The giant rainbow flag projected across the Daylesford Town Hall said it all: the gays had arrived in Daylesford.

Despite the recent bushfires, the GLBTIQ community came from across regional Victoria, Melbourne and interstate for last weekend’s ChillOut Festival in Victoria.

Saturday’s trivia event at the Palais, jointly organised by the ALSO Foundation, Country Awareness Network and PLWHA Victoria, combined safe-sex messages and trivia for a fun, rowdy afternoon.

Hosts Luke Gallagher and Kaye Sera kept the crowd entertained, despite Sera spraining her ankle mid-song. Ever the performer, she carried on.

Organisers confided to the Star that they’d been nervous about crowd numbers, but were overjoyed by the turnout, and the willingness of those at the event to donate.

The Bush Dance, a Saturday night ChillOut tradition, was an excuse for boys and girls alike to break out the flannelette shirts and get to bootscootin’.

On Sunday morning, those who could manage it hauled themselves out of bed for the annual parade through the centre of town. Whether you were a marcher or a spectator, the atmosphere was at times overwhelming, with a warm community spirit felt on both sides.

The parade was followed by the centrepiece of the ChillOut Festival, Carnival Day.

This year featured a star-studded line-up in keeping with the festival’s Disco Stampede theme, with BABBA and Leo Sayer serenading festival-goers throughout the afternoon.

Sayer, accustomed to playing gay venues in his native England, finished his set with an impassioned speech about gay rights, before asking if he could come back next year.

Later in the day, feminist diva Yana Alana delivered an eviscerating mix of songs and poetry.

No one is safe from Alana’s sharp tongue -” Young Liberals, ticket inspectors and misogynistic gay men all copped a spray, to wild cheers from the crowd.

ChillOut president Doug Pollard said the event was tremendous and organisers were pleasantly surprised at the diversity of the festival.

What I loved about the weekend was it wasn’t just gays and lesbians -” it was old people, it was young people, it was local people, it was people from interstate, it was a really wonderful mix.

Although organisers estimate numbers were slightly down on last year, the march in Daylesford’s main street drew one of its biggest crowds ever, estimated at around 5,000.

Last month’s bushfires in the area have been blamed for the lower than expected turnout, but those who came were in the mood for fun following the region’s recent troubles.

Although organisers are still waiting for the final figures, it’s estimated around $25,000 was raised over the weekend. $12,000 was successfully raised for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Buddies For Wildlife program.

The remaining money will go to the Hepburn Wildlife Shelter and the local CFA.

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