27 September 2011

The 'Bully Boy' vs Brisbane Local History

Local historians have a rather quaint image; polite pensioners in cardigans sat in the archives, sifting quietly through 19th-century requisition records for railway department construction projects - and so it should be. But what happens when the practice of not-for-profit local history conflicts with private business interests? Usually, not very much, as the people involved are generally quite sane and rational. Sometimes, however, it can get quite nasty. In my decade of volunteer work with historical societies I have, unfortunately, come across more than my fair share of nasty.

It raised its ugly head again last week when the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery, a community group of which I am a member, was attacked by Cameron ‘Jack’ Sim, owner of a small business called Ghost Tours. In some disingenuous online marketing material he had an unnecessary little dig at the FOSBC, saying that his business had been 'under fire' from them.

A couple of members of the public then posted mild criticism on the Ghost Tours Facebook page about the dig at the FOSBC, and both received a nasty cut-and-paste diatribe in reply. Members of the FOSBC were forced to publicly defend themselves and set the record straight on this matter, because if Mr Sim is prepared to send such material to random Facebook posters, who knows how many other people have had the same treatment? The diatribe is reproduced here, and I have highlighted specific comments which I will be dealing with.
"Dear Matt,
Your comment you posted yesterday was removed, along with another persons. Neither of you are long term followers of Ghost Tours, and your comments are made specifically to attack our business. I am happy to furnish you with the details. Tracy Oliveri and Chris Dawson who claim to represent the FOSBC undertook a campaign to have Ghost Tours closed down in 2009. The intention behind this was that they intended on running their own ghost tours through South Brisbane Cemetery using a psychic medium.What is low and wasn't very nice was the way that these people, representing FOSBC, attacked our tourism business. Both of these individuals have been served defamation warnings from Ghost Tours Pty Ltd and myself. Ghost Tours Pty Ltd supports many voluntary organisations, but the FOSBC is not one. Matt, we expect that followers of this newsletter to be supporters of our company and its historical work, not people who clearly are stooges for an aggressive, bullying and intimidating so-called voluntary organisation. Until such time that FOSBC forms into a separate, legally responsible, not-for-profit organisation (which it currently is not) our company will not support this organisation. And frankly we would encourage the public not to support FOSBC either. I assume that you are a stooge for FOSBC. So there is no loss in me making it clear to you that you are not welcome on our facebook page. Please give my regards to Chris and Tracy and remind them that I will just add your comments to the portfolio of material relating to their attempts to defame me and my business.

Here goes then. I will stick to provable facts.

1. Did we try to close down a business so we could set up our own in its place?
Of course not. In early 2009 the FOSBC was approached by a woman interested in conducting not-for-profit 'paranormal investigations' in the South Brisbane Cemetery. Doing these as fundraisers for volunteer heritage projects initially seemed like a good idea, but during the planning process Mr Sim made a range of threats to try and stop them from happening simply because he felt that they threatened his business interests.

Although we were not deterred by his threats, the FOSBC eventually came to the conclusion that the paranormal investigations were probably not appropriate inside a cemetery and dropped the idea. People were buried there to rest in peace, and we would respect that. In fact, the more we looked into what was happening, the clearer it was that cemetery night tour/ghost hunt activities were an unregulated mess of commercial exploitation. The Brisbane City Council (BCC) obviously agreed because they instigated a review and prohibited all cemetery 'ghost hunts'.

At the same time, and in the wake of large-scale 'satanic' vandalism in the Toowong Cemetery, the FOSBC joined with the Friends of Balmoral Cemetery and the Greater Brisbane Cemetery Alliance to lobby the city council and state government to implement cemetery by-laws to help curb vandalism and trespass. Stopping all night tours was a preferred option, certainly for me anyway. We also felt that when it came to deterring nocturnal trespassers, promoting cemeteries as novelty supernatural venues was not helping the situation.

2. Did we want to 'close down' Ghost Tours?
Absolutely not. Cemetery tours are only one part of that business anyway. However, I do think that Ghost Tours should either lift their game or get out of our cemeteries because in my opinion they are:

Far-fetched stories of vampires et al sully the memory of real people buried in cemeteries, and in-tour occult rituals (as Ghost Tours do/did in Toowong Cemetery) clearly violate the spiritual values of a cemetery, where people honour the memory of their loved ones. These tour rituals were supposedly banned after Brisbane City Council found out about them in 2009, but we have evidence that Ghost Tours still conduct them regardless. 

