Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Spiritual" cult uses false rape accusation against critic

The tactics of the Kenja movement and its slurs against a crusading politician have been laid bare by people close to the case. Tim Elliott reports.

On March 30, 1994, a woman walked into Rose Bay police station, and made a complaint of sexual assault against Stephen Mutch, then a Liberal MP in the NSW upper house.

The woman remained vague on the timing of the assault, saying it had happened some time between March and May 1978, when she was 18. But she was very clear on the details: Mutch had visited her at her parents' home, pushed her onto the bed and, amid much swearing and struggling, sexually assaulted her.

Mutch denied the allegations, which, due to incorrect court records, were soon being reported as having involved a girl under the age of 16. The 38-year-old MP was set to face court in March 1995, just three days before the state election, in what TV news bulletins described as a "bombshell" for John Fahey's government.

"It was a disaster," Mutch says now. "It was the worst thing that someone could say about you, and it was totally and utterly fabricated."

What wasn't known at the time, but can now be revealed, was that the woman making the allegations belonged to Kenja, a self-empowerment group that many consider to be a cult, against which Mutch had been speaking out in Parliament for some time.

Though the allegations were ultimately dismissed, they changed the course of Mutch's life, and, together with testimony from former Kenja members, provide a chilling insight into the extraordinary lengths to which the group will go to defend itself.

Founded in Sydney in 1982 by a former encyclopaedia salesman, Ken Dyers, and his third wife, Jan Hamilton, Kenja billed itself as a non-political and non-religious personal development organisation offering a range of training seminars and courses. It offers the same seminars today.

A Scientology drop-out, Dyers wooed attendees with a carefully crafted personal mythology that included a hard-scrabble youth on Sydney's streets, a celebrated World War II record (that was largely falsified), and a barnstorming business career in which he traded precious stones, invented a tax-accounting system and worked as a trouble-shooter for Consolidated Press.

Through sporting and cultural activities, Dyers and Hamilton recruited hundreds of members who would pay thousands of dollars to attend a seemingly endless round of workshops and "processing sessions", all aimed, as Kenja's website explains, at increasing "understanding of the spiritual nature of man … along with practical training in the basics of effective communication - time, space and energy."

Bevin Hudson, a former member, describes it as "a pyramid sales system, similar to Amway … Processors herd the greater body of members into fee-generating endeavours, with Hamilton and Dyers sitting atop the cash flow."

But the cornerstone of Kenja's work was "energy conversion", a one-on-one mediation session conducted with Dyers, who would stare into his participant's eyes, "making them become conscious of negative energies in their thinking, and then … dissipate them."

Mutch first raised concerns about Kenja in 1992, after being contacted by a family friend whose daughter had become a member. This precipitated more mail from ex-members, including women and girls who claimed they had been coerced into conducting nude "energy-conversion" sessions with Dyers, which were often followed by sex.

Similar complaints had also reached the police, who in September 1993 charged the then 71-year-old with 11 counts of sexual assault against four girls aged between eight and 15. Dyers was eventually found guilty on one of the 11 charges, but had the conviction quashed on appeal. In 2005 he was charged with another 22 counts of sexual assault against two 12-year-old girls, but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. More charges were raised in July 2007. Dyers killed himself rather than face those charges.

Mutch's initial involvement, however, did not go unpunished. There were repeated crank phone calls and a barrage of form letters. Several Kenjans turned up to Mutch's wedding in January 1994, disguised in giant sunglasses and floppy hats, and began taking photos of the guests and their numberplates. When Mutch gave evidence against Dyers, he was regularly followed out of court by people who stationed themselves on street corners with walkie-talkies.

"I was so freaked out at one stage that I jumped in a cab and came straight back to Parliament rather than get the train," he says. "It sounds silly, but you get paranoid, because you really don't know what these people are capable of."

Then came the accusation of sexual assault. Even though the police dismissed the allegation - the Director of Public Prosecutions also chose not to pursue it - the case quickly assumed a life of its own. Anonymous letters detailing Mutch's supposed crimes were distributed among the parliamentary press gallery and to the letterboxes of his Cronulla constituents. They also found their way to Mutch's Liberal Party colleagues, some of whom were only too happy to use it against him. (In one instance, a political rival showed the letter to Mutch's mother.) In 1996, a particularly salacious version of the allegations was posted on the internet.

