At 15, Ben Shenton discovered he was in a cult. His whole life then suddenly changed.


Ben Shenton was born into a cult.

For the first 15 years of his life he had no idea that his situation was unusual.

He was forced to wear a “uniform” and his hair was dyed blonde.

But, as he told ABC’s You Can’t Ask That on Wednesday night, much weirder things were happening to him on a daily basis.

Ben told his story on this week’s episode of You Can’t Ask That…

“I think the scarier, whackier part of it was the use of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms,” he says. “The leader prescribed these… It was designed to sedate and control.”

Then suddenly, when he was 15 years old, Shenton discovered that his whole life was a lie.

“We hear this running up the steps. Suddenly these police turn up. ‘It’s OK, it’s alright, we’re here to rescue you’,” he explained on the show.

“Rescue… what the heck?” he continued. “So, in my mind, these people were removing me and I fought to stay.

It was only when Shenton was being driven away from the cult’s compound, that he realised he had been held captive for his entire life.

“I remember saying as we were being driven away, ‘This is the end of a chapter, a new page has turned. I’m free’.”

Although it wasn’t mentioned on the show, Shenton was a member of the notorious Australian cult, The Family.

The Family cult operated out of Melbourne from the 1960s to the 1990s. It was led by a woman named Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

At its peak, the cult had hundreds of members. With the help of her followers, Hamilton-Byrne adopted dozens of children. She also encouraged her cult members to give their own children over to her.

Hamilton-Byrne created a ‘school’ for the children at a private Lake Eildon property called Uptop. The children were given matching outfits, their hair was bleached blonde, and their names were changed.

Over the years they suffered horrific physical and mental abuse at the hands of the cult leaders who they called ‘the Aunties’.

Then, in 1987, Victoria federal and local police stormed the compound, and rescued the children.

The children, like Shenton, had to quickly learn how to adjust to normal life outside of the compound.

“At 15, suddenly mum’s not mum. Dad’s not dad. That’s a lie,” Shenton explained during You Can’t Ask That.

“The police aren’t evil, they’re actually there to help me. It’s not reincarnation, there isn’t a master. Suddenly everything that I’ve taken as truth is a lie.

Shenton told the program he struggled to adapt to his new life.

“It’s like taking a kid out of a prison cell and throwing them into the middle of a carnival,” he said.

“I really struggled. I was the weirdo. My nickname in high school was psycho and I was, I couldn’t fit in, couldn’t connect.

“I was weird enough that three boys in my English class made me their project… to normalise me.”

Not long after leaving The Family, Shenton discovered his birth mother was one of the ‘Aunties’.

“Under the direction of the leader she rang me and said ‘Don’t both turning up on my doorstep, you’ll be an embarrassment to me, I’ll slam the door in your face’,” he explained to the camera.

“That terminated any hope of a relationship with her.”

You can catch up on this episode of You Can’t Ask That on ABCiView.