Stepping into the sunshine as an introvert

Posted on February 8, 2016 | 4 comments

1Ted, the mini-schnauzer, plays chess with Will.

It’s your move: Teddy, the mini schnauzer, tries to get a grip on a game with his owner, Will. Image: Supplied.

Welcome to Tales from Port Fairy, a monthly column by JO CANHAM about life in the world’s most liveable town, Port Fairy. Jo is the owner of Blarney Books & Art, James St, Port Fairy, a second-hand bookshop with a whimsical heart.
Introverts are, by nature, not known for seeking out the public, which might make you wonder why – as a certified introvert – I run a bookshop in Port Fairy.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m not particularly fond of large groups of people, that if you were to feel inclined to look for me in a crowded room, you are most likely to find me behind a solid piece of furniture.

Not hiding exactly, just finding it difficult to come out until everyone’s taken their leave.

I’m not even that good with a few people.

My face will go red, I might stutter, I’ll always laugh inappropriately, and I can’t remember anything I want to say, let alone anything that might pass as witty or wise. People cause me vast amounts of stress, and I need a lot of space between social engagements.

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Interesting really, when you think about the fact that I run a bookshop and this means, of course, that I have a retail space open to the public.

But it’s not to say that being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m not friendly, or that I don’t like to meet people. I do. I really do.

I love meeting inspirational people, and hearing their stories. It’s just that I’ve got plenty of books with good (curated) stories, if you can’t offer me one.

Summer drama class, hosted by Emily Dalkin of Outwest Rebellion Studios

A summer drama class at Blarney Books & Art, Port Fairy, hosted by Emily Dalkin of Outwest Rebellion Studios. Image supplied.

Ithink generally booksellers are booksellers because we have an intimacy with our books (seriously, it’s never about the money), and the customer side of things is really something we didn’t think out properly when we thought, “I know. I love books. I’ll start a bookshop.” (I touched on this briefly in an earlier Bluestone column.)

I wonder how many booksellers would define themselves as extroverts? I suspect there are more extroverts amongst bird watchers than booksellers.

The great thing about a shop in a tourist town is that we get to meet so many people who are just passing through. I can hide behind my solid piece of furniture, have a bit of a yack, share some stories, and then they move on.

The key to this golden relationship, for me, is that they do actually move on. It’s when they come back again the next day, “Hi, Jo!”, or the next week, that causes the stress. That causes that horrible sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. Because then I’m expected to remember names, and details of conversations that weren’t ever going to be installed into my hard drive – I have a devastatingly poor memory anyway – there becomes an expectation that wasn’t there the day before. The relationship has totally changed.

However, when these visitors come back the following year, as part of an annual pilgrimage to our lovely coastal village, we return to the golden relationship. They are generally kind and generous enough to drop the expectation that any information, especially names, is not likely to be retained for 12 months. We are back on safe ground, and that golden ‘relationship’ can cheerfully be resumed.

Summer exhibition, ‘Handy Reference’ by Anna Hoyle

One of the works in our summer exhibition, ‘Handy Reference’, by Melbourne artist Anna Hoyle. Image supplied.

This summer’s round of tourists again brought me great joy, and the January season passed in a happy whirlwind.

I talked to a writer from Sydney, and another from Adelaide, a painter from Trinidad, a Vietnamese lawyer couple from Western Australia, a couple of wonderful musicians, a photographer who’s worked in newspapers for 50 years, many, many lovely Melbourne families, an enthusiastic and artistic family from San Francisco, a food critic from Melbourne, an art patron from Ballarat, a Hobart doctor and her family, an advertising executive, a fisherman from Darwin, so many more people, and so many family dogs including Teddy, a mini schnauzer, who is learning chess! (I’m Instagramming some of the dogs who visit – you can view them @blarneybooks).

We also had some wonderful events on in the shop, including Emily Dalkin, of Outwest Rebellion Studios, who led a three-day drama workshop for primary aged kids, where she taught the kids how to play with nothing but their imaginations. We had a performance for children by Portland’s Herbert & Valerie, and Anna Hoyle‘s very funny art exhibition, Handy Reference, that has caused much giggling in the gallery (it runs until Feb 21).

I loved every minute of January, and felt that I could go on working every day of every week for the rest of my life, if it continued on so, but Australia Day – besides being a day of enormous angst for those of us who us don’t revel in sudden-onset patriotism – is also the marker for the end of the high season in Port Fairy.

Holiday-makers pack up, fold away their tents, their BCF furniture, unplug their vans, and in a steady stream, they leave. You can literally stand beside the highway and wave goodbye to the convoy, wiping away a tear, and perhaps holding down that momentary urge to pack up and go with them.

For more of Jo Canham’s Tales from Port Fairy, catch up here.

Blarney Books & Art, James St, Port Fairy, is currently exhibiting Melbourne artist Anna Hoyle, Handy Reference, until February 21. Blarney is also again running the wonderful Biblio-Art Award where artists create a work that incorporates a book chosen from a selection in a wheelbarrow in the shop. The main prize is $1500, and Bluestone is proud to be sponsoring the $500 Local Artist Award, with smaller prizes of $250. Entries must be submitted by the end of April. See more here.

Enjoy our other Bluestone columnists …


Up close – a closer look at the every day: Claire Norman

Great food and gardening tips: Kylie Treble and Food for Thought

Great architectureClinton Krause on mid-century architecture in the south-west

Great books: Claire Norman’s Bool Belle book reviews



  1. Love your honesty Jo! I do believe we have alot in common…

  2. Hey Jo, It’s not just bookshop owners who are introverts. I am one of the worlds most prolific writers and no one has ever even seen me. Ann Onomus.

  3. The joy of written communication! And small doses of excellent people! A great way to happily manage your feelings…

  4. I wish I could say that I share your feelings about the departure of the lovely tourists from our little town Jo. I do know that their arrival means dollars in the coffers and I really do appreciate the fact that they keep the place vibrant and growing. However, I am more than happy to wave goodbye to the convoy of caravans and cars.
    I must say that I really enjoy walking into a shop and being served by people who, by the way, look happier and years younger, and just browse around. Or not having to queue up at IGA for a bottle of milk or having to trawl the streets looking for a car park just to be beaten out by someone who conveniently doesn’t see the double lines clearly marked on the road!
    Bless their little cotton socks, but no, I won’t miss them. They will be back soon for the Folkie and Easter and ……………!!!!

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