"It had a major effect on me," Mutch explains. "Not only psychologically but politically. One member of my preselection panel wouldn't even talk to me."

But according to one former Kenjan, an ex-boyfriend of the woman who came out against Mutch, the allegations were "wholly without substance," and cooked up at the behest of Hamilton and Dyers. "Around 18 months ago, in a telephone discussion [she] admitted to me that allegations made by her to police regarding Stephen Mutch sexually molesting her were entirely made up," the man writes in a statutory declaration given to the Herald.

According to the statement, Dyers and Hamilton asked the woman to lie to discredit Mutch and the case against Dyers. Otherwise, "Mr Dyers would be jailed and killed as a rock spider [paedophile] in the prison system."

The Herald attempted to contact the woman, who is living in Victoria, but she did not return calls. The woman's mother, however, was clear. "Stephen didn't do anything," she says. "Of course he didn't. The accusation was an awful thing in his life, and I naturally blame my daughter. But in a way I can't, because she wasn't in her right mind."

Hamilton, who took over the organisation after Dyers's death, denies asking anyone to lie. She claims there has been a long-running conspiracy against Kenja, involving religious fundamentalists and a US group called Cult Aware. "It's a witch-hunt," she told the Herald. "My opinion of these people is so low that I will not lower myself to conduct a conversation about them."

But it seems other members were also asked to lie. "Jan said to me, 'You have to fight lies with lies'," says Su Germain, a former Kenjan. "We were told there was huge conspiracy against Ken and that if we didn't lie he was going to jail."

Germain had been a member of Kenja since 1982. In a statement to police in 2006, she talked about processing sessions in which 50 people would be naked together in a room. Dyers would talk about "clearing sexual energies", and insisted it was "better to be naked so that you weren't hiding behind an identity".

Germain remembers a particular one-on-one nude session with Dyers in Kenja's George Street centre, when she spotted, with some alarm, a Vaseline jar sitting on the table beside her.

One day during Dyers's 1993 trial, Germain, who was a defence witness, was summoned by Hamilton to a meeting in the basement of Kenja's Surry Hills offices. There, disguised in wigs and robes from a secondhand clothing store ("so that security cameras would not show us meeting up together"), a group of defence witnesses tried to dredge up anything that reflected badly on the character of one of the plaintiffs. "But we didn't have anything, so Jan suggested some stories. One of the people there said, 'Yes, I'm sure that happened.' Before you knew it they had created a story."

The pressure to please was overwhelming. "It was high treason not to go along with the prevailing ideas within the group," Bevin Hudson says. "Anyone out of step was not just out of step with Kenja but also with the magical spiritual universe."

These days, Hudson manages an art gallery in the eastern suburbs and remains an outspoken critic of Kenja. Mutch entered Federal Parliament in 1996 but retired two years later and now lectures in politics and international relations at Macquarie University.

"The allegations affected me deeply and really impacted on my career," he says. "But I have always had sympathy for [the woman] who made them, because she was brainwashed. In the end, I'm glad I raised concern about Kenja. It's one of the things I'm proudest about in my career."


Friday, February 26, 2010

Big Mal is a liar and a fool

Comments below from David Smith, who was official secretary to Ninian Stephen and four other governors-general from 1973 to 1990

Malcolm Fraser should not try to rewrite political history.

The first extract from former prime minister Malcolm Fraser's political memoir (The Weekend Australian, February 20-21) contained the following paragraph: "Fraser contacted the office of governor-general Ninian Stephen to seek a double-dissolution election, shortly after midday on February 3, 1983, but Stephen was not available to see him."

That paragraph is totally untrue. When Fraser arrived at Government House at about 12.30pm he was ushered immediately into the study and spoke with the governor-general.

Furthermore, Fraser made no prior contact with the governor-general's office before turning up at Government House; he gave no warning whatsoever of his arrival.

A second paragraph reads: "While Fraser waited for an opportunity to see the governor-general, Hayden announced his resignation." That paragraph is also totally untrue. By the time Bill Hayden announced his resignation as opposition leader, Fraser had already seen the governor-general; he had not waited at all.

At 9am on February 3, 1983, the governor-general's deputy official secretary received a telephone call from the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Geoffrey Yeend, who asked what the governor-general's engagements were for that day. He was told that Stephen would be spending most of the day at his desk, and his only engagement was a farewell call at 12.45pm by the departing Polish ambassador and his wife, who would stay for lunch. Nothing else was said.

