Drugs, sexual abuse and every child an identical blonde: Inside the cult known as 'The Family' that raised more than a dozen children as a mirror image of its leader

A new look into the Melbourne cult 'The Family' reveals its sinister nature

Daily Mail, Australia/July 23, 2016

By Belinda Cleary

The notorious Melbourne cult dubbed 'The Family' has been described as 'sinister and beautiful' and like a 'Grimm fairytale' as it is revealed practicing members still live in Victoria.

A documentary into the LSD-using cult led by yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne will premiere at the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday with new information on the cult - which flew under the radar for 20 years.

Rosie Jones, the director of the documentary, described the actions of the cult as series of 'dark' events that highlighted 'human frailty', The Age reported.

'How do people get involved in a cult, what draws them in, how do they do things that they would normally find morally reprehensible,' she said.

'It opens up a lot of questions that are universal rather than relevant only to this particular group.'

The cult, which was set up in Lake Eildon, was know for having the children dressed identically, their hair bleached blonde and shaped into the same bob.

This was so the children from different parents who were cult members looked like siblings - and their new 'mother' Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne famously claimed she was the natural mother of each of the six children found by police during extensive raids of the cult-owned properties.

These raids occurred in 1987 - after one of the cults 'daughters' - now revealed to be Hamilton-Byrne's favourite child Sarah - went to police with abuse allegations.

Following the raid police found another 14 children had been brought up in the isolated home.

Children who grew up in the strange cult were interviewed for the documentary and spoke of severe punishments for bad behaviour - like being starved or beaten.

They open up about being forced to take drugs including LSD and also of the sexual assault of children.

In 2009 Hamilton-Byrne spoke with the Herald Sun claiming she cared for the children as her own and said anyone who said otherwise were 'lying bastards'.

She said the only regret she had was 'losing touch with daughter' (Sarah) and after an emotional reunion with the young woman who brought the cult down she said she was 'ready to die'.

Sarah had been thrown out of The Family for disobedience two years before she dobbed her 'mother' in to police.

Sarah - who was a doctor until she was found to be self-prescribing drugs in 2005 - said she can't help but see the elderly cult leader as her mum - even as she betrayed her in the media.

'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.'

She said her 'mother' has not 'owned up' for any of the abuse children suffered in the cult - blaming it instead on the 'aunties'.

The film also explores how far the reach of The Family stretched - Raynor Johnson who was a key member helped Anne recruit doctors and lawyers to the cult.

 'They only recruited really wealthy people, in fact, or people with status and skills they needed.'

The medical staff and lawyers made it easy for the cult to take babies from single mothers who were pressured into signing their children over.

Other babies were those of cult-followers who didn't want them.

Ben Shenton was given to the cult to be brought up by the charismatic 'mother'.

In 2013 he described his childhood home as being similar to an institution - said the children were forced to do yoga and were fed very little food.

He told the ABC when he wasn't being punished he was helping other children to be punished.

'Removal of food, beatings. Some of them were put outside at night and left outside at different times. Being part of that, helping that to happen because you had feuds with those kids... we grew up controlled and controlling one another.'

Ben was one of the children removed by police in the 1987 raid.

He went to see her in 2011 - and describes the moment as 'closure' on his horrific upbringing.

'It was seeing a final this is who you are ... she had lost her power of me when I was removed from the cult... but I guess it's like closing a door on an event.'

While Anne is in her 80s now with dementia it has been suggested by Jones that between 20 and 30 members of the cult still live in Melbourne.

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