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June 18, 2024

Final kambo witnesses called, inquest yet to hear from Lore Solaris and Cameron Kite

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Ayahuasca practitioner Lore Solaris and kambo practitioner Cameron Kite in happier times, back in 2020. FB.

Update (24 May, 2024) 1pm: The inquest has now finished, with the case against Lore Solaris being referred to the Department of Public Prosecutions.

Original story

The Jarrad Antonovich inquest ground inexorably towards its conclusion yesterday, with more evidence from witnesses showing the tragedy could possibly have been avoided, and certainly the ongoing damage lessened, if everyone involved had taken responsibility earlier.

Witness Lurelle Alefounder joined the proceedings via video link from Newcastle. As an ayahuasca enthusiast, she spoke of attending multiple ceremonies conducted by Lore Solaris since 2021, at a typical cost of $350 per session. She said she had done her own research before getting involved, and decided the potential benefits outweighed the risks.

Ms Alefounder said she only learned about Jarrad Antonovich’s likely cause of death (a torn oesophagus, following kambo on the skin and ayahuasca ingestion) much later, via the media and police. She testified that she had taken kambo herself four times, fainting on two occasions, experiencing pain and ‘purging’ uncontrollably, but claimed long term health benefits as a result, for conditions that conventional medicine had been unable to address.

She described Cameron Kite as a ‘shaman’ who had explained to her the medical risks of kambo, including vomiting, high and low blood pressure, and the dangers of combining the substance with certain pre-existing medical conditions. Ms Alefounder said an assistant was responsible for burning holes on the skin of participants during kambo ceremonies.

She said she believed that ayahuasca and kambo were both legal in Australia when she was using them.

Spiritual leader?

When asked about Lore Solaris’s role at the events she had attended (including the Dreaming Arts Festival) Ms Alefounder confirmed she saw him as a spiritual leader and someone with a leadership role in the community. She said she had an arrangement with Lore to swap treatments for singing lessons.

When asked to clarify the role of the shaman at Dreaming Arts, she said it was ‘to hold space, to provide safety, and to guide us on the journey through the spiritual work’. She said she assumed there would also be someone there with conventional first aid training and medical care on site in case something went wrong, but admitted she had no reason for this assumption, which turned out to be unfounded.

On the day of Jarrod Antonovich’s death, Ms Alefounder testified that she had been sitting next to him during the kambo ceremony (they were among the last in the group to be treated that day). She said he’d offered her a place to stay if she needed one in the Northern Rivers, and said he was a sweet, warm and friendly man.

Mr Antonovich then told her he’d drunk water too long before the ceremony (participants are not supposed to drink until just before kambo is administered, and not eat). She said he also seemed nervous. Ms Alefounder suggested Jarrad speak to the shaman if he had any doubts, but he didn’t do that, and she didn’t say anything either, a fact which she now regrets.

She said it was normal for people to be nervous before taking ‘such strong medicine’. After taking the kambo, she blacked out and purged ‘a lot of orange material’, later having two showers and a sleep.

Returning later, she saw Jarrad was still there, sitting on the ground, and being attended by Cameron Kite, Lore Solaris and two others, which she thought was odd. Still later, during the ayahuasca ceremony that evening, she heard Mr Antonovich making some unpleasant noises before he went into cardiac arrest. According to her police statement, he was ‘groaning like he was in intense pain’.

After Jarrad collapsed and people began doing CPR on him, she said she and others were encouraged to ‘keep singing’, before most of those gathered were moved into the kitchen area. Ms Alefounder remained within sight of Jarrad, ‘praying he would be okay’, but soon became convinced that he had died.

Told to lie

She testified that she didn’t speak to paramedics or police when they attended, but was later asked by Lore Solaris to drive to Lismore and tell Jarrad’s flatmates he had died, but not tell them about the kambo or ayahuasca ceremony. She refused to do this.

Ms Alefounder said it was her expectation that the leaders of the retreat would be honest to the authorities and family about what had happened, and behave with honesty and transparency, but this is not what happened.

She said Mr Solaris later told her he was trying to protect the identities of those present at the ceremony by being guarded about what had been happening (as ayahuasca and kambo were somewhat taboo in Australia at the time), but as the coroner pointed out, this was a separate issue, and didn’t make sense.

Eventually she did drive to Lismore with another man but found the police already at Jarrad Antonovich’s house, so they drove back to Arcoora without speaking to anyone.

She said she later attended more ceremonies and get-togethers with the key players, but remembered no further discussion about offering support to Jarrad’s family, or coming up with a story for the police.

Ms Alefounder said she regretted not doing more at the time of the tragedy, but was preoccupied dealing with her own grief (a common theme of witnesses at this inquest). The last part of her statement to counsel assisting the coroner was that she believed ‘an ambulance should have been called much earlier than it was.’

