Carole Cusack

The Family (Australia)


1921:  Anne Hamilton-Byrne (formerly Evelyn Grace Victoria Edwards) was born.

1941:  Evelyn married Lionel Harris under the name Anne Hamilton; her mother Florence Edwards was first hospitalized with schizophrenia.

1962:  On 22 December Anne met English physicist Dr. Raynor Johnson, the Master of Queen’s College, University of Melbourne. He became John the Baptist to her Jesus Christ.

1965:  Anne married Michael Riley. They divorced the following year.

1978:  Anne married her partner, Englishman Bill Byrne (the couple had used Hamilton-Byrne as their surname for some years).

1987:  Raynor Johnson died at Upper Ferntree Gully on 16 May. Sarah Hamilton-Byrne was thrown out by Anne for rebellious behavior, and went to the police. Kai Lama (Uptop) on Lake Eildon was raided by federal police in August, and the children Anne had acquired were taken into custody.

1988:  Further police raids on properties owned by The Family resulted in the prosecution and conviction of eight women (“aunties”) for social security fraud.

1995:  Sarah Hamilton-Byrne (formerly Andrée Hamilton-Byrne, later Sarah Moore) published Unseen, Unheard, Unknown: My Life in The Family of Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

1998:  Carmel Bird’s fictionalized version of Anne’s story, Red Shoes, based on Unseen, Unheard, Unknown was published.

2001:  Bill Hamilton-Byrne died.

2004:  Anne Hamilton-Byrne entered an aged care facility due to a diagnosis of dementia.

2016:  Sarah Moore died from unspecified causes, possibly as a result of health complications resulting from a suicide attempt in 2008.

2017:  Anne Hamilton-Byrne resided at Centennial Lodge Nursing Home, Wantirna South (Victoria). Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones published The Family. The accompanying documentary by Jones, The Family, was shown in cinemas in Australia and worldwide.

2019 (June 13):  Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who had been in palliative care for some time, died at the Centennial Lodge Nursing Home at age ninety-seven.


Anne Hamilton-Byrne was born Evelyn Grace Victoria Edwards on December 30, 1921 in Sale, Victoria. [Image at right] Her parents were Ralph Edwards (d. 1966), who was born in Melbourne and fought in World War I, and his second wife Florence Hoile (d. 1971), whom he had met and married in London (Mikul 1999:48).  Evelyn was the oldest of seven children and grew up in poverty with largely absent parents. Her mother had schizophrenia and was hospitalized in four mental institutions in the Melbourne area from 1941. Evelyn spent some time in the OId Melbourne Orphanage and was attending Sunshine Primary School at age eight in 1929. Her teenage years are thinly documented, but at twenty in 1941 she had changed her name to Anne Hamilton, and she married Lionel Harris, the father of her only biological child, Judith Harris (later known as Natasha Hamilton-Byrne). Her husband was killed in a car accident in 1955, and in 1965 she married Michael Riley, a gardener and caterer at Queen’s College, University of Melbourne. This brief marriage lasted approximately one year, but in 1962 Riley had introduced Anne to the Master Queen’s College, Dr Raynor Carey Johnson (1901-1987), an English physicist and mystic, who became her closest associate in The Family. Anne, who presented herself as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, nominated Johnson as her John the Baptist (Steel 2017). Early in 1963 Johnson, his daughter Maureen and wife Mary, and four others became Anne’s first seven followers in a group then called the Great White Brotherhood of Initiates and Masters (Johnston and Jones 2016:24-26).

