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Sects in Australia:
Fringe religious groups that have left their mark on the nation
Staff writers, The Daily Telegraph
October 24, 2016


AS a former devotee of cult-like group Hermes Far Eastern Shining claims she was “love bombed” by recruiters after meeting devotees at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London’s Olympia in 2002, we look at other sects around Australia and the world.

“The devotees were enthusiastic and young and intoxicated me with kindness,” Ann Fitzgerald told The Daily Telegraph. “I was being loved bombed.”
talking among children was banned unless an adult was present


Once the fastest-growing spiritual community in the US and Australia, Hermes Far Eastern Shining –which is frequently referred to as “The Water People” –was prevalent in the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett‘s debut as director will tell the story of a woman who flees a cult only to fall into a nightmare of imprisonment and government detention.

Screen Australia says the actor will direct Stateless, a television series based on the story of German-Australian woman and former Qantas air hostess Cornelia Rau who was wrongly detained as an illegal immigrant.


Cornelia Rau was a Kenja member.

Rau hit the headlines in 2005 after she escaped the controversial Sydney sect known as Kenja only to be held at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia as a suspected illegal immigrant.

Kenja, which rejects the tag, is just one of a number of sects that have left an indelible mark on Australian society.

An Australian company founded in 1982 by Kenneth Dyers and partner Jan Hamilton, parts of their first names combined for the title.

Kenja says its goal is “to increase understanding of the spiritual nature of man and our relation to the human spirit, coupled with practical training in the basics of effective communication — time, space and energy”.

Dyers and Hamilton say Kenja is the target of a “witch hunt”.

Kenja employed a form of meditation which cost $130 and involved two people staring into each other’s eyes called “energy conversion”.

It raised the ire of the RSL and Department of Defence by using the Australian Army’s “rising sun” logo.

Perhaps the most well-known member of the sect was Cornelia Rau, once a group member who suffered mental illness and was later detained by the Australian Government for 10 months. Cate Blanchett is set to direct a film about her life.

Kenja leader Ken Dyers leaves Downing Centre Court with partner Jan Hamilton after first day of his trial on charges of sexual assault during meditation sessions.

Children of God

Started in California in 1968 by David “Moses” Berg, COG had nearly 1000 Australian followers in the early 1990s, when a series of police raids seized more than 120 children over fears they were being subjected to sexual and psychological abuse.

Four houses in northwest Sydney were among those targeted. One court was told the sect said children should have sex with adults and that young girls should act in a “provocative, enticing and pleasing way”.

A father said that children were forced to watch adult sect members have sex in communal bedrooms and told of sex between children as young as 12.

Legal battles raged in Victoria and NSW until the children were returned to their families at the end of 1992. A damages claim was confidentially settled seven years later.

Children of God had a base in Nerang, Queensland.

Twelve Tribes

Founded in Tennessee in 1972 by former carnival showman Eugene Spriggs.

Twelve Tribes denounces Christianity as the “whore of Babylon”.

They forbid tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, condoms, contraceptive pills, TV, media and internet (but has a website).

Child rearing is strict. Children who break rules are hit with a plastic stick and are not meant to cry. There is constant adult supervision (called “covering”), no whistling and no make-believe.

At their commune in Picton in Sydney’s southwest, talking among children was banned unless an adult was present, says a former disciple who, in the sect’s eyes, had sinned by surfing, smoking marijuana and playing drums in a band.

Twelve Tribes has had or rented properties at various coastal and inland NSW sites.

A scene from 1999 US documentary on Twelve Tribes Mission shows the presenter with a plastic rod used to beat children.

Mangrove Ashram, Central Coast

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard late last year of multiple allegations made against Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, leader of a yoga ashram (like a Hinduism retreat) on the NSW Central Coast.

The inquiry’s opening day heard that 11 children had been abused while living at the ashram in the 1970s and 80s; nine former child residents were due to give evidence.

Akhandananda told victims that having sex with him was “for their own spiritual growth”, the inquiry heard, and abuses had often taken place in the company of Shishy, a follower who had begun a sexual relationship aged 16 with Akhandananda after he moved from India in 1974.

The swami beat children with a wooden stick and threaten them with death or exile if they told of the abuse, the inquiry heard.

The site of the Mangrove Yoga Ashram. on the NSW Central Coast. Picture: Facebook

Members of the Mangrove Ashram which was a focus of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.

Order of St Charbel

A commune based near Nowra run by William Kamm, who was paroled last year after he had spent nearly a decade in jail over charges relating to sexual assaults on two 15-year-old girls.

Kamm, also known as Little Pebble, claimed to have 84 mystical wives with whom he would spawn a new human race after the world was burnt by a fireball.

He claims links with the Catholic Church, which does not recognise the Order of St Charbel, and says that church’s obligatory celibacy for celebrants does not apply to him, even when he becomes Pope.

Kamm insisted that Pope John Paul I would make him sole successor to the papacy; when John Paul I died in 2005, Kamm issued a press statement saying “heaven clearly changed its plans”.

Order of St Charbel leader William (Little Pebble) Kamm outside the Supreme Court in 1993.

Property of the Tyaak branch of The Order Of St Charbel.

Leader William Kamm (2nd from L) with followers at Order of St Charbel’s sect headquarters in Nowra. NSW.

Jesus People USA

Daniel Landy-Ariel was prominent in the sect in Australia.

Began in Chicago in 1972 and became largest group to survive after the “Jesus movement”, which had roots in 1960s counterculture, receded in the 1980s but lived on in places including Cairns, Sydney and near Parkes.

Its Australian chapter was dominated by millionaire property owner Daniel Landy-Ariel, who admits to having two wives and promotes an orthodox Christian lifestyle in which followers speak the ancient language of Aramaic.

The group came to light largely when convicted murderer Luke Hunter managed to live within the sect.

Former follower of nine years, “Jeremiah”, told The Weekend Australian he saw a chair smacked over a girl’s back amid “some of the worst violence” which helped keep women as “subhumans”.

Mr Landy-Ariel acquires possessions of those who join, saying the practice is out of respect for his 41-day water-only fast in 1996.

He has also said he does not condone or authorise violence.

Daniel Landy-Ariel (centre) and Jesus People at their commune in Queensland in the mid-1980s.

Scott Williams

A self-styled pastor who as a teacher in Ballarat in the mid-70s, attracted attention for trying to indoctrinate high school students.

He moved with his wife to Germany, where he began recruiting young men at a military school, allegedly having them engage in mass naked massage sessions, after which he would select one to “surrender and submit to the Lord’s training” by spending the night with him.

His church, Christian Assemblies International, allegedly gave only about five per cent of a $20 million fund to charities, the rest going to maintenance of properties owned by Williams.

ABC’s Four Corners ran extensive expose last year after a four-year investigation, alleging Williams used a warped brand of evangelical Pentecostalism to mask a homosexual sex ring while using members’ donations for himself.



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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