August, 2018

Gaytimes: Queer musical festival prouder in second year

Gaytimes returned for the second time in 2017. Photo: Supplied A rainbow greets festival-goers at Gaytimes outside Melbourne.
Nanjing Night Net

Judy Garland’s ballad Somewhere Over the Rainbow comes to mind when you arrive at Gaytimes​ on a Marysville mountaintop outside Melbourne.

After a long drive through national park, a giant rainbow greets you at a spectacular clearing and a two-day parade of glitter and acceptance begins.

Gaytimes became Australia’s first queer camping music festival when it launched in 2016 and sold out almost immediately when it returned last Friday.

At a time when top-billing national music festivals such as Soundwave and Future continue to fold, the fact a boutique festival such as Gaytimes – with a line-up including Ngaiire, JD Samson and Ali Barter – can thrive is a triumph.

While some question the need for an LGBTIQ music festival, Gaytimes provides a safe space for a section of society which still frequently faces discrimination.

When Triple J announced Gaytimes was returning for a second year, the Facebook post was flooded with homophobic comments. Organisers called the response disappointing.

It’s on the mountain where this attitude disappears. One of the first sights on day one was a transgender woman proudly walking in her underpants. She was the talk of the Gaytimes, with other festival-goers praising her courage.

Director Anna Whitelaw said Gaytimes provided a safe space for people to be themselves.

“So many people from the gay community go to Golden Plains or Rainbow Serpent but they won’t necessarily be themselves because you might get a funny look if you kiss your boyfriend. That’s not because the festival isn’t doing their best to be inclusive, but when you’ve got a large crowd, you’re a tiny minority.”

Many people came all the way from New South Wales, enduring a long train ride because they said there was nothing like Gaytimes in their state. But Whitelaw confirmed they were already exploring sites in NSW.

“The LGBTI community is going through a weird transition where dedicated gay bars are closing down,” she said.

“These sorts of events provide a space that is dying in other parts of society. That’s partly because the queer community is changing and they don’t have same desire to go to same bar every weekend or be segregated from the rest of their friends.”

At the festival, outdoor performances and an all-night rave are chequered with yoga, face painting, speed dating, workshops, life drawing, discussions about sexuality and drag queen bingo.

And when you’re not dancing on the mountaintop or watching the sunrise after an all-night boogie,  afternoons are spent meeting other members of the community and making friends for life.

People making the pilgrimage for the first time said they were grateful to meet other members of the community and expand their circle of queer friends.

With a strict capacity of 1000 people, Whitelaw says they are no plans to expand the festival.

“You can always find your friends in the crowd or people where you meet once, you know you’ll meet them again. It makes it have a real community vibe.”

It’s a beautiful sight to behold, a place where people of any sexuality and identity, whether that be butch, camp or even straight, are totally welcome.

Hopefully it’s a festival which goes on to develop a history and tradition as strong as Glastonbury, Coachella and all the other greats.   newly elected presidents of the @alibarter fan club #gaytimesA post shared by Alex Mac (@alexmcgilvray) on Feb 19, 2017 at 12:38am PST

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Coroner recommends trial of safe injecting room in north Richmond amid heroin deaths

Deaths from heroin overdoses in north Richmond have risen sharply. Photo: Eddie Jim Fiona Patten has introduced a bill into the Victorian Parliament to allow for a consumption room pilot. Photo: James Brickwood
Nanjing Night Net

A coroner has recommended the Victorian government trial a supervised injecting room in north Richmond, amid an unprecedented spate of heroin overdoses.

Coroner Jacqui Hawkins held an inquest in December into the death of Ms A, a 34-year-old who overdosed from heroin on May 30.

In findings released on Monday, she recommended that Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley take necessary steps to establish a trial of a safe injecting facility.

She also recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services expand the availability of naloxone, a drug used to reverse heroin overdoses, and review funding for services that support drug users in the region.

A spokeswoman for  Mr Foley said the government had no plans to set up a safe injecting room.

“However, it will carefully consider the coroner’s recommendations and will respond in coming months, as is standard practice,” she said.

The issue will come to a head this week with a bill by Sex Party MP Fiona Patten for a safe injecting room trial to be debated in Parliament. Ms Patten has long campaigned for a safe drug consumption room.

“It was this inquiry that instigated that bill,” Ms Patten said.

She said a conscience vote should be allowed on the bill. “Maybe that would enable the more conservative elements of the parties to stick to their guns,” she said.

She believed the bill would have enough support to pass if a conscience vote was allowed.

Greens MP Colleen Hartland urged the government to heed the coroner’s recommendations and trial a supervised injecting centre in Richmond.

“When the government refuses to take action, they’re saying these lives aren’t worth saving,” she said.

The chief executive of North Richmond Community Health, Demos Krouskos, said there had been a “catastrophic failure of public policy” on heroin-related deaths.

