VISIBILITY AND ACCEPTANCE
Despite the activity of Springs Connections and the increasing number of active gay men and lesbian women in the Daylesford community in the late 1990s, there was still a fair amount of homophobia within the community.
Ally Paul remembers that homophobia was ‘fairly rife in Daylesford at that time’. During one of the early ChillOut festivals, a group of teenage boys destroyed the banner that the committee had made. ‘We’d just spent $400-500 having this thing about four metres high and about seven or eight meters long and they cut it with a Stanley knife’, early committee member Tom Cockram remembers. ‘They calmed down but always gave us some sort of trouble each year.’
It was the presence of ChillOut, growing in size each year, that really helped to increase the visibility and acceptance of the LGBTI community in the Daylesford and Hepburn region. Ally Paul thinks that one way the festival did this was by generating significant economic benefits for the town.
Once other local community groups realised the volume of people that were coming through the gates on Carnival Day, they wanted to have things like stalls, so before we knew it, the football clubs – which were the guys that used to beat up the gay boys – were the ones having barbeques and stalls at ChillOut ... It wasn’t instant, it happened over years really ... People will say it’s still there, but it’s not of the same degree that it was.
Festival Director Merryn Tinkler agreed that this economic impact was a vitally importance aspect of ChillOut’s success:
It's really important because it's a very small town in a pretty small local government region, and we are the biggest festival that happens in the region. I guess because of who we are and the type of festival we are, we really need to make that statement about what we bring to the town. It's also the reason that we always have a local charity, or some kind of charity, so we are seen to be giving back to the community as well, and that's really important. Because we're relying on a very small pool of people to support us to do this festival, and they do because they get the economic benefit back; the small businesses, and the venues, and the retailers understand that.
Long-time Daylesford resident Anneke Deutsch has trouble recalling if she and her partner were comfortable walking hand in hand down the main street in Daylesford in those early years, but says:
... increasingly there was acceptance and ... ChillOut did a lot of that. That was its purpose really, to make it an open event to say come along and see what lesbian and gay life was like.
One of the founding principals of the event was to increase the visibility of the LGBT community within the Daylesford and Hepburn Shire area, not just to increase acceptance within the straight community but to signal to other LGBT rural Victorians that there was a community they could reach out to if ever they needed. Merryn Tinkler comments that even today:
We see that one of our major goals is to provide that advocacy. One of the longer term goals is that we could be really playing in that space a lot more ... In particular in the regions – it's really easy for people to kind of think that LGBTI culture is something that exists only in the city but it's actually very untrue as we all know. A lot of it is city-centric because of where we all gravitate to in our 20s, and where the safe spaces are, but ChillOut's kind of saying well you don't actually have to do that, the safe spaces are here too.
For one long-term Daylesford resident, ChillOut really did change her opinion about the LGBT community. Interviewed in 2006 about her experience with ChillOut, Michelle commented, ‘I don’t approve of gay and lesbian relationships, but have tolerated it as ok. That’s their lifestyle and this is my lifestyle.’ However, after holding a stall at the event to help raise money for a local wildlife society, she came to realise that her attitude about the LGBTI community might need to change:
I think [ChillOut] is good, if our society’s going to change. If there’s going to be such a big percentage of these people that they need to feel comfortable to be in the community ... It can’t be them and us. It has to be an integrated and mellowing of things. It’s not always black and white; there are shades of grey.
Long-time ChillOut attendee and former committee member Paul Kidd agrees that ChillOut has played a huge roll in changing attitudes through increased visibility.
During the whole ChillOut period you can’t escape the rainbow flags, you can’t escape the shop window displays that happen, you can’t escape the fact that a lot of venues in town are taken over for gay and lesbian events ... that visibility I think, contributes to people’s attitudes changing, and ChillOut is so visible that you can’t miss it.
Max Primmer agrees that the vibe that ChillOut creates makes everyone feel safe:
It's got a whole aura about it, this whole town has just this amazing – it's just inclusion, everybody is comfortable, everybody feels safe ... the bad part of it, the homophobic rants, the homophobic slurs, the graffiti, the bashings, have calmed down quite a bit, which is fantastic ... it's got a lot to do with ChillOut being here and the fact that ... people ... have come to the realisation that it does so much for this town, and no matter what they think or what they do there's going to be 20,000 people here on that weekend, and that's all there is to it.
 Interview with Ally Paul, 18 December 2017.
 Interview with Tom Cockram, 11 April 2016.
 Interview with Ally Paul, 18 December 2017.
 Interview with Merryn Tinkler, 16 January 2018.
 Interview with Anneke Deutsch, 17 June 2016, ALGA collection.
 Christopher R. Gibson and Anna Stewart, ‘Reinventing rural places: The extent and impact of festivals in rural and regional Australia’, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong, 2009, p. 27.
 Interview with Paul Kidd, 18 December 2017.
 Interview with Max Primmer, 18 December 2017.