Anne and Raynor were both seekers who had explored various religious and spiritual paths before they met. After Anne’s first husband died in 1955 she emerged as a teacher of yoga in Melbourne and Geelong, training and working with Margrit Segesman, a Swiss woman who “lived in Indian ashrams and followed a Tibetan guru … [and] claimed to have lived in an Indian cave for five years” (Johnston and Jones 2016:12). By the time she and Raynor met, Anne was conversant with Theosophy (founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott in 1875), Anthroposophy (founded by ex-Theosophist Rudolf Steiner in 1912), and the works of several Indian gurus, like Paramahansa Yogananda who published Autobiography of a Guru in 1946, and Swami Muktananda, whom she acknowledged as her teacher. Unlike Anne, who had no professional or academic qualifications, Raynor graduated Bachelor of Arts/ Master of Arts (1922-1924) from Balliol College, Oxford, and later studied for a Bachelor of Science, a Doctor of Philosophy, and Doctorate of Science (1922-1927) at the University of London.  He moved to Australia to take up the position at Queen’s College in 1934, and met Ambrose Pratt, a journalist, solicitor and novelist who was interested in Buddhism and Hinduism. After Pratt died in 1944 Raynor published four popular books on the occult and the paranormal, “The Imprisoned Splendour (1953), Nurslings of Immortality (1957), Watcher on the Hills (1959) and The Light and the Gate (1964)” (Parnaby 2007). In 1963, Raynor and Mary went to India to meet two distinguished teachers, “Vinoba Bhave at Santiniketan, an ashram founded by Rabindranath Tagore, and Swami Pratyagatmananda at Calcutta” (Parnaby 2007). This tour to India was cut short by Mary’s severe illness, which Anne had predicted in her first meeting with Raynor Johnson. This was one of the proofs that led the Johnson family to commit themselves to Anne.

Anne had begun acquiring followers among the women who attended her yoga classes, and her process of personal transformation included frequent plastic surgery that rendered her far younger than her actual age (Raynor estimated her age at thirty at their first meeting, but she was in fact forty-one). Many of her closest followers in the twenty-five years from meeting Johnson in 1962 to the police raid on properties owned by The Family in 1987 were women who were in unhappy marriages that Anne managed to bind to herself in relationships of unswerving loyalty (Polcyn and Richardson 2017a). The “aunties” who lived with the children on Lake Eildon (Patricia [Trish] Macfarlane, Elizabeth [Liz] Whitaker, Margot MacLellan [born Peggy Warren] and Wynn Belman) were among this group (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:39). During the 1960s, Raynor introduced Anne to his friends and associates, most of whom were successful professionals, including lawyers, doctors, teachers, and psychiatrists. Howard Whitaker, a psychiatrist, was practicing at a private hospital called Newhaven in the elite suburb of Kew, with two other Family psychiatrists (Harry Bethune and John Mackay). Newhaven was to become a source of new disciples, and later the babies Anne desired. Anne valued medical followers, as she required copious amounts of drugs, including psychedelics and tranquillizers, for use in rituals and to control the children she began illegally adopting from 1969. LSD was regarded with sacramental awe, and was used in the initiation ritual known as “going through.” Magic mushrooms were also used, and were referred to as “sacred manna” (Johnston and Jones 2016).

The Family began acquiring properties in the Dandenong Ranges, an area of natural beauty and national parks around thirty-five kilometres east of the city of Melbourne. These properties included Anne’s house Winberra in Ferny Creek, the purpose-built Santiniketan (“Abode of Peace”) Lodge (the ritual centre of The Family, also in Ferny Creek). There was also Kai Lama (referred to colloquially as Uptop) on Lake Eildon, a resort approximately 150 kilometres north–east of Melbourne. Anne also bought properties in England and America, including Broom Farm, a Tudor house in Kent. Sarah Hamilton-Byrne summed up Anne’s wealth as follows:

Judging by all the real estate she owns throughout the world I estimate she is worth at least 150 million dollars. Broom Farm, with its three-storey mansion and 40 hectares or so of farmland, must be worth several million dollars alone. She owns at least one more English house. There is one in Crowborough and, I think, in Redhill. She and her companies, Fafette and Audette, owns at least a dozen houses in Ferny Creek and another house in Olinda. She and Bill have, or did have a few years ago, a huge property just outside Traralgon. In the United States the large property in the Catskill Mountains outside New York has three houses on it. And of course there was Uptop, 2.5 hectares of waterfront land in the popular holiday area of Lake Eildon (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:107).

