Part 1: the beginnings

1. springs-connections banner-higher-res.jpg

Daylesford in the mid-1990s was home to an increasing number of gay men and lesbian women.

Attracted by the beautiful bushland environment, and a community that was often quite welcoming, these men and women worked hard to make Daylesford a vibrant and viable place to live.

It wasn’t long before a small group decided that Daylesford would benefit from a business network that marketed Daylesford as a lesbian and gay friendly destination and promoted the many gay and lesbian commercial activities in the Daylesford and Hepburn area. And so Springs Connections was born. Margaret[1] remembers the day Springs Connections was formed:

I invited around two lesbian friends and two gay male friends for dinner, and we were chatting away and we thought we should have a lesbian and gay group in Daylesford. That was the birth of Springs Connections.[2]

From this initial idea, a group was quickly formed and Springs Connections became an active advocate for gay and lesbian enterprise in the Daylesford and Hepburn area. Every Friday night, local and visiting lesbian women and gay men were invited to attend Absolutely Fabulous Jack’s to mingle upstairs at what was the Alpha Gallery. It was also a great promotional tool for local business owners to encourage more gay and lesbian visitors to the area. An early brochure produced by Springs Connections proclaimed:

Gay men and lesbians represent many of the businesses in the region, and can offer excellent accommodation, fine dining, galleries, massage and even gay horse riding...[3]

Leanne Spain, one of the early members of Springs Connections, remembers the group ‘did a lot of great activities within the community to support those business people and their members, but started to broaden out a lot more into the community to help out there as well’.[4] Very quickly, a dynamic business network formed that found a way to tap into the ‘pink dollar’ tourist market from Melbourne and surrounds. Local resident Anneke Deutsch recalled that the success Springs Connections had in networking with the wider queer community ‘was probably the motivation for getting ChillOut going’.[5] Margaret remembers that it was at a Springs Connections meeting at the end of 1996 that Marcel Winklington suggested that Daylesford should have its own lesbian and gay event. Tom Cockram, a member of Springs Connections at this time, recalls:

... we had Midsumma, then we had the Pride March, then there was Mardi Gras in Sydney and all of a sudden – riding on the crest of the wave – what do we do?[6]

It was Marcel Winklington’s sister who came up with the name to capture the spirit of the event: ChillOut.

From the very beginning, it was important that the event was unique. Early organisers wanted to emphasise the country feel of Daylesford. ‘We wanted it to be a fun day’, recalls Margaret, ‘a country fun day’.[7] The event was also an important way of profile-raising for the lesbian and gay community in Daylesford as well as the wider Hepburn Shire region. Leanne remembers that:

It was definitely about community and awareness and providing an avenue for country Victorian LGBT people to come together and network, and have an event that they could attend that was their own.[8]

The idea for the event was conceived close to the end of 1996, leaving the organisers – which largely consisted of Leanne Spain and Margaret with the assistance of the Springs Connections committee – with less than two months to pull everything together. Jacqui Marshall, a Springs Connections committee member who had a lot of experience organising events, thought it wasn’t possible. She argued they should aim for the following year. Margaret and Leanne disagreed and when The Olde Winery at nearby Musk Vale was offered as a venue for the event, they set to work.

The whole idea was not only to provide an event for our community but also to raise money where we would be able to provide something back to the mainstream community or even to our own community ... We were born out of Springs Connections, which was a commerce type body, so part of our focus was also to drive business in our LGBT businesses obviously, but also for the broader community.[9]

Not only was there lots to do in terms of getting local businesses involved, but there was quite a bit of physical landscaping that needed to be done at the venue. Margaret remembers ‘groups of us almost every day working out at the winery ... we had to clear up the land between the vines because it was not a functioning winery ... it was a lot of work’.[10] ‘As we got closer to the date’, Leanne recalls, ‘we had a lot more people volunteer and jump in and assist’.[11]

Tulku Rose was involved with Springs Connections in the early days of ChillOut and remembers the first event. ‘We just decided we were going to do it’.[12] A small number of the Springs Connections committee members travelled to Melbourne for Pride March and marched with the Springs Connections banner, handing out flyers advertising the upcoming ChillOut day. ‘That was our first form of advertising’, comments Leanne, ‘marching under the Springs Connections banner and having handouts along the path, handing those out to people’.[13]

Unsure what to expect from the day, the organisers were pleasantly surprised at the success of the first event. Tulku remembers ‘loads of cars just pulled in from everywhere’.[14] Local resident and later ChillOut committee member Ally Paul remembers attending the first event:

I attended the very first ChillOut at Musk Vale winery ... I had a stall selling hats. It was a funny little festival, I think that the organisers outweighed the people who actually attended.[15]

Leanne recalls the festival attracting ‘about 100 people’, which given the short lead time, was more than they could have hoped for. ‘The weather on the day was not conducive, it was as cold as and as windy as. We thought we really had a win with 100 people coming.’[16]

Springs Connections member and local business owner and potter Tom Cockram closed his shop for the weekend of the event and took his pottery wheel to The Olde Winery. He set up his wheel ‘in a corner on the verandah’ and sat making pots, while people came up to talk and kids watched.[17] Trentham resident Gai attended the first ChillOut and found it an amazing experience. ‘Community development was the birth and essence of ChillOut’, she reflects.[18]

From this casual day of family-friendly fun with gumboot tossing, sack races and picnicking with friends, it was quickly recognised that there was huge potential to do more. Ally Paul remembers:

A number of people on that day really appreciated what the people that had created the festival had done ... but thought that it could be a lot more, it could be bigger and better.[19]

It was a start of what would quickly become the biggest queer country pride festival in Australia. 


[1] Name changed at individual’s request.

[2] Interview with Margaret, 18 December 2017.

[3] Early Springs Connections brochure, ALGA collection.

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

[5] Interview with Anneke Deutsch, 17 June 2016, ALGA collection.

[6] Interview with Tom Cockram, 11 April 2016, ALGA collection.

[7] Interview with Margaret, 18 December 2017.

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

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

[10] Interview with Margaret, 18 December 2017.

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

[12] Interview with Tulku Rose, 2 March 2016, ALGA collection.

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

[14] Interview with Tulku Rose, 2 March 2016, ALGA collection.

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

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

[17] Interview with Tom Cockram, 11 April 2016, ALGA collection.

[18] Conversation with Gai, 16 January 2018.

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