4 Nov 2010

Notorious Australian cult, The Family, still flourishing despite child abuse

NOTE BY PERRY BULWER - August 16, 2009

The articles in this post refer to a small cult in Australia called The Family. This cult should not be confused with The Family International, formerly the Children of God, but also known as just The Family. The Family International was also at the center of a child-abuse scandal in Australia as well as several other countries. However, while these two cults are separate groups, the issues of child abuse and children's rights are very similar, as they are to all totalitarian religious groups. See this page for articles on The Family International: http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/p/family-international.html


The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

Rein in Family cult


TWO decades ago, Victorians were shocked by revelations about children brought up in the notorious cult The Family.

The Sunday Herald Sun has revisited the main players to find the cult is still flourishing in the Dandenongs.

More disturbing is that cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne remains unrepentant about the cult's treatment of the children.

In 1987, Australian Federal Police and Community Services Victoria raided the cult's property.

They found that 14 children - many with dyed peroxide-blonde hair - had been brought up wrongly believing they were the children of Mrs Hamilton-Byrne and her late husband, Bill.

The children were allegedly subjected to a regimen of isolation, indoctrination and extreme discipline.

All Victorians should demand that such cults are closely monitored and that children are adequately protected.

This article was found at:


Children from The Family cult, revealing their peroxided hair and identical outfits.
The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

The Family cult's secrets exposed

by James Campbell

EXCLUSIVE: THE leader of Australia's most notorious cult, The Family, remains unrepentant two decades after the raid that shocked the nation.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne broke her silence yesterday, saying she was ready to die after reconciling with Sarah Moore, the "daughter" who betrayed her to the authorities.

The Family made headlines around the world in 1987 when the Australian Federal Police and Community Services Victoria raided the cult's property at Lake Eildon and took six children into care.

Police later found 14 children had been brought up in almost complete isolation believing they were the offspring of Hamilton-Byrne and her late husband Bill.

In fact none of them was the Hamilton-Byrnes', but children of single mothers who had been pressured into giving them up for adoption or cult members who did not want them.

But it was the way the children had been treated that really shocked the nation.

Hamilton-Byrne had ordered the children's hair be dyed peroxide blonde and they be dressed in identical outfits.

It was also alleged they had been half-starved, beaten and forced to take large quantities of tranquilisers to "calm them down" and even fed LSD when they became adults.

Now, in the first ever interview at her sprawling Olinda compound, the cult leader has defended how she raised the children and attacked those who said she mistreated them as "lying bastards".

Of her critics, she said: "I would love to put them right, but I can't."

She also said she could have sued for defamation, but had decided against any action.

Asked about whether she mistreated her "children", she said: "They were normal children and they could be disobedient to a point, but not all the time."

But she would not discuss any specific claims.

On the issue of alleged LSD use in the cult, she said: "Everything on earth has its uses."

And asked about whether she had any regrets, she would only say: "I've got regrets about losing touch with daughter."

"I'm ready to die now. I don't mind when I go," she said after an emotional reunion with her favourite "daughter" Dr Moore, witnessed by the Sunday Herald Sun.

Inside the compound - one of at least half a dozen properties owned by Hamilton-Byrne - elderly helpers scurried around, avoiding eye contact.

The "wrinkly disciples" wore coloured wigs, with heavy make-up, and are said to be among up to 50 cult followers who still defer to Hamilton-Byrne - some living on the property and others in surrounding hills.

From the moment she invited this newspaper into her home, the frail woman was at pains to show off as many happy group photos as she could, to prove her family was as normal as any other.

"We have our differences like any other family," she stressed, smiling.

The sole male on the sprawling, but crumbling estate was self-professed senior cult member Michael Stevenson.

Dr Moore, also known as Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, had been expelled from The Family two years before the 1987 raid for disobedience, with the curse that she go and die in the gutter, she claimed.

She later qualified as a doctor and volunteered extensively in India and other parts of Asia.

But four years ago her life began to unravel - she developed bipolar disorder. Suffering from chronic pain, she began self-prescribing pethidine, but was caught in 2005.

In December her life took another turn for the worse - she lost her leg, the result, she says, of hospital mistreatment following a suicide attempt.

Having survived, Dr Moore said she has regained her will to live.

Yesterday as she reunited with Hamilton-Byrne, Dr Moore became emotional as remembered their rift.

"I just feel incredibly sad about it," Dr Moore said.

"When I was holding Anne then, I could feel her shaking and crying. I thought 'Why did it have to come to this?' "

Dr Moore said she could not escape the fact that she looked on the 87-year-old as her mother.