At about 12.30pm, Fraser arrived at Government House, unexpected, and demanded to see the governor-general. He was taken straight to the governor-general's study, whereupon he handed Stephen a five-page letter recommending the dissolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives: a double dissolution.

The letter was accompanied by an eight-page attachment and 26 pages of legislation, a total of 39 pages.

The prime minister asked the governor-general for an immediate decision. The governor-general told the prime minister that he would need some time to read the documents and that, with the Polish ambassador and his wife due at any moment, an immediate decision was not possible. Stephen told Fraser that he would have his answer by 3.30 that afternoon.

We learned later that before leaving Parliament House to make his ambush call on the governor-general, Fraser had called a 1pm press conference.

On his return to Parliament House, Fraser asked Yeend to telephone me and ask me to tell the governor-general that the prime minister needed an immediate answer and was standing by his telephone. I told Yeend that the prime minister would have his answer by 3.30pm. The 1pm press conference had to be cancelled.

At 3.30pm, the governor-general telephoned the prime minister to tell him that he (the governor-general) required some further advice from the prime minister on a particular matter. Yeend handed that additional advice to the governor-general, by way of a further letter from the prime minister, at 4.45pm. After reading that letter, the governor-general told Yeend that he would approve the prime minister's recommendation and would dissolve both houses of the parliament. Fraser held a press conference at 5pm to announce the double dissolution and the election.

On February 3, 1983, the ACT was on daylight saving time and Queensland was not. Fraser had wind of Hayden's intention to resign later that day as opposition leader and hand over the leadership to Bob Hawke. Fraser hoped to use the one-hour time difference to pre-empt Hayden's announcement with his own announcement of an early election. He reasoned that Labor would be unlikely to change leader after an election had been called.

Hence Fraser's attempts to pressure the governor-general into giving him an immediate decision, though why he chose to ambush the governor-general and arrive without prior notice, and why he expected an immediate response to a 39-page document, simply beggars belief. Stephen was accustomed to reading and absorbing lengthy documents but he did need time to read them. Had Fraser sought an early appointment and presented his advice in good time, he could have had his answer, even with the governor-general's request for additional advice, and he could have had his 1pm press conference.

Instead, he timed his arrival just before the arrival of the Polish ambassador and expected an immediate answer.

Even more puzzling than his actions that morning is Fraser's failure, once his timing had come unstuck and he found himself facing Hawke as opposition leader, to withdraw his request for an early election. The one thing that he had schemed to prevent had occurred, but still he pressed on with his request, and lost the early election that he didn't have to have just then.

Fraser's decision not to withdraw his request was one of the most stupid political decisions that he made. His decision to falsify his account of that day in his memoirs is another.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Qi Baishi is only just behind Picasso in art sales ranking

Peaches and Fire Crackers

Qi Baishi is not a name that many Western aficionados of art can recognise, let alone pronounce.

This son of Chinese peasants, who received no formal artistic training, has just become the third bestselling artist in the world at auction. Figures out next month from the art market data organisation Art Price will show that Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol raked in more than $220 million (£143 million) in sales between them in 2009, heading the rankings as they do almost every year.

The appearance of Qi immediately below them, with more than $70 million in sales, says much about the changing shape of the international art market and China’s economic boom. Qi (1863-1957) owes his place on the list to his work being original, striking and instantly recognisable — and to his being prolific, ensuring a steady supply of pieces to the market.

In China, he is a household name, best known for his reflective late pictures of mice, birds and particularly shrimps.

The Art Price figures are compiled from 6,000 auction houses around the globe but before last year the highest appearance by a non-Western artist was achieved by Zhang Xiaogang, a contemporary Chinese artist who reached 22nd place in 2007.

In 2009 the traditional auction powerhouses of New York and London suffered their worst year in a generation — at the same time as the Chinese art market, and Qi in particular, had a surge in value fuelled by local new money. The number of dollar billionaires in China reached 130 last year and the country is now the third most important art market in the world after London and New York.

Qi is the natural beneficiary. Patti Wong, chairwoman of Sotheby’s Asia, said that 20 years ago Qi was much sought after by US buyers who had worked in China, but that was no longer the case. They can no longer compete. Qi features in “every important Chinese collection”.

