible experience.
“Papua New Guinea has always intrigued me. As Australians, it’s right on our doorstep and we fly over it to get to other places; but very few of us have ever been there, or know much about it,” she says.
Her second two visits have been about heading north, out of Port Moresby and exploring the more untouched areas.
“The country has a well-known reputation for being dangerous but when you move away from Port Moresby, it’s an exciting place to be.”
Chris has a long-held concern for human rights and people getting equal and fair treatment.
“Righting injustice is something I’ve always been interested in – whether it be injustice against people or animals. Visiting Papua New Guinea and learning more about Manus Island – and the ridiculous notion of trying to integrate refugees into New Guinea society – has only strengthened that. And of course, Australia has its own long history of human rights injustices. It’s not a history we can be proud of.”
Today, in Clunes, Chris is happily adjusted to rural life.
“I lived in the same house in Melbourne for seventeen years and I barely knew my neighbours. Here in Clunes, everyone is friendly. I know every person who owns every shop here. I walked away from a job in Melbourne that I could have had for many more years to come but I’ve had no regrets whatsoever.
Chris is on the board of Creative Clunes, the organisation responsible for organising the town’s now famous Clunes Booktown Festival, which takes place annually in May – www.clunesbooktown.com.au www.reddoorgalleryonfraser.com