The Family was in the media constantly after the 1987 raid, and a group of police officers and a crusading journalist, Marie Mohr, spearheaded the attempt to locate Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne and bring them back to Australia to face court action. Operation Forest was led by a senior detective, Lex de Man, who had been given a team of five by the Drug Squad, which had become interested in The Family (Johnston and Jones 2016:85).


Anne combined Eastern religious concepts with some Christian ideas in a “New Age” way to produce an original synthesis. It is interesting that she did not publish her ideas in books as Barry Long (1926-2003), probably the best-known Australian teacher in the Indian tradition, and Anne’s contemporary, did (Tempest 2017). Rather, she recommended various spiritual writers that her followers read attentively, including Paramahansa Yogananda, Muktananda, and Paul Brunton, a neo-Hindu student of Ramana Maharshi and author of The Secret Path: A Technique of Spiritual Self-Discovery for the Modern World (1934). Peter Kibby, chief lawyer of The Family, recalled Anne reading to him from Joseph Leeming’s Yoga and the Bible (1963). When Anne met Raynor Johnson in 1962 she told him her students were reading G. I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949), the Greek-Armenian esoteric spiritual teacher, presumably via P. D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (1949) and Gurdjieff’s own Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950). The doctrine Anne taught was apocalyptic: as the Christ of this age in female form, she had manifested to inform people of the imminent end of the world (Polcyn and Richardson 2017b). However, she had devised an intricate plan to ensure that her followers would survive the coming destruction. The unpublished diary of Raynor Johnson, in a section called “Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me,” states:

Viewed as a piece of organization, with devoted and sacrificial help, it is staggering in its outlook, yet it was planned with consciousness of its magnitude and the great responsibility of its undertaking … Only a great Master, equally at home in this world and the next, could have hoped to carry it through. It amounted to this … a group of children, some already born here, some yet to be born, were brought together, fostered and adopted and trained from the beginning of their lives in as perfect conditions as could be provided. Their health was meticulously supervised and all aspects of their welfare and education were considered and provided for. Before they came it was known by the Master when and where and to what parents they were coming and what qualities they potentially brought wit them from past lives … It is safe to say that the future age will see them, unknown though they are, as custodians and continuers of the work their Master has set going in many parts of the world (quoted in Johnston and Jones 2016:29).

What this passage alluded to was the most notorious aspect of The Family, without which Anne Hamilton-Byrne would not be regarded with such hostility today. From 1969, Anne acquired and adopted fourteen children, who lived at Uptop with other children who were born into The Family but were not adopted by Anne. They were brought up by the aunties in a strict regime of yoga, meditation, spiritual study, and vegetarianism, punctuated by violent beatings, dosing with both prescription and illegal drugs, and near-starvation. The children’s story was told when Sarah Hamilton-Byrne published a book, the title of which referenced The Family’s motto (which emphasized Anne’s commitment to secrecy), Unseen, Unheard, Unknown: My Life in The Family of Anne Hamilton-Byrne (1995).\

When Sarah left Uptop in 1987 with the help of friends whom she had met at ballroom dancing classes (Cathy, Helen and their mother Erica), she went to the police. After hearing her story, Uptop was raided and the children were taken into custody. Three years later in 1990, Lex de Man caught The Family’s lawyer Peter Kibby for having fraudulently produced a statutory declaration, and Kibby then was interviewed by Operation Forest for four months (Johnston and Jones 2016:134-35). He revealed the processes by which Anne had acquired the children who bore her name, which included falsifying birth records, illegally confiscating babies from unmarried girls and psychiatric patients, and Anne’s habit of faking pregnancies and wearing maternity clothes long past her being of childbearing age (which was accepted as she looked much younger than she was). The children, who were often photographed in identical, old-fashioned clothes, and with identical peroxided fair are a recognizable image of the group, [Image at right] as are the photographs of Anne in expensive clothes and jewelry, glamorous in her famous blonde wigs (Cusack 2016:259). The children’s routine at Kai Lama, described by Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, is a fascinating source for the beliefs and practices of The Family. It is important to note, however, that there is, to date, no academic research on The Family and sources are restricted to ex-member testimonies, print media reports, online podcasts, and the documentary and book produced by journalist Chris Johnston and filmmaker Rosie Jones in 2016. The discourse of “cults,” charismatic leaders, control, abuse and crime is regularly encountered in coverage of Anne Hamilton-Byrne and The Family. It has been alleged that Anne vetted the children “for racial purity and soundness of stock” (Mikul 1999:49).