“Our staff attend these events on an almost daily basis,” he said.

Australian Medical Association Victoria has also supported a safe injecting room trial.

According to the coroner’s findings, there were 172 heroin overdose deaths in 2015 in Victoria, which is the “greatest annual frequency” since the height of the heroin scourge in the late 1990s.

In the six months leading up to her death, Ms A had visited north Richmond regularly to buy and use heroin.

Three weeks before her death, outreach workers used naloxone to treat her for an overdose.

In Sydney, a supervised injecting facility has operated for more than 15 years in Kings Cross. The centre’s medical director, Marianna Jauncey, told the inquest the area where a person injects drugs resembles a medical clinic, with a nurse’s station and stainless steel booths.

The facility averages about 150 visits each day and has “managed” 6500 overdoses.

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Shot cyclist’s family says he was in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’

Kelvin Tennant at the Alfred hospital with his daughter Natalie and granddaughter Imogene. Photo: supplied Kelvin Tennant’s son and daughter, Nick Tennant and Natalie Knox. Photo: Justin McManus
Nanjing Night Net

The family of a grandfather who was shot while riding his bike on a track in north-east Victoria say he was “at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Kelvin Tennant was shot at least six times in what police believe was a random shooting as he rode his motorised bicycle along the Myrtleford-Everton Rail Trail at Everton about midday on Saturday.

The grandfather of eight and retired school teacher was left with chest wounds, a fracture to his skull and injuries on both sides of his eyes.

His daughter, Natalie Knox, said the family had been left “shocked”.

“It’s really upsetting to our family that this could happen to such a kind caring man who loves his grandkids, loves his bike,” she said.

“He’s a simple man who keeps to himself.”

On Monday morning Mr Tennant remained in a stable condition at The Alfred hospital, as Armed Crime Squad detectives drove to the scene of the random shooting.

His son, Nick Tennant, said his father did not know why he had been shot.

“We’re still not sure why it happened,” he said.

“The obvious question is did he have any altercations with anyone. Dad certainly can’t recall. He’s a fairly private person, he keeps to himself.

“Unfortunately, he was just the wrong person “at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Nick said Mr Tennant had travelled to Myrtleford from Ringwood alone on Friday, while his wife was away. He stayed in a caravan before going on the ride on Saturday.

He was about an hour into the ride when he saw a dark coloured car.

All he remembers is a person jumping out of the car and then hearing gunshots.

Mr Tennant doesn’t recall what the person looked like, saying he was obscured by bushes.

“Maybe he came across something they didn’t want my father to see,” Nick said.

“That’s all we can really think. Something horrible like that.”

Ms Knox said her father was feeling lucky to be alive.

“He’s in good spirits. He’s up and doing very well,” she said.

“He feels blessed. He’s happy to still be here.”

The pair urged anyone with information to come forward.

“There was a family on that track just before him with children,” Ms Knox said.

“We need all the help we can get to get this person for the safety of everyone.”

Detective Senior Constable Elise Douglas told media on Sunday that the incident appeared to have been unprovoked, and Mr Tennant did not know his attacker.

“It’s very early days into the investigation, however it does appear that the shooting was unprovoked,” she said.

“At this stage it appears there is no connection [between the shooter and Mr Tennant].

“However we will continue to look at all avenues and all aspects of this investigation.”

Anyone with information is being urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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National helpline launched for Muslim parents of troubled youth

Muslim parents who fear their children are being radicalised will be able to seek help through a national hotline designed to help them deal with a child’s worrying behaviour.
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Launched on Monday, the Islamicare helpline will combat the negative portrayal of Islam and fill a gap not met by counselling services, director Kuranda Seyit said.

Mr Seyit, the former secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said a team of trained counsellors and psychologists were on-call to deal with Muslim parents’ concerns about drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, bullying, violence and crime.

He said they were also prepared to help those who were worried their children were being influenced by extremist ideologies.

“There is basically no support for parents experiencing that type of difficulty with their children, and we’ve seen already young people who have been caught up in the tangled web that we call extremism,” Mr Seyit said.

“We definitely think it’s one avenue that people can look towards finding a solution, especially parents, because parents are the ones [who] often have suspicions or may be aware of their children being involved but they don’t know what to do.”

The helpline for parents in crisis will be manned by Muslim counsellors who speak English, Arabic, Turkish and Indian. According to its website, the services will offer counselling “within an Islamic framework” but does not preach religion or answer fiqh-related questions.

“In a society, where young Muslims are being surrounded by negative portrayal of their religion and facing issues that they may not yet understand, Islamicare aims to use Islamic fundamentals as tools to find solutions,” it said.

Mr Seyit said many young Muslim people felt marginalised but there was a lack of cultural understanding from mainstream counselling services. This helpline, he said, would help Muslim Australians cope with feelings that their identity had been misappropriated or that they were being demonised.

