The Jarrad Antonovich coronial inquest continued at Lismore Courthouse yesterday, with medical experts and bystanders alike expressing amazement that an ambulance wasn’t called earlier to the unfolding medical emergency at the 2021 Dreaming Arts festival, held near Kyogle.
The first witness was Associate Professor and Doctor Arthur Richardson, a specialist based at Westmead Hospital with expertise in the liver, pancreas and oesophagus. With Jarrad Antonovich’s cause of death thought to be a hole in his oesophagus, counsel assisting the coroner asked Dr Richardson what was likely to have caused this tear.
The doctor explained that the oesophagus was essentially a tube between the mouth and the stomach, noting that it was difficult to puncture, even in cases where people had swallowed razor blades and scissors, however it was liable to tear in cases of severe vomiting and retching, with about 30 cases of this sort occurring per year in NSW.
Dr Richardson said he lacked direct experience of the results of coughing from ayahuasca and kambo use, but agreed it was possble for post-ayahuasca vomiting to cause a small tear in the oesophagus, which could be exacerbated by later dry retching (such as that caused by kambo in some cases).
Injury to oesophagus
Counselor Dwyer said the hole or tear in Jarrad’s case was 40mm X 20mm at post-mortem.
The doctor suggested that a hole of that size near the bottom of the oesophagus would have caused serious and rapidly worsening symptoms, including shortness of breath, racing heart, hyperventilation and extreme pain.
He confirmed that serious pain in the back area described by Jarrad could have been caused by oesophagal tearing, with no signs of kidney damage post mortem (the cause suspected initially by some of those with Jarrad Antonovich at the time).
He said the extreme swelling of Mr Antonovich’s neck was also consistent with an oesophagal tear, especially if he had drunk large amounts of water that hadn’t been able to reach the stomach. He noted that it was ‘complicated and unpredictable’ how fast people with such oesophagal tears would deteriorate.
Dr Richardson said that although correct diagnosis would not have been easy in the field, paramedics would have been able to stabilise the situation if they had been called earlier, with the possibility of a full recovery if Jarrad had been taken to a major hospital in time.
Next on the stand was Uncle Andrew Johnston, a senior Elder of the Gullibil people north of Kyogle. He explained he had a history of conducting welcome to country and smoking ceremonies for events held at Arcoora, where the Dreaming Arts festival was held in 2021.
Uncle Andrew said he’d known Lore Solaris since 2020, and had met Jarrad Antonovich in 2021. On 16 October 2021, he remembered seeing Jarrad sitting beneath a tree before he’d conducted a smoking ceremony at sunset. He said Mr Antonovich’s face and neck was swollen and he was complaining of pain in his back, which he assumed to be a kidney issue because of personal and family experience with that kind of pain.
‘He sort of looked like a frog,’ said Uncle Andrew. ‘I could see he wasn’t well, and said, “How are you going?” He said “Not very good, but I’m sort of okay.” But he didn’t look good to me.’
Uncle Andrew remembered other people being around Jarrad at this time, comforting him, including Laara Cooper, but later said he’d mis-remembered this after the court took a short break. (The coroner established that he had spoken to Ms Cooper in the break, and reminded witnesses not to speak to each other during testimony).
When asked why he didn’t call an ambulance when he saw Jarrad’s condition, Uncle Andrew said, ‘It was obvious he wasn’t having a good time’ but it didn’t seem that he was ‘remotely’ serious enough to need an ambulance at this stage.
However when Uncle Andrew Johnston next saw Jarrad, moaning and sweating in the main temple shortly before the ayahuasca ceremony, ‘I had a gut feeling that things were gonna go south… and I sort of go with gut feelings.’
Counsel assisting the coroner than asked Uncle Andrew about the people who attended the ayahuasca ceremonies he’d been to. He said, ‘They come from all over the place, all walks of life, lawyers and accountants… They weren’t just like Byron Bay or Nimbin people. In fact actually quite the opposite.. from all over Australia and the world actually.’
