What's the Meaning of Chillout? Rural/urban Difference and the Cultural Significance of Australia's Largest Rural Glbtq Festival

Article excerpt

Abstract

There is growing concern with the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual/transgender and queer identifying subjects (GLBTQ) living in and visiting rural areas. Simultaneously, rural studies scholars across various disciplines argue that the meaning and experience of 'rural' changes with variations in residence, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, inter alia. This paper contributes to GLBTQ rural studies by investigating the range of meanings invoked across different GLBTQ groups by ChillOut, Australia's largest rural GLBTQ festival, held annually in Daylesford, Victoria. Data is drawn from a visitors' survey, conducted at the 2006 festival, which seeks to understand ChillOut's role in GLBTQ lives and its impact on Daylesford. Differences exist in the cultural significance of ChillOut and its rural setting expressed by GLBTQ individuals attending the festival from urban and rural areas. In particular, while the rurality of the festival is crucial for all, its meaning and experience shift across groups: urbanites invoke the idyllic country setting as a place to 'chill out', while rural residents stress the politicised catalysing effect of having a GLBTQ festival in a rural place. Thus, this analysis also adds to recent work on the diverse roles of festivals in generating senses of place, community and identity in rural Australia.

Keywords

GLBTQ identity, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Transexual, Bisexual, Queer, Rurality, Rural/urban difference, ChillOut, Festivals, Cultural significance

Received 14 July 2008 Accepted 17 September 2008

Introduction

Cultural dimensions of rural studies are an increasingly important concern for researchers (Lockie & Bourke 2002; Gorman-Murray, Darian-Smith & Gibson 2008). In the Australian context, this in part reflects greater attention to social and cultural issues by local government authorities and policy-makers in rural areas (Winchester & Rofe 2005). Such rural cultural foci include the development and maintenance of cultural industries - such as tourism, heritage and festivals - to sustain the social, cultural and economic fabric of country towns (Gibson & Davidson 2004; Brennan-Horley, Connell & Gibson 2007). Another is the growing recognition of socio-cultural diversity in rural areas predicated on generational change and waves of in-migration from urban areas (described as sea-change and treechange movements - Burnley & Murphy 2004; Costello 2007). This paper focuses on a town and an event which epitomise such examples of rural cultural change in Australia - the ChillOut Festival, Australia's largest rural gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual/transgender and queer (GLBTQ) festival, held annually in Daylesford, Victoria. Drawing on data from a visitors' survey conducted at the 2006 festival, this paper investigates rural/urban differences in the cultural significance of ChillOut. Specifically, I examine variations in the meaning and experiences of ChillOut and its rural setting expressed by GLBTQ visitors from both urban and rural origins.

I begin by outlining how this study contributes to the existing literature on GLBTQ experiences of rural places, wider meanings of 'rurality', and the role festivals play in sustaining rural communities and place identities. I then provide a picture of Daylesford and ChillOut, and outline the data collection and analysis. Finally, I report the results, demonstrating the different meanings and experiences of ChillOut and its rurality accorded by urban and rural GLBTQ visitors. This discussion considers, in turn, the rural/urban composition of attendees, rural/urban variations in perceptions of place identity and locality, and differing interpretations of the rural setting as a motivation for attending the festival. The conclusion summarises the argument and highlights its contribution to research and festival management.

Literature review and key contributions

This case study contributes to three strands of rural cultural research. …