Tributes flood in for drug reformer

Tributes flood in for drug reformer

Rev. Ray Richmond will be commemorated at a memorial this coming Sunday. Rev. Richmond passed away on 18 October 2019 at the age of 81.

He is remembered as a pioneer in drug reform campaigning.

Rev. Richmond ran Wayside Chapel from 1991 to 2004. During this time, Australia was in the grip of a heroin epidemic.

Tired of people dying from drug overdoses on the streets of Sydney, Rev. Richmond used the church’s principle of sanctuary to provide ‘tolerance rooms’ where users would be supervised and referred to health treatment if they requested it.

The move was controversial in its time.

This act of ‘civil disobedience’ was a precursor to the safe injecting centre, which opened in May 2001 and has since overseen more than a million injections. There have been no fatalities, and people often take up the offer of referral to health services.

Rev. Richmond was on the record as being very reluctant to reach this point, warning that, “acting outside the law was no solution.”

“We do not like what we are doing,” Rev. Richmond said, but he was determined to stop deaths. Soon after the tolerance room was opened, police charged him for aiding and abetting the administration of prohibited substances, but the charges were later dropped. Eventually, a change in state law allowed for the establishment of an injecting room trial.

Rev. Richmond was a part of the landmark NSW drug summit in 1999. The Fair Treatment campaign has called for a similar summit to be held.

He was also responsible for leading during a difficult time for Wayside Chapel. The Noffs Family went their separate ways in 1992 and continue the work of Ted through the Ted Noffs Foundation. Rev. Richmond had to run an organisation that was under great financial strain. The chapel has since undergone extensive rebuilding, which Rev. Richmond initially pushed for in 1997.

Tributes for Rev. Richmond have flowed in from The Wayside Chapel and local member Tanya Plibersek.  

Rev. Richmond’s memorial takes place at the Wayside Chapel on Sunday.   

Picture courtesy of Wayside Chapel.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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