When asked if he felt it was culturally inappropriate in any way for people like Lore Solaris to be conducting ayahuasca ceremonies on country, he said that Lore had travelled to South America and gone to great efforts to learn from and involve Indigenous peoples, including via video conferencing, which Uncle Andrew had participated in.
‘That was exciting and thrilling,’ Uncle Andrew said. ‘On the outside they may look very different to my people, but underneath we’re very similar.’
He said his personal perspective was that he was happy to condone the ceremonies which were being conducted at Arcoora, even after what had happened to Jarrad.
No basis in ‘strange’ stories
Getting back to the night of the tragedy, Uncle Andrew said he was nearby Mr Antonovich when his medical situation further deteriorated, and CPR was being administered, but denied doing the ‘strange things’ he had been alleged to have done by other witnesses at this time and afterwards.
He denied singing sacred songs to Jarrad or talking about koalas taking his spirit up into the trees, suggesting that someone might have got ‘mixed up’ about the koala being his totem and an important animal to his people.
Uncle Andrew Johnston was followed on the stand by witness James Mackney, who had worked as a volunteer at Arcoora (assisting as a chef, in exchange for accommodation) and paid $1,000 to attend the October 2021 retreat.
He talked about admiring the ‘amazing musicians’ in Lore Solaris’s inner circle for the ayahuasca ceremonies. Mr Mackney said he was a participant in those, but only observed the kambo ceremony.
He remembered ‘Ish’ (Jarrad Antonovich) as a very kind person with ‘nice eyes’, and speech a little slurred (likely from his earlier car accident). He said that in the ayahuasca ceremony he shared with Jarrad, the other man did not ‘purge’ (vomit).
Regarding the kambo ceremony on the Saturday morning, James Mackney said Jarrad Antonovich was one of six participants who were there, lined up beneath a tree, with the kambo practitioner on that occasion being Cameron Kite, assisted by an unknown blonde woman, who was burning spots on the skin prior to the application of kambo.
Mr Mackney said that there was a disagreement about how much kambo Jarrad should receive at the time, with Ish wanting ‘nine points’ and Mr Kite apparently disagreeing and wanting to give him less (most people were having more like three points).
He wasn’t sure how much Mr Antonovich actually had, but remembered him receiving dabs of kambo on the shoulder blade and chest, and drinking large amounts of water, along with the others.
Later Mr Mackney witnessed participants’ faces swelling, then they vomited and went off to the toilet, but ‘Ish was different – he was having problems breathing’.
While the issues of other people who had taken kambo resolved within 30 minutes, he saw Jarrad continuing to have difficulties.
‘This guy has not recovered’
Mr Mackney read from his own statement about his reaction to when he saw Jarrad again later that afternoon, on the balcony of the main temple where people were having ayahuasca.
‘I was looking at Ish thinking, what the fuck? You look like a frog… It was like, holy shit. I said to someone, he needs an ambulance… This guy has not recovered. I was thinking to myself, was this normal? I said, has anyone called an ambulance?’
But the ambulance was still hours away.
James Mackney said Ish ‘was in objection’ to an ambulance being called. Counsel Dwyer noted that someone could have called an ambulance anyway.
Two more witnesses followed, a Byron Bay dentist named Dr Marcus O’Meara, and a man from the Czech Republic called Robert Slabihoudek. Both took ayahuasca at the event on October 21, and confirmed the increasingly distressed state of Jarrad Antonovich which led to his death, but did not intervene.
Witnesses accepted that it would be better if the people running such events were able to respond appropriately to medical emergencies, and warned participants of the risks.
The Jarrad Antonovich inquest continues today at Lismore Courthouse, with the findings of the earlier inquest into the death of Natasha Lechner (also kambo-related) expected in Lismore later this morning. The Echo will continue to cover these stories.
‘Western medicine’ might have saved his life but would have interfered with his spiritual journey. So much narcissistic bull.
Almost unbelievably stupid.