January 21st 2012 is the date for a summer SkeptiCamp in Victoria. It is being run by the Great Ocean Road Skeptics, at the Aireys Inlet Community Centre from 10:30am to 6pm. Registration is free, as per usual for SkeptiCamps, and also includes a BBQ lunch, free coffee all day and a paranormal wine tasting to wrap up the day. I talked to Mick Vagg for the Token Skeptic podcast.
Kylie Sturgess: What is it like in the region where you live? How far away are you from Melbourne?
Mick Vagg: We're in Geelong on the “surf coast”, which is probably about 70km south of Melbourne, right on the south coast of Victoria. Our area covers Geelong, which is the second largest city in Victoria, a population right around 200,000 people. Also, down along the wonderful surf coast, which includes Bells Beach, Torquay, down as far as Apollo Bay. Just a bit further along from the surf coast is the “shipwreck coast”, which is the site of a couple of local legends and some art of skeptical interest. We've had Joe Nickell, I think it was down here, investigating the Mahogany Ship mystery, which occurred down in Warrnambool.
There were a huge number of shipwrecks along the south coast of Australia, just not far from where we are. There are some interesting stories associated with them, so it's a fascinating part of the world.
Kylie: Yeah, excellent for haunting stories and investigating, clearly!
Mick: Yeah, it's somewhat of a hotbed of alternative lifestyle‑ists as well, so we have a lot of anti‑vaccinationists. We had a chickenpox outbreak in our kids' school recently due to lack of vaccination. We've been undergoing a whooping cough epidemic down around Geelong recently. Our whooping cough cases for 2010 and 2011 were up about 800 percent over the last few years. So, there's a bit of skeptical work to do down our way.
Kylie: Did that inspire the first SkeptiCamp over there on the surf coast?
Mick: Partly, yes. I think what brought it about was really, as with I'm sure a lot of other people, the TAM Oz meeting in 2010 in November. That brought together several of us from around this area who actually hadn't known each other beforehand. It includes myself and Nick Croucher, who of course is from SkepticBros Placebo Bands, and a couple of other guys.
We all realized, all of a sudden, that we weren't by ourselves and we do have skeptics around us. So we got together and started up “The Great Ocean Road Skeptics”. We still only have about half a dozen regular attendees at our Skeptics in the Pubs meetings, but we have, maybe a dozen or so more people who come along at various times.
What inspired the SkeptiCamp that was the fact that on the surf coast here, our population is not very big. Where I live in Torquay, we have maybe about 10,000 permanent residents. It goes up to 30,000 or 40,000 over the summer. So we have a huge influx of holidaymakers!
We thought summer would be a good time to perhaps catch some of those people from Melbourne or other parts of Victoria or over interstate, who happen to be traveling through the surf coast at a very busy time.
Kylie: What are some of the things that people attending can expect?
Mick: Well, we've got some terrific speakers lined up, and these are just the local people, the grassroots, citizen skeptics who are coming along - we've got a couple of local skeptical mysteries which we’ll discuss. There's one speaker talking about the famous UFO supposedly causing a plane crash that occurred just south of here, in Bass Strait. I think it was probably in the early `80s? It was a case that was very famous at the time.
We also have another one of our members who has dug up a psychic book of predictions from 1980. He's going to go through some of the predictions that were made for the next 20 years and see how they panned out!
I don't want to give too much away about what we're planning! But one of the things, that we can say, we are going to be doing some “Ganzfeld wine tasting”. We'll have the ping-pong balls over the eyes, the headphones with white noise, and a peg over the nose, and see whether or not people can still pick their wines!
Kylie: Well, that region around there, certainly Victoria, is popular for its wine. So hopefully, you get a few good drops in whilst you're at it.
Mick: Oh, I think we're feeling very confident about the quality of the wine that will be offered, that's for sure!
I think our goal in doing this is, first of all, to try and give perhaps some of our skeptical colleagues around Victoria something to do on their holidays down at the surf coast. But also, just to let people who actually live down around this area to know that there are people who don't believe everything they read, and they're happy to think for themselves and make up their own minds about things.
Kylie: Great. What's the website that people can go to, to find out more?
Mick: We're organizing the tickets through Eventbrite. So it's SummerSkeptiCamp.eventbrite.com.au.
Kylie Sturgess is the host of the Token Skeptic podcast and regularly writes editorial for numerous publications and CSICOP’s Curiouser and Curiouser online column. She is the co-host for the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 and 2012. In addition, Kylie is a member of the James Randi Educational Foundation Education Advisory Panel and writes at The Token Skeptic at FreeThought Blogs.