Comedian Joel Creasey has cast new light on his tortured relationship with the Victorian town of Colac, describing the city of 10,800 people as a place still plagued by shocking levels of homophobic abuse.
The star, who has a fraught history with the town, has spoken of being repeatedly verbally abused and even threatened with a gang bashing in broad daylight during previous visits – all due to his sexuality.
Things seemed to have calmed down after his most recent visit, when he filmed the ABC documentary The Gaycrashers in town, with fellow comedian Rhys Nicholson. The film arguably showed Colac in a more conciliatory light, with many residents depicted as friendly and receptive to the openly gay star.
But despite the impression of improving relations that documentary may have created, it seems that Joel didn’t leave town feeling things had improved enough, following what he says was a stream of abusive and unpleasant encounters with locals that didn’t end up on film.
‘I was run out of Colac and then I went back two years later with a film crew,’ Joel explains of his history with the town in an interview with WHO’s TV podcast, Binge List.
‘I’ve not been back since. I still get messages from people saying, “I live in Colac, it’s a really, really homophobic place”.
While conceding that some things have improved in the town, Joel says his first-hand experience tells him there is still a lot of work to do before he feels fully welcome there.
‘We spent a week in Colac to see if it really is the homophobia capital of Australia, with a very small film crew – and, look, the [then] mayor [Lyn Russell] was doing a great job, she’s really progressive - but we had people yelling stuff out of car windows, and our small camera crew could not grab it.
‘We had people yelling at us 24/7, and so Colac is a very homophobic place. Sure, I haven’t been there in three years, but I don’t know how much can change in that time.’
When contacted by WHO for comment, current mayor Joe McCracken took issue with Joel's characterisation of the town.
'While I respect Joel's right to have an opinion, I respectfully disagree with the stance he has taken,' he said.
'Our Colac Otway community is rich in diversity; we have people in our community with different sexual orientations, religious beliefs, backgrounds, experiences, ethnic and cultural heritage, language groups, occupations and opinions. We have a thriving community which acknowledge diversity isn’t just skin deep.
'Joel, like anyone else, is always welcome in our community where he can enjoy our beautiful landscape, appreciate our fine produce, or sample our hospitality.
'Being gay in regional Australia can have its challenges. The world is changing, and with this we have seen changes in attitudes and perceptions.
'This change was evidenced in Colac Otway which, as a part of the Corangamite electorate, was placed in the top-11 regions in Australia to vote ‘yes’ with seventy-two per cent of residents in the electorate voting to legalise gay marriage. This is a reflection of the sentiment and attitudes the Colac Otway community have toward the LGBTI community.
'We acknowledge that Colac Otway, like many towns and cities across our country, isn't perfect however we're always striving towards a fair and reasonable community where equality can be achieved.'
To hear Joel's full interview, see this week's episode of Binge List - details below.