Historically inaccurate
While the ghost stories on these tours are mostly laughable, the historical content of the tours can be questionable, often contradicting the historical record. Protecting the heritage values of a place includes making sure that the History is actually correct. In places like Edinburgh historians have even started doing tours specifically to debunk the misinformation told on the many ghost tours there. But don't just take my word for it. Last week the following review of the South Brisbane Cemetery Ghost Tour appeared in the Courier-Mail:
"The problem with the tour is not the yarns, which, of themselves, probably have enough of the right elements. Moreover both raconteurs are too flat and robotic, so glib that they are unable to breathe atmosphere into their stories. Many of them are flawed, besides. Scene-setting fundamentals such as dates and locations are missing. Accuracy can be wanting." (QWeekend, 24 September 2011)
    Discouraging heritage research and activities
    Mr Sim is openly hostile to other people and organisations conducting cultural heritage activities which he feels might impact upon his personal business interests, and aggressively tries to discourage such activities and research (more on this below).

    The BCC review into cemetery night tours was completed in late 2009 and the outcomes were:
    • Licenses and fees were now required for the right to conduct night tours in BCC cemeteries. 
    • These licenses do not provide licensees with exclusive use of a cemetery. 
    • Tour marketing, content, and tour guide clothing must be deemed appropriate by the BCC. 
    • No 'ghost hunts' allowed (too disrespectful).
    In other words, vindication for much of what the FOSBC had complained about. A lot of inappropriate practices were stamped out, and Ghost Tours would (for the first time ever) be required to pay for access to cemeteries.

    In the wake of the BCC review, the FOSBC commenced not-for-profit Moonlight Tours in 2010, feeling that if night tours were to take place, then we want to raise standards by offering an affordable and historically-accurate product.

    So my reasons for wanting Ghost Tours to either improve or leave our cemeteries was entirely unrelated to the establishment of Moonlight Tours. To say we tried to close down his business in order to do our own ghost tours is patently wrong.

    3. Did we receive warnings for defamation?
    Mr Sim hands out defamation threats like the Easter Bunny hands out chocolate eggs, mainly because he has little grasp of what defamation actually is. He made many defamation threats during this period, and every single so-called 'warning' was so baseless that they were ignored by the several individuals and community groups who received them. The emptiness of these threats is proven by the fact that they were never followed up on. The general standard of the threats is exemplified by his text above, where a person's criticism of his criticism of someone else is somehow 'defamation' by the person he was criticising in the first place!

    4. Is the FOSBC an 'aggressive, bullying and intimidating' organisation?
    What a laugh. The legal records clearly show the 'bullying, intimidation and aggression' nature of Mr Sim.

    After he found out about the planned not-for-profit cemetery tours he made unwanted phone calls on a daily basis to the woman involved, and when she would not return his calls he began leaving messages at her workplace. He was then warned by the police to stop contacting her, but when he did not do so she sought a peace and good behaviour order. In July 2009 Mr Sim appeared before Ipswich Magistrates Court, and although the order was not granted on a technicality (as the complaint had been brought under the wrong section of the law), the presiding magistrate criticised Mr Sim at great length, describing him him as 'arrogant' and a 'bully boy'. He was warned that if he continued with his behaviour he would end up in the Supreme Court charged under the telecommunications act.

    And all this was a result of nothing more a proposed occasional heritage fundraiser...

    There is much more to this, too much to include here in any detail. We received yet more threats when we started our South Brisbane Cemetery Moonlight Tours, and also when Tracey released her book Ghosts of South Brisbane Cemetery, resulting in Mr Sim having to again be warned off by the police before he would stop. As a result of all this, the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery, the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society and the Friends of Balmoral Cemetery all refused to have any further dealings with Mr Sim.

    The email record also clearly shows Mr Sim's belligerent attitude. For example, he wrote to FOSBC secretary Tracey Olivieri to complain about the proposed not-for-profit 'tours':
    "We will seek legal action against any individual, business or company that seeks to damage or destroy our business interests. This is not a threat, aggressive behaviour or harassment. It is a business’ right to defend its commercial interests... those stories and tales told on our ghost tours are copyright and form part of the intellectual and material property of our business operations." (18 June 2009)
    The argument here seems to be that it is illegal to try and compete with Ghost Tours' business (and that he somehow 'owns' ghosts stories). And as he told us in another email, "there is no room in the market place for a rival operator" (15 May 2009).

    The message to Brisbane historians and historical societies is that Cameron 'Jack' Sim thinks you cannot run tours where he runs tours. How many businesses out there have the privilege of a self-proclaimed monopoly?

