A variety of books lining the historic walls of The Book Cellar.

The lure of books

In a world emerging from lockdown, the thrill of getting out and about is felt by locals far and wide. In Tasmania, we’re lucky. We have a destination accessible from almost anywhere in the state suitable for a day trip.

Campbell Town is a historic village in the centre of Tasmania with a host of attractions. Years ago I once drove from Hobart just to have a meal at the newly opened Zeps café, which is still serving the needs of travellers on the Midland Highway. These days, my weekly journey is usually broken up with a visit to a bookshop.

Two shops actually, both under the same ownership. The Book Cellar and The Overflow Bookstore have an ambience that will seduce any lover of books. Each shop is home to an eclectic range, while also preserving two outstanding examples of our historic built environment.

The first can be found in the basement of the old Foxhunters Return Hotel, just over from the Red Bridge. It’s a two-storey rubble stone building constructed by Hugh Kean in 1833 using convict labour. It’s one of the most original hotel buildings of the period and the National Trust describes it as ‘…the finest and most substantial hotel building of the late colonial period in Australia’. Here you will enter a secret world of tiled floors and sandstone block walls packed with books.

The Book Cellar located in historic Campbell Town

You could easily get lost browsing the collection but help is at hand. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and can provide a great cup of coffee to help in browsing the collection.

The second shop is a bit further up High Street and occupies the old court house next to the police station. The main room still has the high vaulted wooden ceilings and raised platform from which ‘The Law’ delivered judgement. Within the five rooms of this building, again, browsers can lose themselves in the display of books on offer.

Within these rooms I have discovered treasures of historical insight for only a few dollars that have wiled away the night hours beside many camp fires in the desert.

Depending on the roster, you may be assisted by Michael the owner; Kathy, partner of a local worker; another Kathy who’s an enthusiastic editor of written work with a knack for conversation; or Anna, an author with a taste for Japanese haiku poetry.

In spite of the impact of e-readers, there’s still something special about holding a real book and savouring its pages, accompanied by the unique scent and feel of paper. The variety in both shops is sure to delight. Fiction, nonfiction, old books and new prints can all be found, as well as history, cooking, travel, cars, aviation, poetry, rare prints about Tasmania, the outdoors or gardening. It’s all there just waiting to be found. Shelves are clearly labelled to make exploring a pleasure.

Visit one bookshop in the morning and the other after lunch

If time allows, there’s much to discover in Campbell Town. It’s one of five historic places between Hobart and Launceston located on the Heritage (Midland) Highway. The town’s connections with early Tasmanian history run deep. Governor Lachlan Macquarie named Campbell Town and the Elizabeth River after his wife. In 1821 the garrison town was established, around which the settlement grew.

From 1836-1838 the Red Bridge was built by convicts using about 1.5 million bricks made from clay dug from the south-east side of the bridge. The bridge was built first and then the river diverted to flow through its three arches. It was designed with foresight. Traffic started with a few horse-drawn carts, but now a couple of million vehicles cross the bridge every year.

Two bookshops and an abundance of history in the same town allow for an adventure-packed day trip. Choose one bookshop to visit in the morning then enjoy lunch at one of the local venues before diving into the other. The bookshops are sure to be a memorable destination and can lead to a day of exploration that may easily run out of hours.

The Book Cellar and The Overflow Bookstore are open 10am-4pm seven days a week. For pre-trip planning, give them a call on (03) 6381 1545