Three and a half years ago Claudia Validum decided it was time to exchange the city lights for the rolling green hills, when she moved from Fitzroy to Daylesford. She was part of that small but continued exodus of the LGBTQI community from metropolitan areas to the countryside, a reverse migration that has received a boost with the COVID-19 pandemic. Why live in small houses and be a part of the rat race, when you can have peace and quiet in the countryside, pay lower rent, enjoy a close community network and work from home. 

“I was one of those people from the community that decided on a sea-change three and a half years ago,” Claudia, who took over as Thorne Harbour Country Coordinator over a year and a half ago, told Star Observer. 

An Open Community

Unlike the notion that the country is a conservative, oppressive, non-welcoming space, Claudia found that regional towns were open to the LGBTQI community, especially in places like Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine and of course Daylesford. 

“When I first started in this role, about a year and a half ago, the first person I met, who had come to us for our therapeutic services, told me that he’d moved from the city back to the country. We definitely see this now all the time.

“They want something different – a better lifestyle for them and their family, space, a close-knit community and cheaper housing. There’ll be a continued shift of the community back to the country,” Claudia predicted.

 Identifying the needs of a growing LGBTQI community in regional Victoria, Thorne Harbour Country is now looking to strengthen and expand its services in the area. 

A New Year, A New Country Headquarters

In the new year, THC has moved to a two-storey building on Mundy Street in Bendigo, with plans for a community hub and expanded list of offerings for the local LGBTQI communities. 

“We hope the new site can serve as a community centre for regional Victoria. After all, we know from the recent Victorian Population Health Survey that our LGBTI communities are located throughout the state,” said  Simon Ruth, Thorne Harbour Health CEO in a press statement.

Thorne Harbour Health first made its presence felt in regional Victoria in 2016 when it set up its centre in Bendigo that was focussed on preventing blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections, and supporting people living with HIV and LGBTQI communities in the Loddon Mallee region. The plans for the new location include a community hub for peer workshops, events and other services. 

“As we approach the fifth anniversary of Thorne Harbour Country, we’re excited to mark that milestone with a new site that will allow us to expand our reach and better serve the growing needs of our LGBTI communities and people living with HIV in the Loddon Mallee Region,” said Ruth. 

Making Services LGBTQI Sensitive

According to Claudia, there are large pockets of the community in regional Victoria that are quite out and open and are supported by other communities. “There is a lot of work happening with our partners and there is shift to to get services Rainbow ticked and accredited,” said Claudia, adding that, “where the growth needs to happen is around services that are LGBTQI sensitive.”

The new headquarters of Thorne Harbour Country is an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to regional Victoria. 

 “There is a lack of equity across country areas – the services for the LGBTQI community that one sees in Geelong and Ballarat differ from the services that you see in Bendigo. (There is a need for) therapeutic services and services for those suffering from mental health issues,” said Claudia. 

She pointed to other priority areas, including LGBTQI housing, group and peer support, clinical services and youth services. “We are looking at providing other services that we currently don’t provide, so things like expanded therapeutic services, potentially a health clinic and managing the youth projects.”

Claudia points to the projected growth of the population in areas like Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, and it is expected that there will also be a relative rise in the LGBTQI population. 

“There is an increase in LGBTQI projects in country Victoria. We are seeing the  LGBTQI community moving back to the country after being in the city post-COVID. There’s definitely a huge need in the country and we want to obviously make sure as a community organisation that we support the community.”

While challenges remain, Claudia is sure of one thing, that Daylesford is now home.

“I love the Daylesford community because it’s so open and LGBTQI friendly. There’s such a huge community here that I absolutely love and I wouldn’t come back to the city even if you paid me!” 

The new address for Thorne Harbour Country is 58 Mundy Street, Bendigo. For more information on services, head to the THH website

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