The word that comes to mind for many people when asked to describe Daylesford is ‘beautiful’.

The historic buildings, the rolling, forested landscape in which the small township is nestled, and the seasonal shades.

The word ‘beautiful’ can equally be applied to the people who call Daylesford home and the community as a whole. For those who have decided to call this place home, whether they are born and bred or recent arrivals, the power of ‘the village’ is like a warm embrace. Indeed, there is pure beauty in the sense of acceptance and safety in this quite extraordinary community.

For these reasons Daylesford has been home to people from all walks of life. And, from as long ago as the 1980s, members of the gay and lesbian community, heard whispers that there was a little town in central Victoria accepting of those a little different from society’s norm.

It’s no secret we are proudly home to many members of the LGBTQ+ community. And in a riot of colour, fun and craziness, every March the whole town – straight and queer – sets about hosting one of the country’s largest and most fun regional Queer festivals – ChillOut.

ChillOut started out as an idea over drinks 25 years ago among a small group of gay men and women, who desired to share their town and their open embrace with the wider community. Thanks to them, 25 years on, ChillOut continues to grow each year. From attracting a few hundred people at the Old Butter Factory to now welcoming up to 20,000 visitors annually, there is something quite special and unique about ChillOut.

But when the rainbow flags come down and the little town resembles its daily self, the sense of safety continues to be the reason many chose and continue to make Daylesford home. Local storyteller and community stalwart Anne E. Stewart has spent hundreds of hours researching and documenting the history of Daylesford’s Queer community over the years.

Stories of a young female doctor, and those of a gay bushranger who penned love letters, have featured in Anne’s work. Who exactly was the ‘first gay in the village’ has also been covered in Anne’s extensive collection, as has the beautiful account of a respite home set up in Daylesford during the height of the AIDS pandemic.

It’s believed many gay women had already set up life in the region, partly because land and homes were cheaper for women on lower wages and because it was a quiet retreat away from the city. Anne believes it was many of the gay women who nursed men with AIDS and welcomed their visiting partners. While many died, many loved ones stayed to make a life in town. The Peace Mile around Lake Daylesford is a beautiful tribute to those lives and is a reminder of the town’s love for all.

For 72 year old Max Primmer, a visit to the Chillout festival in 2003 saw him relocate to the area months later. He immediately found his tribe; his home.

“There is something in the air. Something in Daylesford that makes you feel safe. Whichever way you come, you drive through the bush – it feels euphoric – and then you come to a little enclave through the forests. It doesn’t matter who’s hand you hold in the main street. It just matters that we live in a community that accepts us all.”

Max grew up on a dairy farm in Western Victoria, his father a senator. They didn’t care who he loved. They just cared. Max believes such a sentiment lives on in Daylesford.

“It doesn’t matter who we are or who we love, we can just be our true selves and walk a little taller thanks to everyone before us who has made this little town the safe, welcoming place it is today.”

ChillOut Festival 10-14 March 2022

About the author

Narelle Groenhout
Narelle Groenhout

Narelle is a proud tree-changer who only a year or so ago, with her family, swapped suburban Melbourne life and a corporate communications role to fulfil her dream to raise her children in the country and live in a connected and compassionate community. Narelle feels like she has found her community in Daylesford and the surrounding region. Moving from a quarter-acre block on a busy road to an old farmhouse on a two and half acre piece of paradise, bordered on one side by a spring fed creek and the other by majestic eucalypt forest, Narelle has found the life she was looking for, spending her days gardening, entertaining friends and family and writing stories about the remarkable people she has met in her new community, along with trawling the local op-shops, markets, second-hand and tip shops for new treasures.