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Australian Media on Paganism

Practising pagans land in hot water

July 22nd, 1998, Courier Mail

By David Murray

The depth of paganism in Australia was "grossly underestimated", the coordinator of a controversial pagan conference said yesterday.

Professor Quenten Walker said there were at least 8000 to 10,000 pagans across the country.

"The last census showed it was the fastest growing religion in Australia," he said.

"It is about time people relaised paganism is a religion, is positive, is life-affirming and deserves the same respect as other religions."

He made the comments in wake of church and council criticism of a pagan conference planned for the outskirts of Brisbane.

Pagan 98 is to be held at the Young Men's Christian Association camp at Joyner next month. More than 1500 people, including witches, druids and occultists, are expected.

Professor Walker, a Pagan 98 co-ordinator, said opposition to the conference was based on "TV shows, b-grade movies and mediaeval superstitions".

"We do not sacrifice animals, we do not have gratuitous sex, we do not worship the devil or any entity of evil," he said. "Conferences like this are held in other states all the time - I didn't think not being a Christian would be news."

Professor Walker, a cancer specialist at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, said pagans worshipped "the divine that is in nature" and had a religious obligation to look after the land.

Pagans believed in gods and goddesses and had an ethic to "do what you want as long as you don't hurt anybody", he said.

Organisers chose the YMCA grounds because it was an "available bush site" close to the city.

The conference would include evening rituals, meditation and talks from international pagan leaders, Professor Walker said.

But Pine Rivers Mayor Yvonne Chapman and churches in the shire have condemned the conference.

Cr Chapman, a former Bjelke-Petersen government minister, said the conference would "not be made welcome" in the shire.

"I'm here to try to protect everybody within my area and I don't feel this sort of thing should be going on," she said. "Their brochure has a picture of people standing around a tree in robes. It says it will be better because it is a full moon."

Assembly of God Pastor Doug Clarke said the gathering was "leading people down the wrong path".

Church members also are believed to have lobbied the YMCA to cancel the conference booking.

YMCA chief executive officer Ross Melville said he could not comment on the booking until after a Wednesday board meeting.

Queensland Coucil of Civil Liberties president Ian Deardon said the YMCA would "clearly be in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act if they refused the conference booking." Queensland is the only state in Australia where practicing witchcraft is illegal.

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