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The Family (the Great White Brotherhood):
Anne Hamilton-Byrne, leader of The Family, unrepentant but ready to die
By James Campbell
Herald Sun
August 16, 2009

  • I'm ready to die, says leader of The Family
  • But won't acknowledge any wrongdoing

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

The Herald Sun reports 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. Read the story of the detective who went after Hamilton-Byrne.

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 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.

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 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."

Read the rest of this story in The Herald Sun.


Creating the family tree

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

Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.
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