Sneaking Around the Headquarters of Australia’s Most Notorious Cult

In 1987, police raided properties owned by the 'The Family' to confirm they'd beaten, starved and drugged 14 children raised in isolation.

David Allegretti

David Allegretti

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.

Creepily beautiful.

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.

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