She agreed that the whole case held important lessons for the wider community.

Rafael Camargo

Mr Rafael Camargo was the next witness, via video link from the Sunshine Coast, a yoga teacher who had met Mr Antonovich a year before he died and knew him. Mr Camargo said he himself had personal experience of ayahuasca and kambo, both in Australia and in Brazil.

He remembered Jarrad saying these substances had helped him give up other drugs, including heroin. Mr Camargo described Lore Solaris as a ‘psychologist’, later admitting he had no reason to think Lore was actually qualified in this field. He rejected the idea that Mr Solaris was a ‘shaman’ in the traditional sense, saying he was more of a guide in terms of what happened in ceremony.

He remembered Mr Antonovich warmly. ‘Jarrad was a sweet man, always looking out for people and trying to help’, but with a troubled past and problems of his own, looking to be ‘validated’ by his new community.

At the Dreaming Arts Festival, Mr Camargo explained that he was mostly working in the kitchen. He remembered Jarrad coming down to where they were cooking and talking about trying to heal himself.

When he heard that things were going wrong with Jarrad/Ish around lunchtime on the day of the ceremony, he went to find him because ‘we care for everyone who is there’, and to see if he needed any help, but came away with the strong impression that Ish ‘wanted to ride it, and just go through the process’. Mr Camargo testified that Cameron Kite was also present at this time.

He noticed Ish had a swollen face and neck, and seemed to be in pain from his belly and/or lower back. ‘I told Cam to be with him the whole time and take care of him,’ said Mr Camargo. There was no discussion about calling an ambulance at this stage.

Later that evening, he witnessed Jarrad’s fatal collapse and the attempts to give CPR, his testimony matching other accounts of this disturbing event.

In cross examination, Mr Camargio testified that he never heard Jarrad say he wanted medical help. ‘He didn’t want outside assistance’.

Lee O’Dwyer

The following witness, Mr O’Dwyer, an accountant by trade, was involved in cleaning at the Dreaming Arts Festival in October 2021 (quite a big job with all the purging going on). He had also previously completed training as a kambo practitioner, but rejected words like ‘shaman’ for those who filled this role, preferring ‘facilitator’.

He described Lore Solaris as the responsible person in terms of the retreat and ceremony, and accepted that others regarded Solaris as a shaman and healer.

Mr O’Dwyer frequently broke down during his testimony, which concerned his two year history with Jarrad Antonovich and the other man’s tragic fate. They had attended many ceremonies together. ‘I really liked him,’ said Mr O’Dwyer. ‘He had a nice positive attitude.’

He said the situation surrounding Mr Antonovich’s death was ‘really intense’. Like many other witnesses though, Mr O’Dwyer said that he was more focused on himself than others at the retreat, undercutting this community’s claim to look out for one another in what appears to have been in most cases a fundamentally self-interested pursuit of personal healing.

Lee O’Dwyer said he continued attending ayahuasca ceremonies organised by Lore Solaris right up to the middle of 2023, but had since then decided to ‘reassess everything’ in his life.

He accepted that there was a place for mainstream medicine in medical emergencies, and that it was important for ceremony participants to ‘know where the line is’ and call an ambulance at that point.

Although it appears he was the person who was assisting Cameron Kite in putting burn marks on participants’ bodies on October 21 preparatory to kambo being applied (including on Mr Antonovich), Mr O’Dwyer said he could remember very little about this, including the number of ‘points’ applied (the strength of the kambo).

Later that day, at around 4pm, he said something about Ish’s appearance was concerning to him, and that he told Mr Kite ‘maybe you should take him to hospital’, but this was not acted upon. He said he was later told that a ‘council of elders’ had decided against seeking outside medical help, and accepted that, assuming others had the situation in hand. Mr O’Dwyer said he believed Lore Solaris was one of these elders.

Upset, Mr O’Dwyer quickly departed the courtroom when he completed his evidence.

Jarrad Antonovich. Photo supplied.

‘It’s funny how one moment can change your entire life’

This testimony was followed by the court being played a 2019 audio recording of Jarrad Antonovich’s voice, at the request of his brother and mother, from when he did a short autobiographical project with ABC Radio National. This can be heard here.

Moved, the family supported one another while the audio was being played. ‘It’s funny how one moment can change your entire life,’ Jarrad says on the recording.

Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said she was very grateful to have the opportunity to hear Mr Antonovich’s voice, something not usually possible in coronial proceedings.

The only remaining witnesses set to speak at the inquest are the two men at the centre of this saga, Lore Solaris and Cameron Kite, who have been in the courtroom throughout. Mr Kite is currently unrepresented by counsel, however.

It is yet to be seen whether this case will be referred to the Department of Public Prosecutions. That depends on the decision of the coroner. Future directions are expected to be announced tomorrow.

You can read more about this case here.

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