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A Queer Country? A case study of the politics of gay/lesbian belonging in an Australian country town

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The present paper examines the complex politics of gay/lesbian belonging through a case study of Daylesford, Victoria, an Australian country town. It contributes to two research bodies: gay/lesbian rural geographies and the politics of belonging. Daylesford hosts ChillOut, Australia's largest rural gay/lesbian festival, which provides a telling context for investigating gay/lesbian belonging in rural Australia. We use qualitative data from the 2006 ChillOut Festival, including interviews with local residents, newspaper commentaries, and visitors' surveys, to explore how Daylesford has been constructed, imagined, and experienced as a 'unique' site of gay/lesbian belonging in rural Australia. We find that ChillOut crucially contributes to its wider reputation as a gay-friendly country town, but also, we argue, to the contested nature of gay/lesbian belonging. This was most powerfully demonstrated by the local council's refusal to fly the gay-identified rainbow flag on the Town Hall during the 2006 Festival and its subsequent banning of the display of all festival flags from that key public building. Because ChillOut was the catalyst for this protocol, the resolution was viewed as homophobic. Indeed, the homophobic and heterosexist rhetoric that ensued in the Letters to the Editor section of the local newspaper revealed some residents' underlying antagonism towards ChillOut and the local gay/lesbian community. Moreover, appealing to a shared 'Australian identity' and associated normative 'family values', these letter writers deployed a multi-scalar politics of belonging, where a sense of gay/lesbian belonging to Daylesford at the local scale was contested by the assertion of a 'more meaningful' national scale of allegiance fashioned by heteronormativity.
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Keywords: Australia; ChillOut Festival; Daylesford; Gay men; flags; lesbians; politics of belonging; rural geographies; scales of belonging

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wollongong, Australia

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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