Part 2: 1998 - 2007

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After the success of the first ChillOut day at The Olde Winery, Musk Vale in 1997, members of Springs Connections and others in the LGBTI community were keen to do it again.

While the winery was the perfect spot for the inaugural event, organisers knew that they needed to find a more permanent venue for the future viability of the festival. ChillOut committee chair Leanne Spain said that ‘we needed to find a new venue for growth.’[1] After attending the annual Daylesford Highland Gathering, which takes place at Victoria Park, Leanne thought this would be the perfect location for ChillOut.

I approached the Daylesford council and asked them if we could hold a gay and lesbian event on their grounds, and what would that entail and so forth.  Thank goodness the Daylesford council at the time just embraced the idea and we got the venue free of charge ... with public liability insurance ... They gave it to us free of charge so we just lapped it up and thought okay, we've found a home.[2]

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While the council continued to provide the use of Victoria Park and the relevant insurance coverage to the festival organisers, in the early years, ChillOut did not receive any financial support. Festival organisers contributed seed money with Springs Connections covering the cost of necessary equipment hire, toilet paper and other sundry items. Leanne recalls that in those first few years, ‘people volunteered trestle tables, chairs, hay bales’ and more.[3] Funds were reimbursed from the festival income each year. Any profits were donated to the local community.

For the first event at Victoria Park in 1998, despite the turnout at the winery the previous year, the committee was still not sure what to expect. Ally Paul remembers the committee made an arrangement with the local IGA supermarket to have alcohol and water on consignment, so that any drinks that weren’t sold on the day could be returned to the store and the festival organisers would only pay for what was used. As it turned out:

All of us were in our utes backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards into Daylesford with ute loads of alcohol because we just kept selling out! It was really successful.[4]

Local resident Natalie Moynihan was a teenager when she attended ChillOut the first year it was at Victoria Park. ‘It was an eye opener, that’s for sure’, she remembers:

I just went along as a spectator. They had these amazing dog shows where people would dress up looking like their dogs. They’d have fun sort of country games where they would throw handbags instead of horseshoe tossing competitions, or they’d throw a stiletto. I just thought it was so much fun, it was so chilled out ... There were babies right through to 90-year-olds ... it was a really fun and inclusive event that I wanted to learn more about.[5]

By 1999, festival organisers spread the event over two days of the weekend – Saturday and Sunday. A Dance Party was organised for the Saturday night, held at The Palais in Hepburn, and the Carnival Day took place on the Sunday with games including ‘tunnel ball with pumpkins, high heel skiing races and gumboot tossing’.[6] Parliamentarian Mary Delahunty attended the Carnival Day and judged the ‘Dog Most Like Owner’ competition. She later commented to the press how impressed she was by the event.[7]

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The rural elements of the event remained a key part of the festival. When thinking about the first ChillOut, the committee was committed to the idea of keeping the country feel of the festival. Leanne remembers:

We were country, we wanted to identify ourselves with a country event – otherwise go down to Midsumma and have that sort of city experience down there. We needed it to be something different and unique that would attract people to come up into the Daylesford area so that they had a different experience around that.[8]

In 2000, ChillOut organisers chose a cow as the motif that best symbolised the festival’s unique country feel. This first year, an illustration of a cow wearing high heels was used on the festival promotional material. The following year, a costumed cow’s head was commissioned [SR1] and worn at the Pride March in Melbourne to promote ChillOut. It was also worn at the first parade along Vincent Street during the Sunday Carnival Day. The first parade was so small that the parade-goers went around the block and came back again several times. Ally Paul remembers it as a rather ad-hoc affair:

The first street parade we had, Chris Malden was in the car with me, we’d borrowed some kind of open-topped car ... There were drag queens on tractors, people on the back of utes, on ride-on lawnmowers up the main street; people didn't even know it was happening, we just did it. People came out of the shops, and tourists were on the side of the street and they're going ‘What's going on here?’ Because there were no road closures either, we were just sort of like 'out of our way' and that was that. So that was fun.[9]

Renee Ludekens first attended ChillOut when she moved to Daylesford around 2001. ‘I went to a ChillOut event’, she recalls, ‘I didn’t know anything about it and I just went, oh my god, I cannot believe this town has a gay festival. I was so excited and proud’.[10] Renee was so inspired, she immediately signed up to volunteer, doing all sorts of jobs at the following year’s event, including working the bar, the street parade and at Carnival Day. By the following year, she was on the committee.

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From 2001 onwards, ChillOut grew from a family fun carnival day on the Sunday, to include a whole host of other events extending across the full four days of the Labour Day weekend. Keeping the country feel with popular events such as gumboot throwing and tug-o-war on the Carnival Day, the festival also grew to include an opening party, golf tournament, women’s football matches, bushwalking, horse rides, gala dinner, drag shows, live music and a dance party, as well as a recovery brunch on Monday.

