PROFILE: Merryn Tinkler

Merryn Tinkler (right) and her partner Jen Grinter

Merryn Tinkler (right) and her partner Jen Grinter


Merryn Tinkler is the current ChillOut Festival Director and the first ongoing ChillOut employee. While she had attended ChillOut a number of times over the years, Merryn had never been involved with the festival in any other capacity. When she saw the ChillOut Festival Director position advertised she was living in Melbourne with her partner. They had recently become empty-nesters as their son had left for university. As she remembers, ‘I was looking for some different directions ... and I didn’t like the city very much. I got the job in Daylesford and commuted for the first year, and then moved up’.

Hiring a festival director was one of the ways the ChillOut Festival organisers were trying to make the festival more sustainable and ensure its future viability. Merryn comments that while:

It had clearly been running very successfully for the 18 years before I came on board, it was vulnerable ... to who was on the committee and who was leading the committee, so it was dependent on how much energy they could put into the event ... With the employment of a festival director, I think it’s brought a little bit more professionalism to the actual running of the organisation.

As festival director, Merryn has worked closely with the ChillOut committee to ensure that all the governance relating to the festival such as licences, permits, payments and so forth was sorted out and done correctly. ‘The other big impact that we’ve managed to do over the last couple of years’, Merryn adds, ‘is we’ve managed to get some more (hopefully) sustainable funding into the organisation’. With more sustainable funding, the organisation is able to think more strategically about the ongoing viability of the ChillOut Festival.

‘We’ve got a publicist’, Merryn comments, ‘so that we’re going to be able to hopefully get some traction into mainstream press to get our name and brand a bit more broadly recognised’. As well as a publicist, ChillOut organisers also received funding to undertake an economic impact study and a feasibility study based on the existing strategic plan. All this, adds Merryn, ‘is so that we’ve really got traction for the next five to ten years to look to the future and see where the festival is going to place itself’.

But it’s not just the future that Merryn and the rest of the committee are thinking about. After celebrating ChillOut’s 20th anniversary in 2016, festival organisers realised they needed to take a more active role in preserving the festival’s history. Gathering together the documents, notes, images and other bits and pieces that former committee members have kept over the years in shoeboxes under their beds or in boxes in the garage became a priority – as it is within these dusty boxes that the history of ChillOut can be found. The ChillOut committee and Merryn recently coordinated the cataloguing and storage of the archives at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne. Commenting on the legacy of the festival and the importance of preserving the history so far, Merryn adds:

... part of the history of ChillOut is the history of the LGBTI community in Australia, and it’s a big part of that. It’s important in the advocacy for our broader community ... The ‘rainbow wave’ is really important and to know the history of that is great because it just means that all of the struggle, and the celebrations are there for everyone to see.

One of the biggest areas of focus for Merryn as festival director is engaging with more young people at ChillOut. ‘We’re all grey-headed and we’re all getting old so we have to be looking towards the younger people’, Merryn adds.

It’s definitely something that we really want to focus on ... It’s a hard space to work in so we have to kind of do outreach to Castlemaine, Kyneton ... working with LGBTI young people in the regions and working in partnership with them. They’re our future.

With Merryn’s unwavering enthusiasm at the helm, the ChillOut committee is looking to expand the festival to include events and activities throughout the year, not just limiting themselves to the Labour Day weekend. By introducing events across the year, Merryn argues, it shows that ‘we’re not just gay for one weekend of the year’.

Despite the change and growth, Merryn is well aware of the importance of the festival’s original ideals:      

It’s not a Midsumma Festival because we don’t have the funds to be able to pay a whole lot of people full-time wages; it’s not a Mardi Gras because we don’t have the funds to get Cher; we do it on grass-roots, we’re a grass-roots festival and that’s something that’s really, really important to us.     

All quotes taken from an interview with Merryn Tinkler, 16 January 2018.