The end of the world is near. Days are filled with preparations. Fear is high, as eternal blackness is nigh.
Women need to be covered from their neck to their elbows and ankles. Their clothing must be loose so that men cannot see the shape of a woman’s body and be tempted to commit a sin. Women need to learn how to make bread from scratch and how to sew clothes - to be self-sufficient when the apocalypse arrives on their doorstep.
The women prepare the menu and meals for all community members. They serve and clean-up afterwards, too.
There is no contraception. Women should have as many babies as possible. If you look around, there are pregnant 16-year-olds expecting ‘mystical’ babies.
The man is the head of the house. He is the breadwinner, working at the local convenience store for minimum wage.
There is mandatory mass and prayers three times a day. There is a strict hierarchy that includes a leader, an inner circle, and princesses and queens.
Welcome to The Order of St Charbel. On a “sacred” property in Nowra, nestled in NSW’s South Coast, 200 people live in a doomsday cult.
One of them was Claire Ashman.
Ms Ashman had joined the fringe religious group, who claim to be part of the Roman Catholic Church, in February 1997.
It was her husband, whom she had married when she was 19 years old, who forced her to move there. He told her he was attracted to the lifestyle of living in a small community. He was also interested in end-of-the-world prophecies.
“Since he was the breadwinner and controlled all the money, he literally sold our house in Melbourne from underneath us and we moved up to Nowra,” Ms Ashman explains.
“I thought, I'll sacrifice myself for my husband for a few years and then he'll see the futility of it and then we'll move on. But that wasn't the case.”