In 2002 ChillOut Festival was awarded a Community Event Pride Award. The local community nominated the festival for the award, so it came as a complete surprise to the committee members. ‘For us, this is like a Logie’, committee member Maggie Hill told the local paper.[11] The award was a strong acknowledgement of how hard the festival organisers worked, not only to create a culture of acceptance and understanding within the Daylesford and surrounding communities, but also giving back to the local community in a tangible and financial way. As Ally Paul recalls, it was:

… about having visibility, it was about joining community, it was about fun, it was about business networking, it was about a lot of things. But mostly I think it was about pride, and safety.[12]

Melbourne resident Max Primmer moved to Daylesford in 2003 as a direct result of his experiences at ChillOut:

We arrived I think Friday evening so there were already people here, and everybody was happy. There were people holding hands, and there were people walking around with big smiles, it was just an amazing time ... I think we went to every event, or most, that was on because it was just the excitement of being here, and the fact that there were so many other LGBT people in town. On Sunday night it was like, we don't want to go back to Melbourne, we want to stay here forever ... that week, to me, was a turning point.[13]

Within a few short months, that dream became a reality for Max, who had by then relocated to Daylesford. By the end of that same year, he was on the ChillOut committee. ‘It just made my whole year’, he remembers fondly. ‘I’d moved to this fantastic town and now I was suddenly part of the committee of one of the big events of this town.’[14]

In 2003 ChillOut Festival became an incorporated not-for-profit organisation. From this point forward it no longer maintained the reference to Springs Connections but had become a stand-alone entity. A whopping 22,000 people attended the festival in 2004, generating just over $5 million in revenue for the local community. It didn’t take long for local businesses that had expressed initial reluctance to support the festival, to recognise the economic benefits of doing so. Leanne Spain spent a lot of the early years relationship building with local businesses and remembers:

When I started to go around to the businesses again, where I didn’t have an uptake before, I was getting an uptake to have a presence there: a stall, a food-stall, wineries coming to the party. We then started to juggle – where are they going to be located? It became a welcome logistics issue for us.[15]

Max Primmer noticed a change in the local community’s attitude amongst those who were hesitant about such a large LGBT presence in the town over the Labour Day weekend. As Max recalls, ‘all of a sudden businesses [noticed] ... hang on, these people come here for that weekend, every one of them says please and thank you, every one of them stands in a queue and waits their turn ... people are just so relaxed’.[16] It was the same with the local police, who were impressed each year by the amount of people the festival attracted but the minimum trouble it caused. ChillOut was also beginning to attract international attention by this stage, with the popular US website www.gay.com voting Daylesford and ChillOut among the top ten ‘secret’ gay getaways in the world.[17]

However, although the festival was gaining traction in the local community and a reputation as a premier LGBT event within the queer community, there was tension between the festival and the local council in regard to one particular issue. For a number of years, festival organisers had approached Hepburn Shire Council about flying the rainbow flag from the Town Hall, citing other festivals and groups such as the Swiss Italian Festa, which was permitted to fly the national flags of Switzerland and Italy during its festival. In 2006, after ChillOut requested and was once again denied permission to fly the rainbow flag from the Town Hall during the Labour Day weekend, the council adopted a new policy of preventing all flags promoting special events from being flown from the Town Hall. This policy change resulted in supporters of ChillOut, as well as other festivals in the Daylesford–Hepburn region, marching in protest against the council’s decision. In total, about 100 people took to the streets in June 2006, unhappy with this reaction.[18]

While the flag issue remained on the table for the ChillOut Festival for now, 2006 was also a year of celebrations in many other ways, as it marked the festival’s tenth anniversary. After a huge four days of celebrations, the committee and volunteers were understandably exhausted. Some committee members stepped away, leaving a depleted committee to prepare for the 2007 event. Reduced numbers, coupled with a late start to the necessary preparations for the following year, put added pressure on the ChillOut Festival committee. When the call for volunteers failed to attract enough people, the committee faced a tough decision: would ChillOut 2007 go ahead?

Natalie Moynihan was on the ChillOut committee that year and she remembers how tough it was:

We had, I think, five of us committee members including myself that year and we had less than ten volunteers register, and we just decided that it was impossible to put on such a huge event and to do it justice.[19]

The public reaction as a result of ChillOut 2007 being cancelled was huge. Natalie recalls local businesses especially were very disappointed and criticised the festival committee for ‘deciding to lay down and not let it happen’.[20] Max remembers being inundated by people who were ‘absolutely devastated that they couldn’t come for the weekend’.[21] Out of all this came the realisation that the festival had been running on basically a handful of volunteers and next to no money for the past decade. The committee, buoyed by the outpouring of support from the wider community and the addition of new volunteers, knew that 2008 had to be bigger than ever. But to do that, it was essential that the festival secure some financial support.

 

[1] Interview with Leanne Spain, 11 January 2018.

[2] Interview with Leanne Spain, 11 January 2018.

[3] Interview with Leanne Spain, 11 January 2018.

[4] Interview with Ally Paul, 18 December 2017.

[5] Interview with Natalie Moynihan, 18 December 2017.

[6] The Advocate, 1999, ChillOut archives.

[7] The Advocate, 1999, ChillOut archives.

[8] Interview with Leanne Spain, 11 January 2018.

[9] Interview with Ally Paul, 18 December 2017.

[10] Interview with Renee Ludekens, 18 December 2017.

[11] ‘ChillOut an award winner’, (newspaper unknown), 6 November 2002, ChillOut archives.

[12] Interview with Ally Paul, 18 December 2017.

[13] Interview with Max Primmer, 18 December 2017.

[14] Interview with Max Primmer, 18 December 2017.

[15] Interview with Leanne Spain, 11 January 2018.

[16] Interview with Max Primmer, 18 December 2017.

[17] Now part of vanguardnow.org

[18] Orietta Guerrera, ‘Against all flags, Daylesford sparks a flap somewhere over the rainbow’, The Age, _26 July 2006.

[19] Interview with Natalie Moynihan, 18 December 2017.

[20] Interview with Natalie Moynihan, 18 December 2017.

[21] Interview with Max Primmer, 18 December 2017.