Campbell Town bookshop living their dream

Saturday was national Love Your Bookshop Day, and hidden away in Campbell Town is a bookshop that deserves plenty of love. 

The Book Cellar sits a little off the highway, tucked underground beside the iconic Red Bridge, but going inside is like entering another world.

It’s cool and a little dark. With exposed cellar walls and that unmistakable old-book smell, and the hiss of the coffee machine working away by the cash register. You can’t miss it. It’s under the stretch of lawn that’s been scattered with Alice in Wonderland characters, just before the Elizabeth River. 

When they found the place, owners Michael Roach and Catherine Brunskill knew they were onto something. In fact, so enchanting was the heritage building that they relocated from Sydney purely to open the bookshop. 

“It’s such a large wonderful space,” Mr Roach said. 

“It’s a true cellar, in the back it’s completely underground and it’s just got enormous character. It’s not cramped, the ceiling height is good, and it’s not overly damp for a cellar which is great because books and damp just do not go together.” 

The titles for sale have a distinct Tasmanian bent. You can buy the Houses and Estates of Old Glamorgan, Some Common Spiders of Tasmania, or Hobart Town Album 1804-1850.

The thylacine and Richard Flanagan each have their own sections, along with whaling, explorers, and Indigenous history. The husband-and-wife team have done a thorough job of curating the store to reflect the weird and wild island they’ve come to love.

The bookshop is located underground in a 19th century cellar, beneath Alice in Wonderland characters placed by Michael and Catherine.

The bookshop is located underground in a 19th century cellar, beneath Alice in Wonderland characters placed by Michael and Catherine.

“People come to us [with books to sell], we go to auctions, we seek them out...we’re one of the biggest book buyers in Tasmania,” Mr Roach said. “It’s what we do to get the right books on the shelves here.”

The real treasures are in two antique cabinets towards the back, that are filled with leather-bound pieces of history, selling for hundreds of dollars apiece.

Take Louisa Anne Meredith’s Bush Friends in Tasmania. The 1891 hardcover edition is filled with the Australian diarist, botanist and naturalist’s flora illustrations. It’s nothing short of beautiful, with gold leaf pages and deep-green binding, filled with immaculately preserved drawings that seem to grow off the page.

At $845 though, it’s still “not the most expensive book in the shop,” Mr Roach said. That honour goes to Captain H Butler Stoney’s A Year in Tasmania. That one’s a history of the soldier’s travels from Macquarie Harbour to Circular Head in 1853, and will set it’s eventual owner back just under a grand.

Precious 19th century tomes aside however, when asked what Tasmanian book everyone should read, Mr Roach didn’t have to think about his answer.

Central Cookery Book [by A. C. Irvine],” he said instantly. “It's a classic.” 

“It’s still today, even though it’s been published for decades and is in its 17th reprinting, just a great book.

“It’s not like the fancy celebrity chef cookbooks but it has very good common advice for, basically, people leaving home, to look after themselves. That’s one of our fun books that we just keep on selling.”

DREAM: Michael Roach owns the Book Cellar along with his wife Catherine Brunskill.
Pictures: Phillip Biggs

DREAM: Michael Roach owns the Book Cellar along with his wife Catherine Brunskill. Pictures: Phillip Biggs

The Tasmanian titles in the Book Cellar are complemented by the Tasmanian history built into the walls.

Originally constructed in the 1830s, the site was built by convicts to be used as a coaching inn called the Fox Hunter’s Return. Since then it’s been a pub, hostel, boarding house, accommodation, private property, bed and breakfast, and now bookshop.

“It was built over seven years, we think,” said Mr Roach.

“It’s renowned in particular for having a wonderful staircase, a cantilevered stone staircase, which is quite a rare architectural feature of the time.

“It was one of the larger coaching inns in Tassie – Campbell Town being one of the bigger stops – and we’ve still got the old stables out the back there.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise about the building is the fact that Michael and Catherine are living there at all. With dreams of opening a bookshop, the Sydneysiders scoured NSW for the right fit, but nothing took their fancy. Then, one day Catherine said she’d found something, but it was a little further than they’d had in mind. 

“We had a look at it, and said – this is it,” Mr Roach said. 

“I’m from Hobart, and I always thought I possibly might [return], but I didn’t seek to come back to Tasmania.

“My wife had visited Tasmania once and she had told me, in the early days, just so I knew, that she enjoyed it very much but she didn’t want to live there.

“Strangely enough it was her who found this place and wanted to go and have a look, and here we are.”

The Book Cellar can be found at 132 High Street, Campbell Town.