Tulku Rose audio interview, 2016
Tulku Rose Way Back When - Consulting Historians
Tulku Rose was working as a primary school teacher when she fell in love with Daylesford in the early 1980s. ‘Daylesford was a deadbeat old town that nobody much wanted to come to’, she recalls, ‘but I fell in love with the lake ... I just thought it was one of the nicest places I’ve ever been’.
After finding a teaching job in Daylesford, Tulku and her partner moved into an old farmhouse on the edge of town. Unsure of how the town might react to their alternative lifestyle, Tulku and her partner kept to themselves. Daylesford’s gay and lesbian community was not easy to find at first. Others, perhaps wary like Tulku and her partner, also kept to themselves. But it wasn’t long before Tulku was introduced to some other local lesbian women and realised that Daylesford was much more accepting of difference than other country towns.
The affordability of property in Daylesford attracted many single women who were priced out of other areas. Tulku recalls women in couples or groups buying houses and moving to Daylesford in the 1980s and 1990s. After receiving a promotion, Tulku briefly moved back to Melbourne before she suffered a workplace injury, which put a permanent end to her teaching career. She returned to Daylesford, bought a house and contemplated what to do with the rest of her life.
After deciding to start a meditation group, Tulku converted a room in her home into a meditation centre. People came from all over town and she quickly realised there was a great need in Daylesford for a counselling service. Tulku soon became a provider of tea and sympathy, and a shoulder to cry on for the people of Daylesford.
Helping people became a recurring theme in Tulku’s life. She became an ordained minister – the first female minister in the Central Highlands, and was greatly supported by her community. Needing a way to supplement her pension and the small income from her meditation classes, Tulku joined the growing trend and turned her house into a bed and breakfast.
It was around this time that the Daylesford community noticed an influx of single men to the town. They arrived sick and alone. It was the AIDS crisis in full swing. Tulku was part of a group that founded the Central Highlands AIDS support team, which provided massage therapists, respite carers, meals on wheels and companionship. It was an incredibly hard time for everyone involved and Tulku remembers attending the funerals of many friends during this period.
Slowly, the town was changing. Lesbian women were taking up small pieces of farming land, and living in share houses or as couples. Gay men were opening bed and breakfasts. Cafes and restaurants owned and operated by gay and lesbian people were being established on the main street. Tulku recalls:
Although it sounds like it was the gay capital, sometimes people thought if they came to Daylesford they’d see everybody holding hand in hand going down the street ... it really wasn’t as dramatic as that.
The lower cost of living meant that many of the people who relocated to Daylesford brought ready money with them, which helped boost the town’s economy. Tourism quickly became Daylesford’s primary industry.
With a number of businesses in town being owned and operated by gay and lesbian people, a group of business owners came together to start Springs Connections – a way of organising and promoting gay-friendly businesses in and around Daylesford. Springs Connections produced a coloured booklet advertising all the gay-friendly businesses in the area, including accommodation, massage, spa treatments, artist studios, restaurants and cafes. Tulku’s bed and breakfast was one of the featured businesses.
Out of the networks formed through Springs Connections came the idea for a festival to celebrate gay pride and raise the profile of Daylesford’s gay and lesbian community. ‘We just decided we were going to do it’, Tulku recalls, ‘it was a success right from the word go’.
A property was made available and a short time later, the first ChillOut festival was held. Despite the vandalism of some promotional signs, the festival was a fantastic success and gradually grew into the biggest and longest running queer pride event in regional Australia.
Having lived in Daylesford for over 35 years, Tulku has seen a lot of change. She describes the influx of people into the town like the ploughing of a field and a fresh start, where ‘everybody that came found a little spot they could sit down and enjoy’. Once a rural farming community, Daylesford is now a tourist town that welcomes everyone with open arms.
Well it was just a standard country town at the time and I just wanted to have a peaceful life ... I knew that if I had six or eight good friends, that was all I needed and so I figured I could live quite happily in Daylesford. ... I did meet a few people here in Daylesford and one day after school I was down doing some shopping at the little local grocery shop and somebody said to me, ‘oh that lady over there, she’s the queen of the lesbians’ and I though, ‘hmmm’. Then I looked across and I saw this rather large lady, dressed in khaki overalls with boots on and on her wrist she had a leather strap with a hawk on it. I tell you my knees nearly dissolved under me. I thought, ‘Oh my God! Is that the starting point here?’ Anyhow, I just didn’t touch, go in that direction. But the interesting thing was that she already had a house that she’d bought here and she had about six women who were living there and they were working out their destiny in the back blocks of Daylesford.
... And what I thought was that, a town that could cope with that, could cope with anything! ... So there was a general feeling that it was a safe place to be.
Well tourism is an important part of the story because when I first came here, if you went down the street on a Sunday afternoon there would be two piles of rubbish in the middle of the street from two cars that had bought fish and chips and then they’d just dropped their gear, dropped the fish and chip papers in the middle of the street and just driven off. And there would be nothing from one end of the street to the other. There was just that one shop, the only place that was open in town.
There was – it was a desolate town. Progressively people, people opened up, Sweet Decadence got started ... all sorts of people talk to me and say: ‘The reason I came was somebody said to me, Oh you want to go out to the lavender farm? Here’s the directions. And then when I came in a second time they said, How was it at the lavender farm.’ The person said in Melbourne you would never even see anybody care about you let alone ask where you’d been. And they said: ‘This is a caring community.’ And I felt that from the first time I came up here.
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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.