Freo’s cult past

• Osho and Sannyasins during Darshan, Poona. Photo supplied.

IN the early 1980s Fremantle’s Old Papa’s was kicking off a revolution with WA’s first alfresco dining – and a new religious order called the Sannyasins were settling in the port city and raising eyebrows.

Hanging out at Papas in 1980, on what was to become the Cappuccino Strip, you couldn’t help but rub shoulders with the colourfully-clad disciples of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho).

They were quickly dubbed the orange people, for their sunset hued, but predominately orange, clothing.

Living for the moment they were viewed as hedonistic, and I recall eavesdropping wide-eyed on a conversation at Papas about sexual conquests, bed-hopping — and the inevitable case of genital crabs.

Sohan Ariel Hayes was four year’s old when his parents moved into the Sannyasin Collie Street commune.

“Going to Richmond Primary you were a Sannyasin, the family doctor was a Sannyasin, the vet was a Sannyasin,” he says.

“It was right across the community.”

• Sannyasins awaiting the arrival of Ma Anand Sheela at Zorba the Buddha Restaurant, 6 Collie Street, Fremantle in 1985. Photography by Diti

A conversation between Haye and Fremantle Arts Centre director Jim Cathcart sowed the idea for an art exhibition based around the orange people.

The controversial religious movement shocked and fascinated at home and across the world.

Osho’s personal assistant, Ma Anand Sheela, spent three months in Fremantle as she searched down south for a site for a commune school.

In 1986 she was sentenced to 20 years for poisoning more than 700 people by spiking food with salmonella at 10 restaurants in Oregon.

The move was a bizarre attempt to influence the vote in a council election contested by Sannyasins.

And she caused a riot when she gave Australia the finger during an interview saying it was “tough titties” on those who didn’t like her outspoken ways.

“There are still unresolved emotion around the issue of Sannyasin,” Hayes says.

“It still comes up in the media, and is beaten around as a sex cult.”

He hopes the exhibition, with its mix of art, artefacts, photos, video and virtual reality rooms, will “give people a perspective of the movement that has not been considered previously.”

Orange Sannyas is free entry and at Fremantle Arts Centre until May 21.

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