26 November 2015

'Unauthorised Activities' in Brisbane Cemeteries?

Here we go again...

On page 7 of today’s City South News, local ‘ghost tour’ operator Cameron ‘Jack’ Sim again attacks a local history group, this time for having the audacity to run a single one-off cemetery tour raising money for cemetery heritage projects.

The cause of this episode was a not-for-profit ‘Halloween Tour’ organised and run by Moonlight Tour volunteer guides Tracey Olivieri and Liam Baker at the South Brisbane Cemetery a few weeks back. Mr Sim’s claims that the tours were unlicensed and that the Brisbane City Council should be ‘throwing the book’ at the volunteers. As the article reads, ‘Mr Sim… said Council had always required operators to have a current license’. In other words, he sees the tours as being unauthorised.

First of all, the truth is that the Moonlight Tour organisers had written permission from the Brisbane City Council to run this one-off special fundraising event. I did not organise or attend this tour (I'm not a Halloween fan) but I did behave like a pain in the backside ensuring that they had permission for it, and I have seen that written permission. Also, discussions are still underway between the council and the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery about a whole new licensing system for these kinds of activities in cemeteries. So, no big deal.

As for the claim that such tours having ‘always required’ a license, this is false. The license system for night tours only came into effect circa 2010, thanks to the efforts of the FOSBC. Prior to that time, the cemeteries department had little idea what business Mr Sim was carrying out in their cemeteries, and he didn’t pay a cent for it. This included birthday parties, dress-up Halloween tours, pseudo-occult rituals as part of the tours, and ‘ghost hunts’. All without any form of license.

The FOSBC are unaware if Mr Sim had permission for these activities - we doubt it - but it is worth noting that after the license system was introduced and Mr Sim had to start paying to use the cemeteries, the Brisbane City Council banned those birthday parties, fancy-dress tours, pseudo-occult rituals and ‘ghost hunts’, and any other ‘disrespectful’ activities. Even after the license system supposedly banned much of these activities, Mr Sim started advertising ‘hen’s night’ tours in the cemetery.

Remember, this is in a cemetery that the Brisbane City Council still uses and charges people thousands of dollars to provide a special resting place for their loved ones.

In my opinion, the council should have a duty of care to ensure that after you have paid a lot of money to lay a loved one to rest in one of the cemeteries, the grave won’t be overrun with party-goers, ghost hunters or occult ritual performances - especially when conducted in pursuit of private profit. To their credit, in recent years the BCC have tried to stop such activities in their cemeteries. Unfortunately, it seems that the occult rituals of holding hands in a circle and chanting to summon the ’Angel of Death’ still happen on the Toowong Cemetery Ghost Tour, despite several warnings from the city council not to do it.

It is also worth noting that this was the only Moonlight Tour run by the volunteers in about 18 months, and there were no immediate plans for any more any time soon. Mr Sim, on the other hand, has had access to the cemetery for tours just about every week during that time. So what’s the problem?

The wider context of this complaint is that Mr Sim resents community groups who he feels form any kind of ‘competition’ to his small business. He has a long history of attacking local history groups and volunteers who he perceives to be threat, and unfortunately it seems that it doesn’t take much for Mr Sim to feel threatened. As far as South Brisbane Cemetery goes, his aggressive harassment of volunteers wanting to organise not-for-profit cemetery tours or publish not-for-profit cemetery booklets only stopped with the intervention of magistrate courts and police warnings.

In fact, when the Moonlight Tours first started in 2010 he did what he could to stop them, even though these tours are run solely to raise money for cemetery heritage projects.

Why? Well, as he is quoted as saying in the article, ‘It’s ridiculous there would be multiple ghost tour operators in Brisbane’. In other words, he is demanding a business monopoly for himself. How many other businesspeople would like that? The truth is, there is no reason there can’t be multiple ghost tour operators in town, especially as Mr Sim’s own product leaves a lot to be desired.

The only ridiculous thing here is Mr Sim’s false sense of entitlement. How many small businesses get to demand a monopoly? I’d hope his business was solid enough to withstand a volunteer group conducting a one-off tour every 18 months.

This whole storm-in-a-teacup only provides yet more evidence of Mr Sim’s antagonism towards local history groups carrying out the normal business of local history groups. In this case, a one-off not-for-profit guided tour that raised money for community heritage projects.

The outcome of all this is that after a quiet year, the FOSBC are now sitting down making new plans for 2016.

Oh, and if the council need to be 'throwing the book' at anyone, maybe they could start by looking at those supposedly-banned occult rituals in the Toowong Cemetery tour. I'm sure they don't want to be that one city council that keeps turning a blind eye to occult rituals taking place in their municipal cemeteries.

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