“There’s a massive gap for the needs of the Muslim community,” he said. “Especially in terms of youth and parenting, there aren’t many resources available. Similar to the Sheik and Jewish communities there are issues around identity, fitting in, racism, and bullying.

“We’ve also noticed young people are becoming more involved in anti-social behaviour. Some people are losing sight of their community and being influenced by negative factors.”

Mr Seyit said the key to solving many problems was educating parents about their children and how best to support them. He said the anonymous helpline, which will also refer users to other services, provided parents with a safe and confidential avenue to ask for professional help.

“There are a number of issues that parents don’t understand but I think talking about them to people in their own community is taboo because it’s almost like admitting guilt and failure,” he said.

The Islamicare service, run by the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, is available seven days a week from 9am until midnight.

Islamicare helpline: 1800 960 009

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‘It just blows me away’: Judge stunned by church’s legal aid to paedophile

Robert Charles Best, among Australia’s worst paedophiles, continues to have his legal defence funded by the Catholic Church.   Cardinal Pell briefly lived at the St Alipius presbytery in Ballarat with convicted paedophile Gerald Ridsdale Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
Nanjing Night Net

Robert Best maintained his innocence through four previous trials.

A Victorian judge said evidence the Catholic Church continues to fund the legal defence of one of Australia’s worst paedophiles, Robert Charles Best, “just blows me away”.

On Monday Best, 76, pleaded guilty in the County Court of Victoria to sexually abusing 20 young victims between 1968 and 1988 at schools in Ballarat, Box Hill, Geelong and Moonee Ponds.

County Court Judge Geoffrey Chettle admitted he was struggling to contain his emotion at the gravity and extent of Best’s abuse.

“It’s hard not to get angry, and I’m trying,” he said.

The Christian Brothers had spent more than $1.5 million in legal fees on Best, whose victims number in the dozens, according to evidence the order gave to the child abuse royal commission in 2015.

Some of Best’s victims have since taken their own lives.

“I’ve got to say that just blows me away, on a plea,” County Court Judge Geoffrey Chettle said when told the Church continued to fund Best’s defence.

“It’s ongoing, regular abuse of children over 20 years, from a man who purports to be their pastoral carer”.

In 2011 the Christian Brother was jailed of a non-parole period of 11 years for abusing 11 other children under his care.

Best maintained his innocence through four trials, meaning his victims had to give evidence. He lost every one of those trials before he entered a guilty plea.

With his previous guilty pleas to 24 charges in 2011 added to the crimes he admitted to on Monday, Best ranks with his former colleague Gerald Ridsdale​ as among Australia’s worst paedophiles.

Best was also found guilty of child sex abuse in trials during the 1990s, but was later released on appeal.

In 2015, the Christian Brothers said they would welcome the paedophile back into their ranks upon his release from prison.

Best taught at several Catholic schools including Ballarat’s St Alipius primary school in 1971.

Ridsdale, the country’s most notorious paedophile priest, was the school’s chaplain, while paedophiles Stephen Farrell, Edward Dowlan and Gerald Fitzgerald filled the teaching ranks.

Most of Brother Best’s victims were schoolboys aged between eight and 11 who he abused while working as a teacher at St Alipius as well as St Leo’s College in Box Hill, St Bernard’s in Moonee Ponds and St Joseph’s College, Geelong.

Many of the assaults occurred in Best’s office, where he took victims for punishment, prosecutor Peter Rose QC told the court.

Others occurred in the school sick bay under the pretext of checking their wellbeing.

One young man was abused while singing during choir practice. Another when he was reading out loud in front of class.

Yet another had his hands bound with rope to a metal grate by Fitzgerald while Best assaulted him.

When his victims started to cry, Best whispered that it would “all be OK” as he continued to assault them.

Several of those he abused braved the witness box to tell of the harm he had done to their lives.

“As a seven or eight year old, the fear I had was enormous. I would go to school not knowing the next time I would be attacked.

“The fear and anxiety was unbearable. He is truly a monster,” one of Best’s victims said.

Many of Best’s other victims have since killed themselves, several victims told the court.

Fairfax Media last year revealed that Best was a resident at the Christian Brothers headquarters in Parkville from the mid-1990s.

He is understood to have moved into the property – which also houses other paedophile brothers despite being hired out as a wedding and conference centre – after his first conviction in 1996.

Earlier this month, the royal commission hearing in Sydney was told that 22 per cent of the Christian Brothers order were paedophiles.

The brothers were among almost 2000 church figures who abused children.

The Christian Brothers Oceania Province said in a statement it hoped those abused by Brother Best would “find some peace and justice in today’s outcome”.

The Brothers offered an unreserved apology, but declined to answer specific questions about the funding of Best’s defence.

Best will be sentenced on March 2.

With Adam Cooper

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