    5. 'So-called' voluntary organisation?
    The FOSBC is made up entirely of volunteers, so why is Mr Sim implying that the FOSBC is not a volunteer organisation? Like many other volunteer and community groups around Australia, they have chosen not to become an incorporated association. Such a move is of course entirely optional, and the FOSBC volunteers have opted not take on the administrative hassles and expensive costs that come with incorporating. And we certainly don't want to associate ourselves with Mr Sim's activities by accepting his so-called 'support'.

    6. "...we would encourage the public not to support FOSBC"
    I can only presume this comment makes it okay for others to 'encourage the public' not to support Ghost Tours. Such 'encouragement' could take the form of a 'Boycott Ghost Tours' campaign.

    7. "...the portfolio of material relating to their attempts to defame me"
    For the record, we do not know the Facebook commenters. End of story. We don't even know if, like Cameron Sim does, they are using assumed names. It does not make sense to take the comments of complete strangers on Facebook pulling you up for publicly attacking a community group, and then assume they must be associated with that community group before launching bizarre attacks on them.

    Mr Sim needs to accept that there are a lot of people out there who don't like what he does.

    In conclusion...
    As a result of his attempts to stop our not-for-profit fundraisers, Cameron 'Jack' Sim dished out several baseless legal threats, was warned a number of times by the police, and even appeared before Ipswich Magistrate's Court where the magistrate herself described him as a bully and ordered him to stop contacting the complainant.

    On the other hand, Tracey and myself made zero legal threats, were never warned by the police, and so did not appear before courts. I think the record speaks for itself.

    I have gone public with this in order to defend the reputation of the FOSBC and the people in it, including myself, now that it is clear that Mr Sim has been smearing our name and slandering us to others. I have dealt only in provable facts here. Will there be yet more legal threats because of this blog? Maybe, but from now on communication on these matters will be dealt with in the public sphere.

    In the meantime, if you have had a similar experience then please do let us know. We would love to hear from you.


    1. FFS... Grow up, both of you, and get out of the school yard. Honestly, why can't you boys play nicely?!

    2. I knew there was another side to this story, thank you for sharing. It is very very sad that a group of volunteers have had to put up with such intimidating and very unprofessional behaviour. You all have my full support and it is groups like yours that have the true intentions of preserving history. I did happen to read the article from the Sunday Mail, a very well written article that covered some things you had mentioned on why you started tours yourselves. Good on you, bless you all.

    3. 'Silver Strychnine' - I know, I know, 'Why can't we all just get along'? The magistrate and the police, who know what happened, could have said just the same thing. After all, they don't waste their valuable time with schoolyard squabbles.

      But they never. They took the action they did because they saw there was a serious problem with Mr Sim's conduct.

      People who know what happened know there was a serious problem. You need to be on the receiving end of this stuff to understand it.

    4. Thanks JJ, your support is appreciated. We do what we do because we really like it, and we do it all for free. The work is its own reward and we don't expect ticker-tape parades, but we also don't expect grief for doing not-for-profit fundraisers. This is especially true for someone like Tracey who, apart from her volunteer work with different historical groups, is a mother with a full-time job, has been a cub and scout leader for many years, and is an AWARD-WINNING member of the Rural Fire Brigade. It has become a huge joke among all those different people she works with that someone thinks she is a bully. They think it's so funny because she's just so not that kind of person at all!

    5. I can see that this is quite a serious matter and I agree with JJ that this is very sad. I was at the cemetery some years ago and I was totally lost. Two very lovely women who did identify themselves as being the friends group took me straight to the grave I was looking for. We chatted for some time and these are the people who hold the real knowledge of the cemetery and the ones who truly care. Please extend my thanks to the group as I do appreciate the work you all do very much. Please do not let the actions of one man and his little band of followers hinder you doing what you so obviously love to do. You have the support of me and my entire family.


    6. Thanks AM! I know Tracey and the others love reading this kind of thing, it always makes their day.


    8. Holding hands in a circle, chanting to summon the 'Grim Reaper' (or whatever it's called this week), etc.

    9. I have been a long time "liker" of the Ghost Tours page. I am not a fanatic fan like some but I have been on a couple of tours with friends. I remember the comments that were made and they were no way defamatory comments, simply a couple of people pointing out the obvious and I do agree with them. The comment in the newsletter was by all means un-necessary and an obvious attempt to continue to stir trouble, even more so with the foul message sent to these people. I can see why you have been pushed to go public and good on you. People like you all that contribute so much of your time deserve a lot of respect and you have mine.