His work has grown in value over the past two decades but last year he sold 73 per cent more works than in 2008, substantially helped by a sale in November in which a series of his drawings entitled Flowers and Insects sold for a record equivalent to £8.1 million.

The record acknowledged price for one of his works was set at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in 2007 when his Peaches and Fire Crackers (1952) sold for about £850,000, although Chinese auction houses have claimed much higher figures.

Shelagh Vainker, curator of Chinese art at the Ashmolean, in Oxford, which has the largest collection of 20th-century Chinese paintings in Britain, said that Qi had a broad following based on “the instant visual appeal” of pictures that are often painted in a “light, slightly uplifting way”.

Not that he is a lightweight. The pictures “reward deeper contemplation”, Ms Vainker said. “The brushwork is very good and I know some extremely well-educated people in China who would regard him as the No 1 Chinese artist of the 20th century.”

Picasso called Qi “the greatest oriental painter” and said that he did not dare visit China for fear of meeting him.

Qi was born in Hunan province, central China, and as a child he loved to copy from a famous Qing Dynasty painting manual, The Mustard Seed Garden. At 14 he became an apprentice woodcarver, and he went on to master poetry, calligraphy, painting and the traditional art of seal carving.

In middle age he travelled widely through China, and it was after he moved to Beijing in the 1920s that his mature style emerged.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Archaeologist sees proof for Bible in ancient wall

An Israeli archaeologist said Monday that ancient fortifications recently excavated in Jerusalem date back 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era.

If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century B.C.

That's a key point of dispute among scholars, because it would match the Bible's account that the Hebrew kings David and Solomon ruled from Jerusalem around that time.

While some Holy Land archaeologists support that version of history _ including the archaeologist behind the dig, Eilat Mazar _ others posit that David's monarchy was largely mythical and that there was no strong government to speak of in that era.

Speaking to reporters at the site Monday, Mazar, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, called her find "the most significant construction we have from First Temple days in Israel." "It means that at that time, the 10th century, in Jerusalem there was a regime capable of carrying out such construction," she said.

Based on what she believes to be the age of the fortifications and their location, she suggested it was built by Solomon, David's son, and mentioned in the Book of Kings.

The fortifications, including a monumental gatehouse and a 77-yard (70-meter) long section of an ancient wall, are located just outside the present-day walls of Jerusalem's Old City, next to the holy compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. According to the Old Testament, it was Solomon who built the first Jewish Temple on the site.

That temple was destroyed by Babylonians, rebuilt, renovated by King Herod 2,000 years ago and then destroyed again by Roman legions in 70 A.D. The compound now houses two important Islamic buildings, the golden-capped Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Archaeologists have excavated the fortifications in the past, first in the 1860s and most recently in the 1980s. But Mazar claimed her dig was the first complete excavation and the first to turn up strong evidence for the wall's age: a large number of pottery shards, which archaeologists often use to figure out the age of findings.

Aren Maeir, an archaeology professor at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said he has yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims. There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains "tenuous."

While some see the biblical account of the kingdom of David and Solomon as accurate and others reject it entirely, Maeir said the truth was likely somewhere in the middle. "There's a kernel of historicity in the story of the kingdom of David," he said.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ancient Estonian drug store offers cure for broken hearts and unicorn powder

A pharmacy in the Estonian capital promises a cure for broken hearts: an almond-based concoction that's been around since medieval times. "Since the Middle Ages a special marzipan prescription has been prepared and sold here for the heart to relieve the pain of love," said Ulle Noodapera, a pharmacist at the Raeapteek drug store which first opened for business in Tallinn's old town square in 1422.

It is believed to be Europe's oldest pharmacy, and has been in operation for 588 years.

"We keep making the special marzipan because the need for such a medicine has continued over the centuries, and patients with symptoms of love pain keep turning up seeking the cure," she added.

The ancient recipe is a jealously guarded secret. "It's not ordinary marzipan, but one made using a medieval prescription containing 72 per cent almonds and 28 per cent other ingredients that we will not disclose," Noodapera said.

One dose of the wonder drug weighs 40 grams (1.4 ounces) and costs just one euro (86p).

Stepping into Tallinn's ancient drug store feels like a journey in a time-machine. Along with the cure for broken hearts, a room in the store displays many other medieval potions used for centuries for their supposedly miraculous impact.

