Description of frog poison death 'galling' for family

·3-min read

The brother of a Lismore man who died during a ceremony at a wellness retreat has held back tears while describing the horror of hearing the retreat organiser's upbeat description of the fatal incident.

Jarrad Antonovich died during a week-long festival in the NSW Northern Rivers region in 2021 after taking the powerful psychedelic drug ayahuasca, and a frog toxin called kambo.

His former partner has told his inquest the organiser of the festival, Soulore "Lore" Solaris, said Mr Antonovich's death was a "beautiful occasion".

That Mr Antonovich's death could be considered beautiful "was particularly galling for the family to hear," Chris Antonovich told his brother's inquest on Friday.

Jarrad Antonovich had previously travelled to South America and was interested in shamanistic rituals and wellness.

The use of ayahuasca and kambo is based on the traditional knowledge of indigenous South American communities, with adherents believing the substances can clean the body of impurities.

Medical experts, however, say there is no proof the substances do more than make people extremely ill.

Chris Antonovich said he hoped the inquest process would ensure no one else suffered his brother's fate.

"We want no one else to suffer through what Jaz went through," he told the Coroners Court in Lismore on Friday.

"This is what he would have done, he would have gone out of his way to make sure that no one else suffered, too."

Mr Antonovich was 46 when he died on the night of October 16, 2021, while attending the six-day Dreaming Arts Festival in Collins Creek.

The inquest has heard he died from a perforated oesophagus, likely caused by excessive vomiting.

After taking the substances, Mr Antonovich's face and neck swelled to such a degree he "looked like a frog" and was struggling to breathe, witnesses said.

While his symptoms and pain grew throughout the day, Mr Antonovich did not want an ambulance, instead believing his symptoms were part of a "purge".

He was later helped into a hall and placed inside a circle of people wearing white before collapsing, the inquest has been told.

Fred Woller - a site manager for the off-grid Arcoora health retreat - gave evidence on Friday about the level of first aid available on site.

Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer asked if there were rules in place for events like the Dreaming Arts Festival that the hosts or helpers would not take the drug ayahuasca to remain clear-headed to assist others.

"From my observation that night, people were lucid. No one seemed to be in an altered state. I thought that the people who administered CPR had training in first aid," he said.

He recalled seeing Mr Antonovich the day he died.

"He was sitting up against a wall, there was a group of people around him supporting him," Mr Woller said.

"About an hour later, I could see he was inside the hall up the back on some cushions."

State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan put to Mr Woller that "the average person should have recognised Jarrad was experiencing an event that would cause his death".

"The unfortunate circumstance was that he had kambo," the site manager replied.

In a previous retreat, two other men had looked the same way as Mr Antonovich and were told by practitioners that they were still "working through" the drug, he said.

Ms O'Sullivan expressed deep concern about the potential that users of kambo think that any level of sickness was acceptable before calling an ambulance.

"If they are told to trust that that is normal, that concerns me as the state coroner," she said.

The inquest continues.