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

By Gorman-Murray, Andrew | Rural Society, April 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

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


Gorman-Murray, Andrew, Rural Society


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. First, it advances a growing body of work which examines the experiences of GLBTQ people living in, moving to or visiting rural areas (Bell & Valentine 1995; Smith & Holt 2005). This work counters an urban bias in research on GLBTQ lives and communities (Phillips, Watt & Shuttleton 2000; Gorman-Murray, Waitt & Gibson 2008). This bias reflects a spatial imaginary which posits the urban as a space of acceptance and community for GLBTQ subjects, and the rural as a site of intolerance and absence (Binnie 2004; Gorman-Murray 2007). But research has shown that many GLBTQ individuals and groups do cultivate a sense of belonging and affirmation in the countryside. For instance, Fellows (1996) and Wilson (2000) outline the lives of same-sex attracted men and women born and raised in rural America who have chosen to stay put and 'make do' rather than move out. Valentine (1997a) and Bell (2000, 2003), meanwhile, discuss those gay men and lesbians who choose to move from the city to the country to escape the restrictions of urban GLBTQ communities and wider social mores of city life. These include lesbian separatists, who create women-only communities in rural locations in order to circumvent the sex/gender discrimination of heteropatriarchal urban cultures, and (gay male) radical faeries, who likewise evade both heterosexist regulation and 'macho' gay norms through communal rural living and reconnecting with nature. Similarly, Smith and Holt (2005, p. 318) have investigated the phenomenon of lesbian migration to Hebden Bridge (UK), finding that lesbian identities and relationships were 'openly performed in publicly visible ways' and 'widely accepted and embraced' by the community. …

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