Most of these remedies are not sold anymore, but the display on old shelves is impressive: dried frogs' legs, pike's eyes, powder supposedly from the unicorn, black cat's blood, the grease of dirty sheep's wool, pieces of a mummy, dew-worm in oil, burned bees, wolf's gut and rabbit hearts - the last prescribed to restore sanity.

"We might think it's funny and ridiculous but there were always reasons why something was recommended by doctors at that time and sold at the drug store," Noodapera noted. "For example, those with vision problems were advised to buy valeriana because it was believed that cats - known for very good eyesight - have good vision because they like valeriana," Noodapera said.

Another item that has remained on sale since the Middle Ages is a lamb's wool called Rose, meant to ease backaches.

The pharmacy also reflects Tallinn's colourful multinational background over the centuries. Opened by Johan Molner, a German doctor, in 1422, it passed into the hands of a Hungarian doctor named Johann Burchart Belavary de Sykava in 1580 and was run by the Burchart family for the next 300 years.

At times, it doubled as an elite club for city fathers where alcohol flowed freely - literally. In the Middle Ages, Noodapera said, pharmacists also sold alcoholic drinks and convention required they give a certain amount free of charge to city rulers.

In those days, "the drug store also functioned as a kind of closed club for Tallinn city rulers who liked to gather there after meetings at Town Hall, which is still located on the other side of the old town square," Noodapera said. "Meeting behind the closed doors of the pharmacy gave the city rulers more privacy to party than in local pubs."

Today, the Tallinn pharmacy also deals in modern drugs and pharmaceuticals. For tourists, the best-selling "remedy" is a wine called Klaret made using a medieval recipe, with eight different spices and 14 per cent alcohol. A 450 millilitre (15 fluid ounces) bottle costs 16 euros (£14) .


Adolf Hitler painting may have hung in Sigmund Freud's surgery

A watercolour by the German dictator has come to light that has an inscription on the back that bears the name of Freud's medical practice in Vienna.

While Freud was based in the Austrian city in 1910 it is possible he or one of his staff bought the picture from the struggling artist.

Hitler was a jobbing painter at the time, knocking out postcards and paintings and trying to make a living.

This painting, that measures 8in by 4in, shows what looks like a small church with a background of mountains and is signed "A Hitler 1910." On the reverse are the Italian words: "Studio Medico Sigmund Freud Vienne."

The painting was taken from Vienna to Italy after the Second World War by an American GI who was told the picture had hung in Freud's consulting rooms.

It raises the tantalising prospect that Hitler and Freud - two giants of the 20th century - were connected by the painting, and might even have met 100 years ago. Both were in Vienna at the same time and it is said that Jews in the city helped Hitler sell his art.

Freud was driven out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and moved to England where he lived all his life.

Richard Westwood-Brookes, from Mullock's auctioneers, is selling the painting with a pre-sale estimate of up to 10,000 pounds. He said: "The possibility that this watercolour once hung on the walls of Freud's consulting rooms in Vienna may seem on the face of it completely bizarre. "But both men were in Vienna at the same time and we know Hitler was selling his paintings, so it is quite possible that Freud had one on the wall. "We will never know for certain whether this was Freud's, but it raises the tantalising prospect that the two men might have met.

"Freud famously conducted a psychoanalysis on the composer Gustav Mahler, who was also a Vienna resident, at this time.

"The vendor is Italian and he said it came back from Vienna with an American GI after the second world war. The GI said it had hung in Freud's rooms. "On the reverse are words in Italian that say "Sigmund Freud's Medical Study, Vienna." It looks as if it has come from a sketch book.

"The scene in the painting is typical of that which Hitler was painting at the time. "He would paint postcards and also go around people's houses and ask them if they wanted a watercolour of their property.

"It is known that Hitler was popular amongst the Jewish community of Vienna in those days. "It was the Jewish people who helped him with the sale of his paintings and sketches - one of the most ironic facts of 20th century history. "This was a time long before the birth of the Nazi Party and long before Hitler's abominable anti-Semitism came to the fore.

"It is therefore quite possible - though supremely ironic - that the great Sigmund Freud could have had a painting by Hitler hanging on the walls of his consulting rooms."

The vendor is from Italy and the sale in Ludlow, Shropshire, takes place on March 2.