Remembering Chillout

Story by Richard Cornish
Photography by Danny Wootton

Swiss Italian Homestead Remains, Yandoit Creek (2015)  by Dale Callahan   Known as the Carlo Gervasoni Homestead Complex and believed to be dated from the 1860's and developed over a number of years by the family connections. The Homestead is one of the oldest in the district and is currently being fully restored as a private residence.

Max Primmer is halfway through his transformation. With each false eyelash and brush stroke of eye shadow the Daylesford house cleaner and radio broadcaster is a step closer to his drag queen alter ego Di_Alysis. “When you put on the eyelashes, the wig and the dress – you become a different person,” says Max in a textured voice that sits somewhere between honey and asphalt.  It’s perfect for his breakfast slot on Hepburn Community Radio and Friday night’s Rainbow Radio on Pheonix FM in Bendigo.  “You see,” he continues,  “a drag queen can say a lot of things in public that a lot of people would struggle to say in private. You are so much freer.”

The name for his drag character came after complete kidney failure a few years back. Now 68, the former committee member of Daylesford’s iconic LGBTIQ festival ChillOut, was in hospital, connected to a dialysis machine, with tubes going in and out of his body. “It came to me in a very clear vision,” he says. The outrageous Di-Alysis was born and has been part of Chillout ever since.

A dairy farm near Koroit was where Max started his life. “I came out to my parents when I was 15,” he says. “I had a boyfriend. I also had a loving family who put no restrictions on me. ‘As long as you’re happy’ they said.” Max moved to Melbourne when he was 19 working as a car detailer and then as a wine bottler with Crittenden’s in Malvern. That is when he met his partner for 30 years, Ken. “We had a good life living as an openly gay couple,” says Max. Together they bought and sold businesses around the city and in the country. It is with great pride that Max says, “We had a milk bar in Sandringham. We were known as ‘the two boys in the milk bar’ to the locals,” he says with a growing smile. “But the local school recognised us as a safe house. If kids felt like they were being threatened or they were being followed they could come to us. That meant a lot to us.”

Ken died in 2000. After three years, a friend suggested that Max go with him to ChillOut in Daylesford. “I hadn’t really thought about Daylesford,” remembers Max. “But when I got there it had this amazing aura. No matter what way you come into Daylesford you are driving through forest. It really does something – it clears your head.” Max is beaming now. “I just remember thinking this was this beautiful little enclave in the forest.” Max had a great time at ChillOut in 2003. So great that he said to his friend in the car on the way back to Melbourne, “I am going to live there.” Three weeks later he had rented a house.

Within a few months he had met Peter Wright, Chris Malden and Wayne Cross, founding committee members of ChillOut. Soon Max was on the committee himself, offering a different perspective and taking part in many of the activities. He found himself judging the ChillOut dog show, as Di-Alysis, strutting down Vincent Street in a gold lamé fishtail dress, gold crown and pleated cape that doubled as flowing wings. Although no longer on the committee, Max is still a huge supporter. This year Di-Alysis will also be at the local library reading kid’s books to the children of same sex couples. 

“I love this town,” he says. “I love that this town gets ChillOut.” He ponders for a second and adds, “You know there are other country towns where, as a gay person, you think twice about going to a pub or going out. It’s in the back of your mind that you can’t be yourself.” He draws himself up. “That is what has been so special about being part of ChillOut,” he says with a determined tone in his voice. 

“ChillOut provides a safe pace for people where they can be themselves and happy.” 

Chillout, 8-12 March,