Stolen at birth and given mind-altering drugs, here's what became of child cult The Family.

In 1987 a frightened teenage girl escaped from a remote lakeside compound outside of Melbourne, and the story she was desperate to tell triggered an immediate police response before making news headlines across the world.

She was one of 28 children being raised in The Family, a cult that was grooming and abusing children as part of a bizarre experiment set to raise a ‘master race’ who would save the world after Armageddon.

The apocalyptic group was being led by a glamorous and charismatic woman called Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a yoga teacher who some of the cult followers believed was really Jesus Christ in a female form.

Along with her husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne, Anne was able to “collect” numerous children over the years through adoption scams, taking the children born of cult members or enticing single mothers to hand their babies over to her.

The children of The Family were kept away from the world, home-schooled in the isolated compound and dressed identically with their hair dyed blonde. They lived a regimented life controlled by a group of ‘Aunties’ under Anne’s supervision, who had also managed to lure many wealthy professionals to her cult, including psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers, nurses, architects and scientists.

What followed was a five-year police investigation into The Family and the Hamilton-Byrnes that spanned three continents, and more disturbing stories involving near starvation, emotional manipulation, physical abuse and dosing with LSD and tranquillisers from within the compound began to emerge

Now, thanks to a new three-part documentary series set to air on the ABC entitled The Cult of The Family, new details around the fall-out of this compelling Australian story are brought to light.


The Cult of The Family excavates the evidence gathered by police and takes testimony from cult survivors, their relatives and those who are only now prepared to speak on the record. Drawing on revelatory new research including police interviews, cult movie footage and interviews with survivors, the documentary tells the strange and shocking story of one of the most bizarre cults in modern history.

"The apocalyptic group was being led by a glamorous and charismatic woman called Anne Hamilton-Byrne." Source: ABC.

The documentary also covers how the children rescued from the cult struggled to establish a ‘normal’ life following their rescue and the court case. They discovered they have been lied to about the identity of their biological parents and what follows is a difficult investigation to match DNA and discover the truth behind their forged birth records.


Along with examining the mysterious past of Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who adopted false surnames and has changed her appearance through cosmetic surgery, the documentary will also give audiences a look into where some of the children raised in The Family are today.

There is Leeanne Creese, who was the oldest child at Lake Eildon and lived there for 16 years. She was the first to escape and, along with another of the girls being held in the cult, helped initiate the rescue of her siblings. She is now a mother to two children who are both studying at university and works as a Contracts Administrator.

Adam Lancaster (formerly known as Roland Whitaker) is the adopted son of two prominent members of The Family and his adopted mother Elizabeth Whitaker had a reputation as the cruelest of the ‘Aunties’ who looked after the blonde children of the cult. Adam is now in his mid-40s and since the death of Elizabeth has gone on to form close bonds with his birth family.

There is also Anouree who was handed over to Anne and Bill when she was between three and four years old. She grew up at Lake Eildon not knowing that Bill was actually her biological grandfather, rather than the father she believed him to be. After she was rescued from Lake Eildon, she studied film at Melbourne's RMIT and taught English in Japan. She is currently living in Scotland.


The Cult of The Family director Rosie Jones said she was amazed to discover that the full story of this incredible social experiment hadn’t been told before.

"I first came across this story while I was researching an earlier film, Westall '66: A Suburban UFO Mystery," she told Mamamia in a statement. " I discovered that one of the adult witnesses at Westall was a member of The Family and it wrecked her life. Her poignant story rekindled the fascination I’ve had with the sect since I first read about the police raid on Lake Eildon in 1987.

"Set against contemporary revelations of child abuse on a massive scale, it’s a rich but disturbing story about belief, love and the notion of ‘family’. By delving into the dark parts of our collective history, the series explores what it is to be human, capable of the best and worst behaviour.

"Our story is driven by Lex de Man, a charismatic detective who dedicated five years of his life to investigating The Family. It took me a year to gain Lex’s trust and permission to tell his side of the story. He introduced me to Adam/Roland, one of the sect children, and over three years of research, other former ‘children’, sect members and ‘insiders’ began to talk to me. What they told me was moving, shocking and profound, all at the same time. Their courage and resilience is inspiring and transcends this story.

"There’s an urgency for this story to be told. Surviving sect members are in their 70s and 80s. I hope the series is a similarly positive experience for those who had the courage to speak out and reveal their stories."

The Cult of The Family will air on ABC on Tuesdays at 8.30pm from March 12. All three episodes will be available on ABC iview following the broadcast launch.


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