Based in hills outside of Melbourne in the mid-60s, "The Family" was a new age cult brought together by a yoga teacher named Anne Hamilton-Byrne. In the usual way, Anne declared herself Christ incarnate and disseminated a religious doctrine mashing together Christianity with Eastern mysticism. Then, despite being the subject of a numerous disturbing allegations, the Family quietly grew over the next two decades, amassing a small fortune along the way.
In 1987 the Australian Federal Police raided a Family property at Eildon to remove six children brought up in virtual isolation. Mostly adopted, a total of 14 children had been raised between Eildon and Mt Dandenong to believe they were the biological offspring of Hamilton-Byrne, and were dressed in identical outfits with hair dyed the same peroxide blonde. They'd been beaten, starved, and regularly forced to take psychedelic drugs, including LSD.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne never went to jail, and now suffers dementia in a Melbourne nursing home. Thus the group has lacked a leader and has gradually receded from view. Then in April, Fairfax described the legal battle over the cult's Mt Dandenong headquarters, which have been valued at around $1.5 million. As a member named Michael Stevenson-Helmer told Fairfax, "In the good old days it was packed, but now the world works its way and people are too busy or too tired or too old. I suppose it happens to every institution or church as people get older."
I wasn't sure if that meant it was used or left to rot. I wanted to see it myself, but several emails and calls went unanswered. So curiosity compelled me to drive over, and that's how I find myself standing outside their gate.
Well, that's unfortunate.
I jump the fence and walk for a while. All I see is trees and grass. Nothing too culty so far.
Then I see a building that reminds me of my old primary school chapel. I still can't decide which creeps me out more. I pick up a small stick from the ground to use as a weapon in case things go wrong. Nine-year-old me thinks this is badass. Current me is shitting himself.
Is that a dog bowl? I love dogs, but I don't need bunch of Mr Burns-esque hounds mauling me to sloppy slithers.
Looks like nobody's home.
Isn't it funny how when you're trying to be quiet every step you take sounds like a sumo wrestler falling into a pool of Pringles?
I try knocking. Nothing.
Well, it would be plain rude not to use the ladder.
The roof proves unspectacular.
This thing was pretty neat.
I turn a corner and noticed a light on. I knock but nobody answers. Inside the room sits a small desk with a few papers scattered around and a single pen. Just outside of camera view is a single bed.
I decide to keep exploring and find this cool path. A bird bath, but no birds. Illuminati confirmed.
I trudge through some shrubbery and eventually arrive at another open plain. Then, in the most cliché manner possible, I hear a twig break behind me. Okay I'm fucked now. Fight or flight; but I do neither. Instead I slowly turn and see...
A fucking emu.
I just had to get a selfie, even if it came out blurred.
Amongst the bushes in the distance I find a semi-secret path. Time to venture down the rabbit hole.
Looks like an ordinary home from here.
This is the point where I realise if I die today, there's a whole Snickers bar at home that I haven't eaten. Fuck.
Yeah, nobody's living here.
I decide to chill with new emu friend for a bit in an attempt to gather information, but he doesn't talk. They've trained him well.
I bid farewell to new emu friend and decide to go home and eat my Snickers. If there was a cult operating on this property, they haven't been here in a while.
Follow David on Twitter