Vale Graeme Johnstone 18.01.1946 – 30.07.2023

August 16th, 2023Vale Graeme Johnstone 18.01.1946 – 30.07.2023

The central Victorian goldfields township of Clunes is mourning the loss of community stalwart, Graeme Johnstone.
Clunes is mourning the loss of Graeme Johnstone

Words: Linda Newitt

Graeme and his wife June moved to Clunes in 1997 from Melbourne where they had raised a family of three while working as secondary teachers. Graeme, the maths whizz with a penchant for drama and theatre, June with an expert knowledge and passion for music and love of gardening.
They purchased the former Duke of Edinburgh Hotel and transformed it into The Dukes B&B. June working on the garden, Graeme on the premises. They were licenced and put in a coffee machine (only the second one in Clunes).
A gregarious host, Graeme’s provision of massive, cooked breakfasts soon became legendary, as did the nights when the tipple was from the top shelf.
Graeme soon joined in community life, always ready to lend a hand, run with a good idea and help in any way to promote the town. And he had plenty of fun along the way. As a former drama teacher and enthusiast, he was part of the Clunes amateur theatre group and directed two plays. Whenever there was a film made here in Clunes, Graeme was usually to be counted among the extras, including Ned Kelly back in 2003. He was also instrumental in establishing the pétanque piste in Collins Place and an enthusiastic member of the Clunes Golf Club. And the smaller private moments of generosity and caring, such as helping to tutor a student.
Clunes Tourist and Development Association
One of Graeme’s first forays into community life was through the Clunes Tourist and Development Association. At a time when the town was in decline he worked closely with a small team of other enthusiastic locals, notably Jane Lesock and former local councillor Michael Cheshire, to bring a new energy to the group. As part of the CTDA he was for 12 years the Clunes representative on the Hepburn Regional Tourism Board, with countless trips to Daylesford, day or night, to ensure Clunes got its fair share of publicity and acknowledgement. Graeme’s time on the CTDA included many years as president, eventually retiring from this role in 2009.
One of the CTDA’s early efforts to promote the town during this time was to include a Clunes calendar of events in the Words in Winter festival emerging in Daylesford – it would be a precursor to bigger things to come with Booktown. Other significant annual community events flowed from the CTDA’s work during this time, including the much celebrated Clunes Community Dinners and Clunes Citizen of the Year Awards. Graeme was a recipient of this award in 2014, named Clunes Male Citizen of the Year. He was Hepburn Shire Citizen of the Year for 2015.
Clunes International Booktown
With the town in rural decline, community members started to look for a way to revitalise the town while at the same time holding on to its history. Again, joining with a few other committed locals, the notion of a Booktown was born, with the first festival held in 2007. The original crew of Graeme, Tim Hayes (Clunes’ then local councillor), Tess Brady and Linda Newitt founded Creative Clunes and worked together to develop the Clunes Booktown concept and festival for over 10 years. Graeme was chair and deputy chair during his time with Creative Clunes.
Clunes Ceramics Award
Graeme was also an assiduous advocate for the arts. Inspired by June’s love and growing talent for pottery, Graeme set up the idea of a biennial Ceramics Award. The first event was held in 2009. Graeme forged links with the Hugh Williamson Foundation for funding and later with Castlemaine and Ballarat Art Galleries.
Free Lending Library
A long-time member of the former Free Lending Library Committee of Management, Graeme went to work to preserve the historic building. Again, as part of a small but enthusiastic team, including Denise Fordham and Phil Taig, he helped secure funding through the Hugh Williamson Foundation to undertake the necessary engineering reports and then to carry out repairs to stabilise the 1882 building. In February 2023, Clunes Neighbourhood House was able to move into the building and give it a bright, second life. The town is indebted to Graeme, who was also a member of the Clunes RSL sub-branch after an early career in the Royal Australian Navy, for his commitment, enthusiasm and tireless work.

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