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Local Characters

Stephen Dunn from Goulburn


Swap ghost stories with Goulburn local and Argyle Book Emporium owner, Stephen Dunn.

Stephen Dunn has done a long stretch in Goulburn’s old police station – 10 years by his count. He wasn’t sentenced; it was a pallet of books that landed him there. He started selling that pallet of books from a terrace down the road and five years later he moved his eclectic bookshop, Argyle Book Emporium, to the old lock-up.

“People tell me they see or hear ghosts in here,” he says, “but I don’t really believe in all that.”

Mind you, if there weren’t ghosts in the old cells before, the reading material Steve’s filled the place with might have brought them as he mainly sources his stock from deceased estates.

He says approximately 1700 books fit on a pallet, so that’s how many he would have started out with. Now he reckons he has around half a million.

“We are arguably Australia’s biggest book shop,” he says, “but you can’t say we definitely are, because I’m not sure that’s true.”

Even so, with 13 rooms and four hallways stacked floor to ceiling with secondhand books and records, the Argyle Book Emporium would have to be in the running for the title.

Customers are drawn to the shop from as far abroad as Sydney, the Southern Highlands and the Tablelands, and that’s not the only long journey they make. Once they arrive, they have to spend time seeking the book they want.

“I used to sort the books into alphabetical order but now I just sort them by the author’s last name because people kept messing them up. A true bibliophile will search through them to find what they are after.”

He does keep some books away from the public and has a catalogue of these in the computer. He tried selling online but gave up because “it was too much work for little return, and the customers didn’t really know what they were getting either”.

With a pensive face framed by long straight hair and a beard that, he says, turned snow-white overnight when he was 23 after he’d been shocked a few times while working as an electrician, Steve cuts a striking figure. Chinese tourists in particular want to take photos of him “but I hate it. I tell them to put their cameras away – photographs are very personal.”

To underscore his point, he mentions finding old photographs spread throughout the pages of one delivery. He called the niece of the man to whom they had belonged to ask if she wanted them back.

“I thought she was going to jump the counter and kiss me, she was that happy! They hadn’t been able to find any of his pictures when they were clearing out the house – who knows why he’d put them there?”

With books sprawling over the old police building, the shop is worth a visit simply to see old cells filled with crochet and scrapbooking manuals.

There’s a second storey to the building that customers cannot access. You might think it’s the owner’s home but Steve doesn’t live there.

“Too many ghosts,” he says without a hint of mirth.

Argyle Book Emporium is located at 260 Sloane St, Goulburn, NSW. Click here for more information.

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