"I do love Anne and my feelings are still mixed about her," Dr Moore said.

"For many years I went nowhere near her or the cult.

"I was a prominent part of the public face of those that wanted to expose what happened to us children and to see justice done.

"But, despite perhaps appearances to the contrary, at that time I felt enormous loyalty to Anne. To my mind, I had put my life on the line to oppose her, as I believed at the time that to oppose her, to betray her, was to die."

Dr Moore said she still believed Hamilton-Byrne was responsible for mistreatment of children, but she said the cult leader blamed the "Aunties" for any abuse.

"That's as far she will go in acknowledging any wrongdoing," Dr Moore said.

"Otherwise she is unrepentant. She is a powerful and charismatic person, and I believe she initially meant well with both creating the cult and collecting us children.

"Both acts were in compensation and delusional repair for her own childhood."

This article was found at:



The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

A twisted controller

by James Campbell

CULT members Patricia MacFarlane and Peter Kibby gave evidence outlining their role in The Family. Here are edited versions of their stories:


Raynor Johnson (the former Master of Queens College at the University of Melbourne) told me of this woman he had met.

He said that one day he answered the door to find a woman standing there. He said this woman's name was Anne Riley and she was spiritual being, or entity.

He said from that moment on he was enthralled by Anne.

In September 1967, my son, Adrian, was killed in a motor vehicle accident. My whole world was ripped apart.

Between one and two days later a woman appeared at our house. I realised she was the Anne Riley with whom Raynor was so besotted.

She believed I should undergo an "initiation" into "The Family".

The initiation was very simple and I don't remember any more of it. I think Anne may possibly have laid her hands on my head, but it was certainly nothing spectacular.

I vividly recall that Anne entered the Cotham Clinic, Cotham Rd, Kew, which was a private medical clinic.

Anne was an in-patient and underwent surgery for a facelift.

She summoned myself, (my husband) Don, John McKay and Elizabeth Whitaker to her bedside.

She told Don and I that we were to seek a divorce immediately.

She told Don he was to move into Elizabeth's house in Kew. She told (Dr) John McKay that he was to leave Jan and obtain a divorce immediately. John was to move in with me.

When I started working as a nurse at Newhaven, the majority of the staff were sect members. The day patients were there for Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT).

Newhaven specialised in the use of LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), Deep Sleep Therapy and ECT.

Most psychiatrists used LSD and psilocybin.


I was a solicitor on Collins St in the early 1960s when I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was introduced to Anne through some friends and was convinced she could cure me.

I had two leucotomies - a form of lobotomy - at her suggestion.

I was very close to Anne and was responsible for her all her legal work, forging false birth certificates and adoption papers.

I knew all the inner workings of the cult's finances. But I became disillusioned by her in the late 1980s.

This article was found at:



The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

Painful justice

by James Campbell

LEX De Man, the policeman who spent five years bringing The Family cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne to justice, is still haunted by the case and its toll on everyone involved.

And while proud that Operation Forest, the taskforce on which he worked from 1989 to 1994, eventually secured her conviction for perjury, he is still angry Hamilton-Byrne escaped punishment for alleged maltreatment of the children in her care.

Mr De Man said Hamilton-Byrne was lucky the children who had endured beatings, druggings and starvation at The Family's Lake Eildon property were too traumatised to testify against their alleged tormentor.

"One girl looked like she was seven but was, in fact, 11. She was suffering from psycho-social dwarfism," Mr De Man said.

"I didn't think at that time - and even today - that many of the kids would be able to sustain giving evidence in the witness box. I think they'd been damaged too much."

The detective's decision to go after Hamilton-Byrne for falsifying documents came in 1991 when the cult's solicitor, Peter Kibby, decided to co-operate with police.

"Documents don't lie. People lie on documents. A document might be false, but it's a human being that puts the information on it," Mr De Man said.

Kibby then persuaded one of the former "Aunties", Pat MacFarlane, to make a statement.

After months of interviews, and later armed with the evidence to secure a warrant to arrest Hamilton-Byrne, police still took three years to find her.

But when he was told she had been arrested in the US, Mr De Man said he was overcome with emotion.

He then flew to New York where he was met by two US marshals, who handed over Hamilton-Byrne.

"She was a frail, old-looking woman without her wig," he said.

"Her first words to me were 'You're a lot younger than I thought you would be'."

Mr De Man said people were sceptical of the taskforce's success when it was established.

"When we started, people said to us 'You'll never find her and if you do, you'll never interview her, you'll never charge her, you'll never bring her back to this country, you'll never get her before a court and you'll never get a conviction'," he said.

