Retreat death: family pays tribute to Melbourne woman as police investigate whether she consumed mushrooms

<span>Victoria police say they believe a woman became ill and later died after ingesting a drink at a retreat on Fraser Street in Clunes.</span><span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Victoria police say they believe a woman became ill and later died after ingesting a drink at a retreat on Fraser Street in Clunes.Photograph: James Ross/AAP

It was late at night when a group of people inside a wellness retreat on the main street of a small Victorian town sipped on a drink.

One of the group, Rachael Dixon, 53, fell ill and died at the scene. Two other people, who were with her at Soul Barn in Clunes, were taken to hospital and were later discharged.

What exactly was in that drink, and whether it caused Dixon’s death, is now at the centre of a police investigation.

Police are examining if mushrooms were used. But there is no suggestion of foul play.

On Wednesday afternoon, Soul Barn said in a social media post that none of its “regular therapists, staff or facilitators were present at any point during this event”.

“There are no words to express the deep sorrow and shock we are feeling here at Soul following the tragic incident that occurred on April 13th,” the post said.

“Soul Barn hires out workshop space to external businesses and facilitators. The event which took place on April 13th was a private event, and those facilitating the event do not work for or represent Soul Barn in any way.”

In a social media post on Sunday, Dixon’s son, Matthew Mountain, paid tribute to the 53-year-old, describing her as the “most loving, most caring person I’ve ever known”.

“[I] can’t thank you enough for everything you ever did for me and all the support you gave me, words can’t begin to describe how much I will miss you, wish I could give you one last hug,” he said.

In a separate post, her sister Penny Muller-Dixon said “words cannot express the heartbreak we are all feeling”.

Another sister, Kirstin Dixon, commented on Muller-Dixon’s post that “we are absolutely broken that our sister has left us”.

A former colleague of Dixon said on social media that she had previously taken part in “ceremonies” that helped improve her sense of wellbeing.

Previous online posts from Soul Barn also showed the venue had been used before for night-time ceremonies.

The night before the incident, it hosted an event called “a night with Spirit”. There is no suggestion that event has any link at all to Dixon’s death.

Social media posts promoting the event promised that the host – a medium, astrologist and psychic – would “sit with his friends in the spirit worlds as they subdue his mind and take him into the trance state”.

A separate “Sound Healing” event, planned for Sunday, was cancelled the next morning, according to a Facebook post.

“My deepest apologies – Sound healing is xld [cancelled] today – email with refund and details have been sent to all booked x,” the post read.

The page for that event advertised “a deeply relaxing sound immersion using a combination of Yoga Nidra guided meditation to prepare your mind and body”.

But it is unclear what brought Dixon to the Clunes retreat on the weekend.

Soul Barn had no events listed for Saturday night, according to a newsletter and social media posts.

On Tuesday, a police spokesperson said it was “believed a woman was at a retreat on Fraser Street when she became ill after ingesting a drink just after 12am”.

The details of the other people believed to have consumed the drink have not been released, and it is unclear if they have spoken with detectives.

A police spokesperson said on Wednesday afternoon that they had no further updates regarding the case.

The investigation is being headed by regional detectives, not the homicide squad. The Victorian Poisons Information Centre, which is managed by Austin Health, was contacted by authorities about the case.

The health service did not comment directly about the matter but said it provided high-level specialist advice to clinicians on management of acutely poisoned patients, and information on effects and management of “chronic exposures”.

“In a minority of cases (approximately 30-50 annually) where there is the possibility of significant clinical toxicity following a reported mushroom ingestion, we work with expert mycologists to help identify the fungus,” a spokesperson said.

Others commented that they were saddened by the incident and wished it’s founder, Michelle Mullins, well.

On Instagram, Jude Darmanin, who conducts massages and facials at the retreat, said that she was “deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred at Soul Barn over the weekend”. She had not been at the retreat on the night of the incident, but had to cancel appointments booked for the following day in the centre.