Tom Cockram audio interview, 2016
Tom Cockram Way Back When - Consulting Historians
Tom Cockram was living on the Mornington Peninsula and running his own pottery workshop and gallery when he was convinced by a friend to make the move to Daylesford. The low cost of living was a huge attraction to Tom, who was at the time living off the earnings of his pottery.
He spent nine months searching for the perfect place, before finally purchasing Hepburn’s Garage for $80,000 in September 1988. Hepburn’s Garage was wedged between the Palais dance hall and an old billiard hall. While it needed quite a bit of work, Tom could see the potential of the place as not only a showroom for his pottery, but a workshop and kiln too.
When Tom first arrived, Daylesford was a quiet country town with lots of empty shops and not much going on. The affordability of property in the area, which had attracted Tom, also attracted other buyers. Women, sometimes alone, in pairs or small groups, were purchasing homes – small miners cottages and the like – for as little as $10,000. Tom recalls that many of these women were lesbians and were seeking a like-minded and accepting community.
Soon, Tom noticed that gay men began to follow, using their decorating talents to turn run-down country cottages into delightful bed and breakfasts: ‘A gay person bought this place, another one here. Some had partners, some didn’t. All of a sudden they’re renovating and doing up these houses’.
Tom Cockram didn’t officially come out until he was 50 years old. After some past experiences of sexual trauma, Tom had always preferred the company of women because he felt safe around them. He married and had a daughter before separating from his wife in the early 1970s. Almost twenty years passed before Tom came to the realisation that he was gay. In Daylesford he met John and had his first gay relationship. ‘It was a shock’, he recalls, ‘all of a sudden I became aware of other gay people in town’.
When Tom first moved to Daylesford, the gay and lesbian community was still in its infancy. There were queer-friendly events and venues but also some tensions between gay and lesbian residents and others in the local community. After a particularly public confrontation at the local pub, Tom noticed general attitudes towards gay and lesbians in the community had changed. ‘All of a sudden’, he remembered, those homophobic people who started the fight, ‘the people of that pub, weren’t welcome.’
One of Tom’s first public outings as a gay man was to Jack’s – a Friday night institution in Daylesford. Each Friday night, Jack’s restaurant would close to the public but open to the gay and lesbian community. ‘You had to either be gay or the son or daughter or mother or father of a gay person’ to visit Jack’s on a Friday night, recalls Tom. When Tom first arrived, he remembers seeing his neighbours who said to him, ‘Oh we’d been laying bets on you’.
While he was living in Mornington, Tom was part of a small community of artists and local business owners who banded together to produce an advertising brochure for the tourists who came from Melbourne to enjoy the sights and produce of the area. He was also involved in the establishment of the popular Red Hill Market. As Daylesford’s reputation as an LGBTIQ-friendly community grew, more and more gay and lesbian people moved into the area. The town expanded rapidly, with the establishment of bed and breakfasts, spa centres, galleries, gift shops, cafes and restaurants to cater to the emerging tourist market.
Through his connections at Jack’s, Tom was one of a small group of business owners who decided to form a business association, named Springs Connections, as a way of promoting all the gay-owned and operated businesses in the area. A brochure was produced listing all the gay businesses in Daylesford. Not long after Springs Connections was formed, the idea for ChillOut festival took hold. Tom remembers:
ChillOut came just as an after thought after we had Midsummer, then we had Pride March, then there was Mardi Gras in Sydney and all of a sudden riding on the crest of the wave – what do we do?
From the first event held in 1997, ChillOut has grown to become the biggest queer pride festival in regional Australia.
It was very depressed at the time. There was many, many vacant shops in the main street of Daylesford, there was virtually no guest houses or anything like that. There was two in Hepburn Springs, there was one in Daylesford and that was Lake House.
Well I can tell you a very funny story about that. There was a pub in the main street and it was the real roughies. And one night they bashed up a young gay boy. And two of the lesbians went in and said: ‘Who beat up this kid?’ Because he was only a kid, he was about 15. And they jeered at them. And those two women beat up the men. They beat up two men. They didn’t have a hope. And that was the turning point. It became known, the police where involved, all sorts of things like that. And all of a sudden the people of that pub weren’t welcome.
Chill Out came just as an after thought after we had Midsummer, then we had the Pride March then there was Mardi Gras in Sydney and all of a sudden riding on the crest of the wave – what do we do? And there was just needed something to bring us down. And I closed my shop for the weekend, took my pottery wheel up and put it in a corner on the verandah and I was making pots and people would come along and talk to me. The kids would stop and want to watch me. That was first Chill Out. Yeah. Then the next year, same place, little bit bigger. And then it just had to go somewhere else. So we went to the showgrounds and it got bigger.
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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.