"Four-and-half years later we found her in a joint operation with the FBI, we went and got her and we brought her back, fronted her before the courts and she pleaded guilty - even though the penalty was minuscule - $5000.

"In the end it was about the principle of justice."

This article was found at:



The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

Payout for The Family sect victims

by James Campbell

THE Family cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne has paid six-figure sums to two former "followers" who sued her for alleged damage done to them in their childhoods.

Hamilton-Byrne settled the cases for payouts of an estimated $250,000 each.

In the first case, Hamilton-Byrne's granddaughter, Rebecca Cook-Hamilton, sued her in 2007, alleging she had developed psychiatric and psychological illnesses.

She alleged the injuries were caused by the "cruel and inhumane treatment" she had received from Hamilton-Byrne and her servants, including beatings, being locked in a freezing shed overnight and being forced to take tranquilisers.

Ms Cook-Hamilton also alleged her grandmother failed to provide adequate food.

In the second case, cult survivor Anouree Crawford brought a case alleging she was beaten, starved and drugged.

Hamilton-Byrne is also being sued by a former cult member over an aborted property transaction in the late 1990s.

In a writ filed in the Supreme Court, Cynthia Chan alleges she paid Hamilton-Byrne $352,115 to buy a property in Olinda, but that she never transferred.

The writ also alleges Ms Chan paid Hamilton-Byrne $70,400 for another property, which was also never transferred to her.

Hamilton-Byrne said she had no recollection of the matter.

In the 1980s, police estimated Hamilton-Byrne's wealth at more than $50 million.

This article was found at:



The Herald Sun - Australia August 16, 2009

Creating the family tree

1961 ANNE Hamilton meets Dr Raynor Johnson, Master of Queen's College at the University of Melbourne and renowned authority on mysticism.

1961 (continued) Together they found The Family, a religion based on a blend of Eastern mysticism and Christianity.

1964 Dr Johnson buys land at Ferny Creek, where the cult builds Santiniketan Lodge, which becomes its headquarters.

1965 Hamilton-Byrne marries South African naval officer Michael Riley. The marriage does not last.

1960s The Family begins recruiting cult members from patients at the Newhaven private psychiatric hospital in Kew. The recruits are given heavy doses of LSD.

1968 Hamilton-Byrne begins adopting children with her "husband" Bill Byrne. Both change their surname to Hamilton-Byrne, but do not marry until the mid-1970s.

1970s She buys Broom Farm in Kent, England, and another house in the Catskills, New York.

1983 Australian Federal Police visit the cult's property at Eildon, looking for but not finding missing girl, Kim Halm.

1986 Newhaven hospital closes. The property is later the subject of a lawsuit between Anne Hamilton-Byrne and the descendants of a deceased cult member. She wins.

1987 Australian Federal Police raid the Eildon property, removing six children.

1988 Seven female cult members are jailed for defrauding social security of almost $200,000.

1989 Victoria Police establish Operation Forest to investigate The Family.

1990 Former cult solicitor Peter Kibby confesses to forging birth records on Anne Hamilton-Byrne's orders. Former "aunty" Patricia MacFarlane also gives details to police of her role in the adoption scams.

1993 Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne are arrested by the FBI in the Catskills Mountains, New York, after police traced calls made to Australia.

1994 Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne are extradited to Melbourne. They plead guilty to perjury through documents and are fined $5000.

2001 Bill Hamilton-Byrne dies. Anne Hamilton-Byrne attends his funeral in her only public appearance since she was convicted in 1994.

This article was found at:



  1. Herald Sun - July 29, 2011

    ANNE Hamilton-Byrne, the former head of the Family cult, has made a secret out-of-court settlement with one of her alleged victims, who claimed he was routinely injected with LSD at her behest.

    Ms Hamilton-Bryne, who bleached the hair of children in the sect, and kept them hidden from the world, agreed to the settlement on Monday. Supreme Court documents show at least five former cult members in the past four years have sued the self-appointed mystic for treatment they claimed to have suffered at her hands or under her direction.

    It is believed Ms Hamilton-Byrne, who has dementia that her lawyers say renders her unable to remember the past, has settled at least two other actions and paid an undisclosed amount to shut down the legal actions. Ms Hamilton-Byrne - who lives in a suburban nursing home - also claims the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 destroyed documents relating to her activities and records of people at the Family properties. Court documents also claim other Hamilton-Bryne records were destroyed in a separate fire at Gembrook in June 2010.

