‘The bush is beautiful’ in Daylesford, the little gay capital of Australia

Daylesford, approximately an hour’s drive northwest of Melbourne, is Australia’s version of what Provincetown is in the U.S.: a beautiful small town that has become a haven for the gay and trans community, and brings in big crowds during party weekends, like Daylesford Beartopia and Daylesford’s pride festival, ChillOut.

ChillOut is a major event for the region, packed with parties and shows, and in 2020 will include two World Record attempts: for the largest human rainbow and the longest line of Dolly Partons. Events like these are big news in Daylesford, and that small-town charm is part of what makes it such an enticing destination.

Now that the smoke from the 2019 wildfires has cleared—and the Australian dollar exchange rate is low against U.S. and Canadian dollars—this a great time to visit. To learn more about what Daylesford has to offer year-round, GayCities chatted with Steve Wroe, CEO of Daylesford’s tourism bureau.

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The wildfires in Australia were major news around the world. Now that the fires are out, is this a good time to visit the country? 

The fires were just awful, but friends around the world got the perception the whole place was burning down, which is so far from the truth.  The images of fires and burned koalas have freaked people out and stopped them from travelling, and this is understandable, but the actual impact on tourist infrastructure is very limited, almost zero.  Sadly, we have lost vast tracks of national park land and many people lost their homes, of course.

Where would you recommend people go to visit?

My answer is what we Aussies call “the bush,” kinda anywhere outside the “the city.” The bush is beautiful, the people are super-friendly and you’ll definitely see a kangaroo. I’m biased and will say, come to Daylesford. We’re up in the hills so it’s cool, we get loads of rains so it’s green, and we’re bush that’s an hour from the city of Melbourne.

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Daylesford is known as “spa country.” What does that mean?

Daylesford is full of mineral springs, and you can bathe in the mineral water in some beautiful spas and bathhouses. It is one of the reasons Daylesford is so popular with the gay market, and many of the businesses, particularly in the ‘wellness’ space, are gay-owned.

Why is it such a popular gay destination?

Without wanting to stereotype or generalize, I think that the gay market is fairly discerning. The quality of food, wine, coffee and accommodation in Daylesford is very high, which makes it popular with the gay crowd. Try Daylesford Day Spa, which is gay-owned. The owner, Benny, is a fantastic person and his spa is exceptional.

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After the Nakedman Festival 2019, near Daylesford

How many people come to ChillOut?

About 20,000, which is about ten times the population.* The place explodes and it is so much fun. It was originally set up as a Sydney Mardi Gras after-party, but now has a life of its own. You’ll have local kids, farmers, tradespeople all lining the street cheering on the slightly madcap parade. It’s just a lot of fun. I’ll be there with my kids, having a blast.

Whose idea was it for ChillOut to attempt the world’s largest rainbow and the world’s longest line of Dolly Parton drag queens

It was the main organizer’s idea. She’s new, ambitious and the perfect person to keep ChillOut contemporary and fun.

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A wedding at the ChillOut Festival in Daylesford

Daylesford is near Melbourne. What’s the one place you always like to visit if you get the chance, when you go to Melbourne?

Ahhh, well I’m a St Kilda boy, so The Espy, The Esplanade Hotel. In Australia we shorten everything and put a ‘y’ on the end, like Brisbane is called “Brissy.” The dance floor at The Espy goes bananas, the food is great, and the views are fantastic as you swallow a Golden Throat Charmer. You can work out what that means.

Ed. note: as a comparison, the year-round population of Provincetown, Mass. is under 3,000 residents.