March 28th, 2022Daylesford…not just a place but a community
Sarah Flemming 31, and Marlie Regis 30, met in England six years ago.They left their IT and marketing careers to see the world and have been in Australia for four years and are now influencers and bloggers, highlighting the sights and people they come across on their journey. Their recent return to Daylesford, a community that supported them during lockdown, homeless and alone, has seen them spread the joy of ChillOut with their Instagram, Facebook posts and videos – so far reaching more than 200,000 keen followers. This is their story.
WHILST travelling through Victoria at the beginning of 2020, we had no idea that we would end up living in the state for the entire year.
As backpackers, we were initially working towards the six months of farm work that we needed to do in order to gain an extra year of our working holiday visa, when the pandemic hit us all by surprise.
In March, we found ourselves in Creswick working on a potato farm. After only our first day on the farm, the lockdown started. We headed back to the free campsite we were staying at, with the intentions of sorting out something more permanent later, only to find a locked gate with a sign reading ‘closed due to Covid’. We thought we’d better get ourselves booked into an official campsite but they weren’t taking new people.
Luckily for us, the evenings were still pretty light and between Creswick and Daylesford we had mastered the art of finding electric plugs to use, hot water to fill our shower and the public barbeque facilities gave us shelter and light to cook our dinners.
In case you are wondering where we slept, the locations of the Bushfire Neighbourhood Safer Place became our home, in the car parks at Daylesford and Creswick information centres. At the time, we were just grateful to be in a country that was taking Covid so seriously and keeping us safe from this virus that was ripping our home country, the UK, and the rest of the world apart.
The potato farm we were working on was heavily reliant on the weather, so on our rainy days off we would treat ourselves to a pie or a baked good from the many bakeries and cafes in Daylesford. On one of these occasions, a lovely guy who was also living out of his van told us about what we now know as the Good Grub Club. At the time, he explained that they offered a free breakfast a few times a week and that we should pop in there.
Along we went one morning and at this point, we discovered that the Good Grub Club was this incredible food kitchen supporting the community during this extremely difficult time. The ladies working there, particularly Sallie, insisted that they help us, knowing that we were living in our Holden Commodore station wagon.
They gave us a box of beautiful fresh food and some home cooked meals too. This is such an incredible memory for us and we were so grateful and humbled by the community’s initial support in helping us. It was also our first home cooked meal that wasn’t cooked on a camping stove in a very long time.
After this day, we decided that we’d offer our assistance on any days that we were free from work. As the nights were getting darker and the potato season was coming to an end, this became a regular place to find us. We divided out the delicious meals and helped to make the boxes for the community. Sallie and Jen (who was the reverend at the time, from the Uniting Church next door) had been discussing where we might be able to stay. They were so concerned about us staying in our car, as it was getting much colder with the winter creeping in.
Jen kindly offered us the small community hall next door, which was going unused due to Covid. We set up our tent and mattress inside, surrounded by heaters and felt like we were living a life of luxury. It even had a little kitchen with an oven so we could finally make our own banana bread (remember that Covid trend?).
We were fortunate enough to stay in the hall for around a month and throughout this time we really became part of the Daylesford community. We felt so welcomed and were humbled by the kindness of everyone living in this small regional town. Just a couple of days before we were due to head off to our next job near the Great Ocean Road, we went to see Jen hold a service in the church next door.
It turned out that there was also a homeless man at the service that the community wanted to help house in the hall. With us still having a little extra time before heading off, a local mother and journalist offered to let us stay in their house whilst the homeless man moved into our temporary humble abode. This lovely local we had the pleasure of meeting was Narelle Groenhout.
Little did we know that this meeting would change our lives forever. Narelle took us into her home with her husband, Pat and their two children. They gave us a real bed to sleep in for a few nights and even hosted a wonderful leaving party for us.
Pat is a wonderful cook and made a delicious paella for us all and we were showered with gifts from the locals. These included an oil painting of Lake Daylesford from Chris and Malcolm and some tough gum boots from Jo at the local shoe store to use at our next job.
It was such a pleasure meeting this beautiful community and as backpackers who’ve travelled all across Australia, we haven’t come across anywhere that has given us so much love and kindness. It was amazing to find our little Aussie family here in Daylesford; a place that was also more than welcoming of us as an LGBTQ+ couple.
After leaving Daylesford, we went off to our next job, which was intended to be for just two months. However, due to the tough lockdown laws, we ended up being there for six months instead. Once there were more freedoms, we made sure we swung by Daylesford again, before leaving Victoria.
One of the positives of getting stuck in Victoria was that we had more time to focus on our travel blog, Cloud Walks. Skip to 2022 and we were offered the opportunity to co-author a coffee table book about the best LGBTQ+ events and locations around the world.
We, of course, decided to add Daylesford and the ChillOut Festival to the book. After being away for a year and a half, it has been so lovely to be back in this lovely town, especially during such a special time of the year with ChillOut. We have spent our time here reconnecting with all of the kind people that helped us out so much back in 2020 and making new precious connections too.
We truly love the community here in Daylesford; they rescued us from the harsh Victorian winter and gave us a true sense of belonging in so many ways. There is no doubt that Daylesford will always hold a special place in our hearts.