    In this week's settlement, Robert Rosanove, now aged 59, claimed he was regularly abused between 1961 and 1974, when he was raised as a member of the Family in a range of locations in Victoria, including Ferny Creek. Mr Rosanove's statement of claim accuses Ms Hamilton-Byrne or her followers of subjecting him to abuse, including:

    FORCIBLY administering psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD.

    FALSELY "imprisoning" and "brainwashing" him.

    FORCING him to take medications not legally prescribed and involuntary admissions to psychiatric institutions.

    DEPRIVING him of "normal social interaction with other children and adults".

    Mr Rosanove said he suffers bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, severe depression, anxiety and sleep problems as a result of the alleged abuse. The LSD doses were allegedly administered during "clearing" sessions and the sect teachings were a mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Ms Hamilton-Byrne's "own interpretations", court documents state.

    Ms Hamilton-Byrne, through her litigation guardian, denied the abuse claims. In her defence statement, Ms Hamilton-Byrne argued the courts should not allow Mr Rosanove's law suit to continue because it was too long ago. The Family's Lake Eildon property was raided by the federal police and child welfare officers in 1987 when six children were removed and authorities identified 14 children who had been raised by the cult. In 1993, Anne and husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne were arrested by the FBI in the Catskill Mountains, New York, and extradited to Melbourne.

  2. Battle for control as cult leader deteriorates

    by Chris Johnston, The Age July 22, 2013

    Australia's most notorious cult leader is close to death in a suburban Melbourne nursing home as remaining members of the sect she formed in the 1960s scramble for control, sources say.

    Anne Hamilton-Byrne, 83, led the infamous Melbourne cult, The Family. She has had dementia since 2007 and lives in a nursing home in Wantirna South. Police and legal sources and also former victims of the cult say Hamilton-Byrne is now incapacitated.

    From the 1960s she was the cult's head at properties in the Dandenongs and Lake Eildon where dozens of children, obtained through adoption scams were allegedly kept, treated cruelly and administered LSD.

    The children were told she was a living God and were taught extreme Christianity and Eastern mysticism. Their hair was dyed blond and they were made to dress identically.

    A child victim from the 1970s - now living in regional Victoria - recently visited Ms Hamilton-Byrne. The man, a Pentecostal Christian, said the visit was in the spirit of forgiveness. ''She is in her final lap,'' he said. ''As I walked in, she was asleep on her bed, and she woke up and started rambling about her dogs being burned in a bushfire. There is a total disconnect with reality.''

    Another person who has contact with Ms Hamilton-Byrne said: ''She is in ill-health. But she's holding her ground.'' Ms Hamilton-Byrne's financial and legal affairs are handled by two key supporters, Geoffrey Dawes and Helen McCoy.

    Mrs McCoy runs a wildlife rescue service in Gembrook and is also the principal of a school for disabled children. Neither would comment.

    Along with other key supporters, including Michael Stevenson-Helmer, Peter Lyall (otherwise known as James Buchanan), David Munroe and Olivier Mackay-Dalkeith, Mr Dawes and Mrs McCoy are directors of a company called Life For All Creatures, registered to Mrs McCoy's Gembrook home and live in the Dandenong Ranges. Ms Hamilton-Byrne was a director until 2005.

    Sources said a power struggle had emerged in the sect between Mr Dawes and Mr Stevenson-Helmer over a succession plan once Ms Hamilton-Byrne dies. Mr Stevenson-Helmer, a long-time member who is very close to Ms Hamilton-Byrne, denied she was near death.

    ''As a true yogi, Anne will go when she is willing and ready,'' he said.

    He confirmed the sect still worshipped in the Dandenongs. ''We meditate,'' he said. ''You surmise we are secretive but we have never hidden anything from you people.''

    The cult was originally broken up when Australian Federal Police and a state government agency raided the property at Lake Eildon in 1987 and six children were taken into care.

    In 1994 Ms Hamilton-Byrne and her then-husband were extradited from the United States to Australia to plead guilty to perjury - the only charges they ever faced.

    Since 2010 Ms Hamilton-Byrne's lawyers have used her dementia as a defence in several civil court actions by former victims trying to sue. All have been settled out of court for amounts around $250,000.

    The victims have sought damages for ongoing mental health problems from abuse and cruelty suffered, false imprisonment, mind control and use of drugs.

    In 2010 her physical health also began deteriorating after she fell and fractured bones.

    Ms Hamilton-Byrne still owns at least three properties in the Dandenongs, including the original cult headquarters on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, and several overseas. Her estate is estimated to be worth between $10 million and $20 million.