true crime

LSD, beatings and cigarette burns: The horrifying stories of The Family cult.

It’s been over half a century since a secretive Victorian cult named The Family was created, but 54 years on, its traumatising effects are still being felt by the 28 children held captive by Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

One child was Leanne Creese, a woman who spent 16 years within The Family and says she was fed LSD from the age of just 14 years old.

“It was when we supposedly became initiated into the inner sanctum,” Creese told A Current Affair this week.

the family cult
The Family survivor Leanne Creese. Source: A Current Affair.

Lex de Man, a former Victorian police officer who headed up the task force responsible for investigating The Family following its demise said the practice of feeding LSD to the children was used as a method of control.


"When they [the children] were administered the LSD at night and the room was dark Anne would appear at the doorway with a bright light behind her with dry ice in a bucket," he said, adding "and through the hallucinogenic process they would wake up and believe they had seen Jesus Christ."

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Created in 1963 by yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne and physicist Dr Raynor Johnson, The Family believed an apocalyptic war was coming and, through the help of its 500-strong followers began 'acquiring' Victorian children in a bid to create a surviving master race.

Of the 28 children held at The Family's Lake Eildon property, it is believed up to 14 were the biological children of Anne and her husband William (Bill) Hamilton-Byrne. According to former members of The Family, the remaining children were recruited and obtained through unorthodox and irregular adoptions.

The children were home-schooled on the property, dressed in matching uniforms and given identical bleach-blonde haircuts.

Their real names and ages were often kept from them.

When the children misbehaved, they were subjected to beatings and starvation. Adam Whitaker, a survivor of The Family, says when he misbehaved, Hamilton-Byrne and his mother (another high-profile member of the cult) burnt his hands with a cigarette lighter.

the family book
Children of The Family. Source: The Family documentary / Youtube.

According to Hamilton-Byrne, who believed herself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, it was her divine duty to gather the children and ready them for the new, post-apocalyptic world.

Now, thanks to the release of a book and film of the same name, the lid on its illegal and secretive practices is finally being lifted, but the fallout from The Family is far from over.

Eventually rescued by Victorian police in 1987, the children held by the Hamilton-Byrnes say forgetting what happened at the farm is not something that will ever be possible.

the family book
Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Source: A Current Affair.

"What Anne indoctrinated people with, she took them as vulnerable people and came up with a system which was very abusive. If they disagree they were bullied, intimidated, people were separated from their families," survivor Ben Shenton told The Today Show.

"She came up with an ideology that appeared to help people to begin with, but as soon as they disagreed, they were thrown out of the cult, people were put into mental hospitals."

Perhaps the most traumatic fact of all for survivors, though, is that neither Anne or Bill ever faced prison time for their actions. Instead, the pair were fined a mere $5,000 each and spared any kind of criminal record.

the family cult
Former police investigator Lex de Man. Source: The Family / Youtube.

And while Bill died in 2001, Anne is still alive. Now aged 96, she spends her days in a Melbourne nursing home, with land holdings worth an estimated $10 million. Calls have been made for the estate's worth to be distributed among The Family's victims, but whether or not that will ever come to pass is still unknown.

The Family is in Victorian cinemas from 23 February 2017. The Family will show in NSW cinemas from March.