From the 1960s to the 1990s, a cult known as The Family operated out of Melbourne by a woman named Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
At its peak, The Family boasted hundreds of members from top families and high society throughout the city. Doctors, professors, lawyers and psychologists were all members.
During those years and with the help of her followers, Hamilton-Byrne illegally adopted dozens of children and encouraged her followers to give their own biological children over to her. She was preparing the children for life after the impending apocolype, she told her followers. And so along with her husband Bill Hamilton, she created a ‘school’ for the children at a private Lake Eildon property called Uptop.
Once there, the children wore matching outfits, were given matching bleached blonde haircuts, had their names changed, followed a strict daily routine, and suffered horrific physical and mental abuse at the hands of female cult followers known as ‘the Aunties’.
Below is an extract from Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones’ recently released book, The Family, about what life was like for the children at Uptop.
Food was the ultimate battleground. The Aunties ate better-quality food, and while the children were sometimes given such treats as salmon mornay or macaroni cheese, this was a rarity. Survival instincts kicked in, and as the situation worsened they started to steal food from both Uptop and from empty holiday houses nearby. There was a shed near the house where canned food and fresh fruit and vegetables were kept. One of the kids figured out how to unscrew the hinges on the locked door. Anouree went in one night with some others and couldn’t get the bread and canned fish into her mouth fast enough. They were in a hurry, trying to be quiet while eating as quickly as possible. They were overwhelmed and confused and happy in the moment. ‘One of my siblings said, “Come on, come on, Boo, hurry up.” I said, “I can’t. I can’t.”‘
Sarah was the most adventurous of the Uptop children. She was the bravest, others thought, and the wisest. She discovered she could get into an Aunty’s empty caravan at night and make toast and vegemite. But one night she wiped a knife on a tea towel and left a telltale smear of vegemite behind. Anne hit her with a shoe and threw her down a staircase, she tells us, and she had a chair thrown at her.