Pat Harrison audio interview, 2016
Pat Harrison Way Back When - Consulting Historians
Pat Harrison first moved to Daylesford as part of spiritual organisation ‘Shan the Rising Light’, now called ‘Society for Maitreya Theosophy’. While Pat had always liked country towns, she didn’t like what she calls the parochialism that comes with many of them.
But Daylesford seemed different. She recalls:
... when I came up here to visit a friend of mine who’s actually gay, I thought this was actually a country town that I could live in. Because it’s much more open ... to alternative ways of viewing life, the universe and everything, than most country towns are, a lot more open than most country towns.
When Pat and the spiritual group first moved up to Daylesford in 1991, they did face some hostility. The actions of other religious organisations in the United States had put the people of Daylesford on edge, and they were fearful that this group might quickly take over their town. ‘There was an element of real paranoia and hostility’, says Pat. But it didn’t take long for the town to adjust. It helped that the group members were community-focused and keen to have a positive impact on their new home. The Himalaya Bakery, which is still operating today, was started as a way for members of the group to make a living. It was a popular and community-minded business that helped to allay many of the townspeople’s concerns. Soon the Rocklyn Yoga Ashram moved in, and Daylesford quickly gained a reputation as a place for people seeking an alternative lifestyle.
Lesbian women and gay men also began moving in, inspired by the openness and acceptance of the town. Many of them set up businesses, including bed and breakfasts, cafes, shops and restaurants, which kick-started the town’s tourism industry. Tourism has in turn helped to further develop the town’s reputation as one of openness and acceptance, but in Pat’s eyes, that atmosphere was present before the tourists came. Today, with tourism the primary economy in Daylesford, it is even more essential to maintain that character:
If your town depends on tourism then there’s a premium for being open and tolerant as well that comes from that. And that’s not just towards ... one minority group ... it’s towards community – all sorts of marginalised communities.
Pat and her partner raised their only child, Marlo, in Daylesford. When Marlo told their parents that they felt traditional gender roles did not apply to them and that they were transgender, Pat was initially surprised, as the thought had never occurred to her. In retrospect, however, she realises that Marlo had never sat well within gendered stereotypes. But for a young, transgender person, growing up in Daylesford was still difficult. Pat thinks that Daylesford’s openness does not extend to transgender people. ‘I don’t think Daylesford is LGBTIQ friendly’, says Pat, ‘it’s gay friendly’.
For all the openness and acceptance the town has shown towards the gay and lesbian community, Pat feels that Daylesford, like many other places, has trouble with the concept of transgender. Mainstream society is geared towards a gender binary system. Even our language is structured according to this system. But the history of Daylesford’s transformation from dying country town, to the thriving alternative lifestyle mecca that it is today, provides Pat with hope that mainstream society’s attitudes and expectations will soon change. Pat knows of one transgender person who transitioned while living in Daylesford, and still lives in the town today. Some people remember her as male, but today she lives as female. ‘Even one person’, says Pat, ‘begins to shift people’s perceptions’.
Marlo is now studying at university in Melbourne. Opportunities for younger people in Daylesford, in terms of work and study, are limited. Marlo returns to Daylesford to visit their parents and the beautiful town they grew up in, but, Pat says, Marlo feels conspicuous here: ‘If you are making the transition – the gender transition, it’s got to be a difficult place to do that, because everybody knows everybody, especially amongst the young people’.
Really when I come down to it, I don’t consider Daylesford to be LGBTIQ friendly. I think it’s gay friendly ... at the high school there were issues for those young gay people. But I think in the community at large, that’s not so true ... I don’t think the community, I don’t think many communities at all, are trans friendly. I think that our community as a whole, although trans issues are being raised more and more, I think that our community as a whole is not – is trans phobic. Really has no conception of gender as a non-binary. They are fine with gay people, because gay people identify, gay people are CIS people. But they have a lot of trouble with trans-gender.
So I’m actually quite hopeful. This is a community I think, it’s not about tourism, that isn’t - I don’t think that’s where the openness to LGBTIQ people comes from. I think it is because it’s – well how would I know? – but I imagine that it’s because a lot of the people that come up here have different ways of thinking about the world. So there’s the whole permaculture movement, there’s a whole heap of organic farmers, there’s a whole heap of spiritual organisations – all of whom would have been on the other end of suspicion for various reasons. And I think, it doesn’t always work that way I know, but in this town it seems to have worked, to make people more open. Whereas I know that sometimes it makes people more closed. But here it seems to have worked to make people more open.
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Dr Gweneth Wisewould
So who was the first gay in the village?
Early Lesbian and Gay Daylesford
Daylesford Heritage Images
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.