PROFILE: Renee Ludekens
Renee Ludekens and her partner moved to Daylesford in the early 2000s. The first time she went to ChillOut, Renee didn’t really even know what it was.
I went to a ChillOut event, didn’t know anything about it, and just went ‘oh my god I cannot believe this town has a gay festival!’ I was so excited and proud.
Not only was it exciting to discover that her new hometown had its very own pride festival, the general acceptance and freedom to be who she was in Daylesford was something that Renee did not take for granted.
I had lived overseas for 15-20 years in countries where homosexual activities in any form have been illegal, so was never comfortable coming out or being a gay woman ... so being in a town that appeared to be very accepting, and to have a festival that was very accepting, it was like, I’m so involved. I will give all my time and energy to something to say yes, this is right.
Renee’s enthusiasm for her new home and for the ChillOut Festival meant that she jumped wholeheartedly into helping out: ‘I jumped on as a volunteer and did anything that they wanted me to do.’ The first year as a volunteer Renee did a variety of different jobs, including working the bar, marshalling the street parade, and working Carnival Day. She was happy to go wherever she was needed. As she remembers, ‘I just worked the whole time, and then went on the next year to join the committee’.
Renee joined the ChillOut committee at quite a transitional time. For the first few years, committee members and volunteers organised and staffed the festival. Renee held the position of vice president, then president for a few years during this time. Then for the last couple of years of her involvement on the committee, her position transitioned into paid coordinator.
The committee changed [with] a couple of corporate guys on it ... which brought in an element of getting corporations involved, or getting fundraising to a different level ... it certainly gave [ChillOut] a push to recognise that you can’t have the chiefs doing everything as such, you’ve got to have some of the management managing and some of these other jobs that take up so much time maybe can be outsourced.
With the influence of new committee members such as Jim Culbertson, the festival found itself with better sponsorship and as a result more financial support. This allowed the festival to grow in a more professionalised fashion. Tasks like cleaning up at the end of Carnival Day or car parking were outsourced to community groups including local schools and the CFA. As Renee remembers, ‘it was just a natural progression ... instead of just having community groups get money, they were involved in working for it’. This retained the emphasis on community benefit, but also allowed the festival organisers to focus their limited voluntary energy on other issues.
The paid positions that were introduced, however, were still very limited. As Renee recalls, you weren’t paid for all your hours:
You might do say 50 per cent payment – you’d bank in 10 hours of payment then you’d volunteer your other 25 or whatever it was – so even though it sounds glamorous being a paid position ... that’s not how it worked.
Renee stayed on the ChillOut committee for almost a decade.
And I loved it. I cannot say enough how wonderful it was. That feeling on Monday or the Tuesday – we’ve had the dance parties, we’ve had the carnivals, we’ve had the street parades, we’ve had our finishing breakfast, and you’d come back and you’d feel so flat and so depleted of any energy ... but this feeling of, oh my god I don’t have to juggle a thousand things, but I don’t have that adrenalin rush anymore. It took about a week or two just to calm down and go, okay now get back into rhythm.
After working a few years in the position of paid coordinator, Renee decided it was time to hand over the reins.
I also felt that my role could take ChillOut a little bit further ... but I didn’t have the power at that point or energy to take it further. So for me it was a really nice time to hand over and let other people run it.
Renee is all-too-aware that the freedoms and liberties she and the LGBTI community enjoy today were hard won.
People forget that there have been fights to get here, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I haven’t experienced the violence ... [but] I have seen verbal abuse go on around here years ago. I think it’s extremely necessary to have a political say and opinion and to be heard ... So I think it’s very important to say yes, we’re here and these are the things we need because we are another part of the community, and a big one that makes up this diverse area.
Ever a ChillOut fan, Renee still enjoys attending and participating in events when she can. When she’s at the festival, she admits:
I’m bursting with pride. I admire the people that are running it, and I always take my hat off and think what a fantastic job they’re doing ... when I see the committee, when I see the volunteers, and I see how excited they are, and I see the events that they’re pulling off, it’s just total pride.
All quotes taken from an interview with Renee Ludekens, 18 December 2017.