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Byron Shire
June 18, 2024

New witnesses in long-running kambo inquest

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Jarrad Antonovich. Photo supplied.

Proceedings reopened in Byron Bay Courthouse yesterday in what is expected to be the final stage of the long-running coronial inquest into the death of Jarrad Antonovich.

Mr Antonovich’s family returned from Victoria and State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan came from Sydney to hear new witnesses recall their memories of what happened at the Dreaming Arts Festival at Arcoora, near Kyogle, in October 2021.

Two of the central figures involved, Lore Solaris and Cameron Kite, were also present in court yesterday, sitting on opposite sides of the room.

First to take the stand was Raphael Lima, a Brazilian man who came to Australia in 2009. Mr Lima described himself as a Christian who follows the Santo Daime spiritual practice, in which ayahuasca is used as a sacrament. At the time of the Dreaming Arts Festival, he was working in the kitchen as a volunteer.

In an interview he told police that he saw Jarrad Antonovich was struggling after taking kambo, and ‘having a hard time’, clearly uncomfortable, short of breath and looking pale. Mr Lima said Cameron Kite and Lore Solaris were both ‘around’ while all this was happening.

He remembered a couple of people asked Jarrad, ‘do you want to be driven to hospital?’ but Mr Antonovich waved them away, giving the impression he wanted to remain where he was and ‘complete his process’. At this point the coroner told Mr Lima other witnesses had testified that Jarrad had been in this state for 6-7 hours (Mr Lima did not see him until late in the afternoon).

‘Would you have called the ambulance if you knew he had kambo much earlier?’ asked Coroner O’Sullivan. ‘Probably, yes,’ was the reply.

As with other witnesses throughout the inquest, Mr Lima said it was hard to know if something serious was happening with Jarrad, as kambo affected people in so many different ways, and often severely, at least in the short term.

Later, Mr Lima testified that he saw Mr Antonovich on the floor at the back of the main hall, and receiving CPR, while the ayahuasca ceremony continued at the front, with most people focusing forward on Lore and the musicians.

Chelsea Hope

Cameron Kite’s former partner Chelsea Hope then took the stand, saying she had participated in multiple ayahuasca ceremonies with Lore Solaris dating back to 2017, and had also used kambo regularly from 2018 to 2021.

This frog is used to extract kambo in the Amazon. Wikipedia CC.

She said that Mr Kite had started his journey towards becoming a kambo practitioner after Laara Cooper (previously described by other witnesses as the ‘queen of kambo’ had a vision that Cam was going to conduct a ceremony. She said he initially assisted with preparing the secretion and burning points.

Chelsea herself began as a ‘helper’ then became a ‘guardian’. She said that as more people from the Santo Daime church became involved, she would help check in participants to ceremonies and retreats. She said everyone worked as a team, but Lore was in charge in a shamanic and organisational sense, as well as physically providing the ayahuasca.

Ms Hope said that over time, various rituals developed, such as the wearing of pale clothing and the separation of men and women.

She met Jarrad Antonovich, who she knew as Ish, in 2017, at a ceremony conducted by Lore on the central coast. ‘Ish was a regular’, she said. ‘We connected.’ Although they lived apart, they remained in contact via phone and social media.

In terms of the fateful week at Arcoora in October 2021, Ms Hope says she arrived on the Monday with Cameron and their small child, and they both participated in ayahuasca ceremonies on the Tuesday and Thursday, with Cameron assisting Lore. She said Ish had tried to have kambo mid-week, but Cameron said he couldn’t because he’d been eating that day.

On the Saturday afternoon, she said she noticed Ish was the last one left after the kambo ceremony who hadn’t completed his process and gone to have soup, but wasn’t unduly worried, as she and her partner had both had long, unpleasant experiences with kambo in the past (including three days of vomiting from Cameron at one point, which continued on the road back from Melbourne).

She said that another woman did cranio-sacral massage on Ish, and claimed ‘he felt good, no cause for alarm’, although Ms Hope’s statement to police also said she thought Jarrad was in pain as the afternoon went on, not that this was unusual. ‘We honour the process but look at how we can support people through it,’ she said.

The coroner sought to clarify whether the talk of ‘process’ included things like severe back pain, trouble breathing and so on. Ms Hope said that would depend on what else was happening. She confirmed that Laara Cooper arrived at Arcoora late in the afternoon, ‘around golden hour’, and was relieved, because she would know what to do with Jarrad.

By now, ‘there was clearly something happening.’ (Ms Hope told police he appeared to be in a lot of pain by this time, possibly from his kidneys).

Ayahuasca preparation. Wikipedia CC.

Ayahuasca plus kambo

Once Jarrad Antonovich was carried into the hall, before the ayahuasca ceremony began, she testified that Ms Cooper suggested (to Lore, herself and Cameron) that the medicine (ayahuasca) could help Ish overcome his kambo reaction.

Ms Hope also remembered Ms Cooper telling Mr Antonovich to let her know if the pain got too bad, so she could take him to hospital, but that he seemed determined to stay.

‘Weren’t you curious about what was happening to Jarrad?’ asked counsel. ‘Yes, on reflection,’ responded Ms Hope. ‘Did I think this was going to happen? Absolutely not. Did anyone think this was going to happen? No.’

She confirmed that Mr Antonovich had a swollen neck and face at this stage. ‘If anyone really knew what was happening, an ambulance would have been called,’ Ms Hope reiterated.

She later testified that after the other ayahuasca ceremony participants had all been served, she saw Lore Solaris pour almost a full cup of ayahuasca and pass it to Cameron Kite, who carried it back up the hall to give to Mr Antonovich, which made her feel very ‘unsettled’, as this was never normally done.

Pressed, she said it was the practitioner’s responsibility to serve the ayahuasca, and not a third party.

Later, she remembered seeing Mr Antonovich collapse at the back of the hall, and Cameron began CPR.

After things became very emotional, the coroner called a break. Most of the testimony after the inquest resumed concerned whether Cameron Kite, Lore Solaris and Laara Cooper and others had ‘told the truth’ to the authorities immediately after Mr Antonovich’s death (about the use of ayahuasca and kambo) – ‘because it was going to come out anyway’, as Chelsea Hope put it.

Applying kambo. Video grab.

Protect the medicine

The implication seemed to be that Lore’s stated desire to ‘protect the medicine’ might mean sacrificing Cameron Kite, when in fact the responsibility was shared among those present. ‘I was scared that maybe everyone didn’t have the best intention for Cam’, said Ms Hope.

‘I’m just going to say it… everyone hasn’t owned their own truth in this scenario.’ As she pushed further in this direction, the lawyer acting for Arcoora repeatedly objected, saying she was moving into speculation.

Ms Hope recalled screaming at Lore, ‘you need to tell the paramedics about the [kambo] dots!’ As a parent herself, she said it was natural for Mr Antonovich’s parents to want to know what had happened to their child, and that everyone involved should simply be honest.

‘If we stand with the medicine, we know we’ve done nothing wrong, we did the best to our ability, no one knew what was going to happen,’ she said.

Ms Hope testified that when she pursued this line with Lore Solaris on the phone later he said ‘she was being very dangerous’.

The following witness, Clara Moura, who appeared via AVL, had little new to contribute, beyond supporting the known facts (she was working in the kitchen and as a musician during the Dreaming Arts Festival). She did say she had attended more ayahuasca ceremonies facilitated by Lore Solaris since the death of Mr Antonovich in 2021.

New witnesses are being called to the inquest today, including Cameron Kite, with Lore Solaris expected to testify on Friday.

You can read more about this case here.

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