Sarah Lang audio interview, 2016
Sarah Lang Way Back When - Consulting Historians
Sarah Lang grew up on a farm in Spring Hill, just outside of Daylesford. During her late teenage years and into her early twenties, Sarah would visit Daylesford to check out the gay and lesbian section of the bookshop by the lake.
‘When I was getting a bit confused’, Sarah comments, ‘I used to sneak in there and hide in the corridor and read these little books’. Her knowledge of the stereotypical lesbian did not gel with the person she felt she was. Living in the country, Sarah felt isolated. She didn’t know any lesbians like her or have anyone to guide her, and couldn’t figure out where she fit in. It wasn’t until she first heard k.d. lang’s album Ingenue that she began to suspect there were other kinds of lesbians, and that she might be one.
Sarah’s first involvement with the queer community in Daylesford was as a respite carer for a gay man with AIDS. This man took Sarah to her first gay dance, which was organised by Springs Connections at Lyonville, just outside of Daylesford. Springs Connections formed as a result of gay business owners wanting to promote Daylesford as a gay friendly tourist town. The group organised a number of events, including some specifically for youth living in the country.
Despite her fear, Sarah felt deep down that she had found the place she was meant to be. She attended several more events, some of which were held in Melbourne to introduce country kids to queer people and the community in Melbourne. Newsletters – hand-drawn and photocopied – were mailed out in blank envelopes to those people who were still in the closet or undecided about their sexuality, in order to keep them connected to the community and local events.
When Sarah first started visiting Daylesford in the early 1990s, it was still relatively quiet, but was becoming increasingly well-known thanks to groups like Springs Connections and events like ChillOut. The Lake House was well established and there were a growing number of shops in the main street, adding to the town’s reputation as a place for health and relaxation, as well as artistic creativity. A number of the local shops were proudly owned by gay people. Sarah remembers ‘they had the little rainbow sticker out the front and you’d get excited when you saw one because you’d think, oh wow these people are all like me’.
In 1996, when she was 28 years old, Sarah bought her first house in Daylesford and moved to the town permanently. By that time, Daylesford’s reputation as a queer-friendly town was well established. A number of public groups had formed and regular events were held that were explicitly queer-friendly. The Rainbow Cloggers, a group of gay men and lesbian women, performed clog dancing in town. The Palais and Frangos & Frangos were well-known, queer-friendly venues that would host various events, including drag shows and dances for the queer community. The Cozy Corner was a popular restaurant hangout. Sarah remembers feeling like the community was strong and united, but acknowledges this may have been because there were few venues in town where you could comfortably go out as a queer person. There were still some venues at that time, including the Daylesford Hotel and the Farmers Arms, where Sarah felt unwelcomed and unsafe as a lesbian woman.
Today, as a result of events like ChillOut and the presence of an ever-growing queer community in Daylesford, Sarah notices no delineation between the queer community and the straight community. There are no gay events anymore, she feels, because there is no need for them.
As a result of this popularity and Daylesford’s reputation as a queer-friendly town, Sarah and a few other business owners noticed that some visitors are becoming more discerning and wanting to stay somewhere that is not only gay-friendly but also owned and operated by the gay community. Recently, a group of around twenty local gay business owners got together and formed GOGO (Gay Owned, Gay Operated) Daylesford Hepburn. GOGO provides a platform for local business owners to pool resources and to market directly to a gay audience. It gives the community a voice and the support to branch out and connect with a wider community, much like the earlier group Springs Connections helped to bring together the Daylesford queer community in the early 1990s. GOGO is also actively involved in fundraising for events and organisations like ChillOut and the Victorian AIDS Council’s VACountry program.
Daylesford has become what everyone wants their community to be: a place where everyone belongs. ‘Most people [in Daylesford]’, says Sarah, ‘would probably assume that you’re gay before they’d assume you were straight’. It’s a place where if you are sick, your neighbours will bring you soup. If your dog runs away, you can be sure someone will find it and return it safely home. In Sarah’s words, ‘We all just live as one big happy family, it’s great’.
It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I felt completely like I was just walking into a different planet. I didn’t have any connection, I was scared, I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t even know if that was where I wanted to be. But I just knew that, the traditional life of growing up, meeting a man and getting married, just wasn’t for me. I knew that I didn’t fit in and I was desperately trying to find a place where I felt at home. So the first experience was terrifying. (4.30)
I could go out on any night in Daylesford now, Monday – Friday to any bar to any restaurant, and they’ll be at least half a dozen to a dozen people that I’m friends with. I can sit down and break bread with them. I don’t have to be organising to go out with any particular person, we just all know that if we go out there’ll be people that we know and love and we all get along with.
So if there’s any young kids out there especially in regional Victoria you might live in Ballarat or somewhere else. Know that there are country towns where you are accepted no matter what. So try and convince you’re parents to bring you over here, the schools are terrific. But also if you’re slightly older, feel free to come up and spend a weekend in town and know what it’s like and know that the community will love you and support you and care for you no matter what. Especially if you can pull a beer or make a coffee you’ll always have work up here.
I think creating a community and being in a place where we can welcome people to the town and say this really is utopia and it’s what everyone’s been looking for and it’s here. We’re really lucky.
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Story education resources
Education Daylesford Stories Education Kit
This education resource links to relevant learning outcomes in the Level 9 and Level 10 AusVELs curriculum. It utilises a range of primary sources including audio profiles, short films and images; inquiry and research-based activities as well as group work and critical discussion.