      Kindest Regards

    10. Thanks Dave! I agree that the original Facebook posts were quite mild and could have been handled better. Because that stuff was being said to members of the public, we felt the need to set the record straight, for both the FOSBC and the Friends of Balmoral Cemetery. There was more than just one volunteer group involved, so I don't why the FOSBC were singled out.

    11. @ Strychnine - I have been on the receiving end of this for some time and believe me, it should have never got so bad. One would have thought a business who claims to want to protect these sites and see a lot of good done for them would not oppose the fundraisers we planned. Any monies raised would all go back to the cemetery and he was fully aware of this and so were the BCC. I personally have had to go to the police and I was present at the court hearing and can verify everything that was said which is also in the transcript.

      Chris has answered to the highlighted comments of the message to Matt exactly right. Sadly, it is not my group alone that has had these problems.

      The FOSBC are dedicated to the preservation, protection and research of this historic cemetery and we will continue to do so. Thank you JJ, AM and Dave for your kind words. I have helped many people world-wide over the years with their family research and the satisfaction I get is the nice thank you's. BTW - I do all this for free.


    12. I am the Matt who received the message and I did give my permission for it to be used. What is hard to take in is that the comment I left on the ghost tours page warranted such a reaction. I read the newsletter which was posted up and I stated that I thought it was unnecessary for them to to have made it - how this can be perceived as an attack on his business is laughable. If he didn't want any honest comments then he shouldn't have made the statement in the first place. Even funnier is that Mr Sim is saving that comment for proof of defamation - what? that I thought the comment he made was unnecessary. Where is that defamation? Total nonsense Mr Sim.

      Mr Sim needs a reality check - not everyone likes what you do and not everyone believes in ghosts. I guess all these people would be stooges too for this group also.

      Mr Sim, your self righteous spiels about a handful of restorations does not make you the only person in the world that cares for a cemetery - it is actually the 100+ people who rolled up their sleeves and did some hard work cleaning the South Brisbane Cemetery after the flood, and those world wide who organise cleaning bees, help with family research etc. These people often go totally un-noticed for their eforts.

      To Tracey and Chris - keep up the good work and know that there is such a thing called karma.


    13. I don't know if your friend with his portfolio know this, but there is a one year statute of limitations on defamation up there in Queensland. Pete

    14. Could the 'Anonymous' person who submitted the story about the tours in Maryborough please drop me an email? I just need to check some facts before certain comments can be published.

    15. It does seem very strange that the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery were singled out when it was three groups involved in trying to bring in a curfew. I did my own investigation and I think it may possibly be the fact that he does tours in South Brisbane and not Balmoral. The third group is not in charge of a particular cemetery. It is obvious what his motives are and shame on him. I have also seen his facebook page and the only volunteer group he ever mentions are the Friends of Toowong Cemetery - the only one. You do not need to hold a degree to see what is going on here on the part of Mr Sim. As far as Mr Sim goes, I will keep some of my comments to myself but only the truly low would ever make a statement like - we would encourage the public not to support the Friends of South Brisbane Cemtery. You have my support and thank you for all the great work you do.


    16. A massive thank you to those people with messages of support for the FOSBC. It's been great to find out over the last week or so that we are not alone in this, and the problem is more widespread than we imagined. If you have anything to share in private, please feel free to drop the FOSBC an email at info@southbrisbanecemetery.org.

    17. I have been a follower of the ghost tours page for some time and I also read the comments these people made. To see the message that was sent to them has shocked me beyond belief. To single out this group was just disgraceful and the commentors on facebook were right in what they had said about the newsletter - below the belt dig at a volunteer group to try and make himself look better, very unprofessional. Jack Sim has no idea about defamation - that message was full of defamatory remarks and where does he get off sending something like that to anyone. Bullies, Mr Sim, do not belong in business!!!!!


    18. I stumbled across this page while I was looking for some information on the gaol. I am very impressed with the blogs and the updates on the possiblity of when the gaol may reopen. This is the only website that gives such up to date information.

      I did, many years ago, go on a ghost tour of the gaol and I was not that impressed with it so I have not gone on any others - personal choice. I also went and read the newsletters on the ghost tours webpage and I found the one that people on facebook were not happy with. I agree with them, it was very unprofessional on the part of ghost tours to make the comment they did, Ghost tours obviously seem very OK with the comment to keep it in there after all of this but it will just continue to make them look bad. Making snide remarks about a volunteer group to try and make themselves look better is not a "good look". The ensuing message to the commentors is just disgusting and I can see why a number of groups do not associate with him or his company.

      I will educate as many as I can about this as there needs to be more support for the volunteers.

      R Peters

    19. R Peters
      Thanks very much for the support. We still get phone calls and emails every day asking about the gaol, its been something of a struggle to get the word out that the place is actually closed and has been for six years now!

      The blog and the website are an important way for us to get the message out about what is happening, and we have aimed to be the best source of honest information on this. After all, it makes our lives easier if we get less queries from people who don't know what's happening. However, and quite unbelievably, there are still websites out there saying the gaol will reopen this year.

      I'm sure some people liked their Ghost Tour, but we meet plenty of people who didn't. The lousy review they got in the 'Courier Mail' recently just goes to show this.

    20. Well you guys have my support. I am quite shocked that he has gotten away with this bad behaviour. One of my likes is the ghost tours page and there are posts that go missing all of the time. It is one very censored site and now it somewhat makes sense. I think they must think people don't notice these things.

      I feel sorry for the mentioned commentors - I agree with them on their now deleted comments but they were the victims of an immature over reaction. Did Jack think that was appropriate and assume that everyone would agree with him? He doesn't know people very well.

      Thanks for keeping the boggo road gaol site up to date too. Jack's site has been under construction in most parts for ever and he still says the gaol will open this year.


    21. Thanks Mandy
      I'm not sure he's really gotten away with it. We are now hearing similar stories from others, and it's all baggage that won't go away. Karma can really bite you in the bum sometimes.

    22. OMFG are you serious? I cannot get over the rudeness of his message to the facebooker! Oh what a toughy he is with serving people with defamation warnings. He is a disgrace to the tourism business for ecouraging the public not to support volunteer organisations. Quite frankly, I am appalled anyone has to put up with this sort of carry on. Mr Sim needs to gain some people skills. You guys have my vote and I won't be doing any ghost tours run by them.
      Gayle P

    23. I am one who keeps up with the ghost tours facebook page and I am utterly lost for words. What does Mr Sim have to say for himself? What a farce it is when he gets awards for the odd restoration when he treats people like this. I scrolled the previous posts and re-read the newsletters and I would like to point out that there are many people, FOSBC included, that spend loads of their time fixing up and cleaning cemeteries and lots of them would never nominate themselves for any awards - WHY? - because they care more for these places than the awards. The comment listed in the newsletter was un-called for and just plain nasty. It has certainly opened my eyes up. Whether the facebook commentors know the people in this group is beside the point - Mr Sim had no right sending them a vile message like that. I am not going to waste my time posting something on the ghost tour page as it would be deleted.

      I live in Ipswich and that whole thank you for the award speech was just a little over the top Mr Sim - not everyone in my town likes you. I am now one of them.

      Kath - Yamanto

    24. Thanks Gayle and Kath. Yes, this 'caring for heritage' routine is a laughable farce when Jack Sim does his nasty best to try and stop genuine heritage groups and people from doing heritage projects if it might affect his income stream. Truth will out.

    25. I agree with you Kath - he thanked everyone bar the cleaners at the Council. Wonder if the Council knows what goes on behind the scenes??

      I want to let you guys know I will be sending this link to everyone I know to educate them. The more people that know the truth about this - the better.

      @Chris - you hit the nail on the head with your last comment.


    26. I have noticed the feeble attempt that Jack is making to make himself look like "do-gooder" of the year on his facebook page. After reading this and knowing how it actually is I will never support ghost tours. I really feel for you guys and all the childish crap you have had to endure and more than likely - still are. A leopard never looses his spots.

      How much can you squeeze out of one restoration - OMG...if I hear another word on the Piper one I will scream. So the City of Ipswich are happy - great, we don't need to hear it 1000 times Jack. Why aren't you guys (FOSBC) owning up to the good you have done in the cemetery - this I'd prefer to hear as it is done from the heart. I know you all have done heaps of great work and it is about time you get some appreciation for doing it.

      As for a previous commentor said in regards to Karma - they are so right!


    27. As the head of a paranormal investigative team we look for information and potential haunted sites, anyone that goes into a site saying it is haunted is completely a fool. In respect to running around in cemeteries i agree with Chris that it is disrespectful, i mean seriously these are people that we are meant to be respecting, not running around there like complete fools. Now we have been to a few cemeteries but only when we have been requested to but at the same time with a high respect and regard to the location. I agree and have said for some time now that there should not be tours in cemeteries as they do encourage people to go back out of tour times and tresspass, and also as stated above how is it respecting the daed??? Id like to see how the certain owner of a small businees in brisbane to which i wont name, likes me to run over his grave and even spray paint his grave when he is deceased? We were taught when we were young "respect is a big thing"well that seems to have gone out the window in many areas.