Sarah described the dull, unvarying routine at Uptop that began at 6 AM. The children made their beds, and the boys and girls showered on alternate days. There was an hour of Hatha yoga, fifteen minutes listening to Anne’s sermons or Swami Muktananda’s teachings, fifteen minutes of mantra chanting, fifteen minutes of meditation, and fifteen minutes to set up the schoolroom. Breakfast was two hours after they rose, and was fruit only. After breakfast was three hours of schoolwork with a short break halfway through, then one hour of meditation or playing spaceball (a game devised by Anne that was boring to play), and a small lunch of fruit and steamed vegetables. The next three and a half hours involved lessons, a short break, and packing up the schoolroom. From 5 PM to 9 PM the children meditated, ate a “bland vegetarian meal,” read spiritual texts, and did their homework before going to bed (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:20-21). Sarah was the first to draw attention to the dietary regime to which children were subjected. Jessie Meikle has argued that what she terms “imposed anorexia” is a method of control in certain “ideological groups,” because it makes members weak and disoriented (Meikle 2005:44). Sarah observed that,

Weighing was a very serious business—particularly serious for us because if it was considered that we were putting on too much weight we would have our food rations cut down and that was a dreadful proposition, food being the most important thing in our lives. We girls viewed the scales with hatred. They made our miserable lives even worse. Some of the girls would even try to induce vomiting on weighing mornings in an attempt to seem lighter (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:22).

Meikle proposes that Anne (a plump child nicknamed “Puddy” who was voluptuous despite liposuction procedures as an adult) projected her own negative self-image onto the girls, who were often pot-bellied from malnutrition, and ate stolen food, birdseed and grasses, to assuage their hunger. The regimented life at Uptop resulted in a group of perpetually hungry and desperate children; Sarah’s account is confirmed by the testimony of Anouree, another Family child (Marshall 2017:73). When taken into custody the youngest child, whom Sarah calls “Cassandra” (who was eleven at the time and requested anonymity of Johnston and Jones), “weighed only 20 kilograms and was under 120 centimetres … ‘she looked like a four- or five-year-old’ says Sarah” (Johnston and Jones 2016:105). The little girl grew eleven centimetres in her first year of freedom, but had few memories of her troubled childhood.


The ritual life of The Family was complex, and operated in different ways for select groups within the organization. The construction of Santiniketan Lodge in Ferny Creek provided a theatre for Anne to exhibit her distinctive mixture of glamour and charisma. Although she and Bill were often in the United Kingdom or in America, meetings were held twice weekly. If Anne was not present, the faithful listened to her sermon recorded on tape. Carmel Bird, whose fictionalized account of The Family tells of Petra Penfold Knight and Dr Irving Clay, the founders of the “Hill House Brethren,” a religious group that steals children and dresses them in red shoes, presents Petra as beautiful, sexually cold, given to wearing blue gowns, and entering a room full of devotees to the accompaniment of Handel’s “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” (Bird 1998:223). The reality was that Anne too favoured blue gowns and was excessively modest and unwilling to ever be seen in a state of undress. She projected this prudishness on the girls at Uptop, who were made to feel dirty and sexual about normal physical processes such as maturation and menstruation (Johnston and Jones 2016:49). Anne entered meetings of The Family at Santiniketan Lodge with Handel’s “Largo” playing, and distributed photographs of herself for group members to venerate in their homes.

The followers of Anne Hamilton-Byrne gave her total obedience. It is difficult to understand how this happened, but her control over members included breaking up existing marriages and mandating new relationships.  Anne was believed to be capable of performing miracles. In the early stages of her relationship with Raynor Johnson, Anne demonstrated her power by allegedly curing her daughter Judith (later Natasha), who was in a car accident and was diagnosed with a fractured skull and a damaged eye (Johnston and Jones 2016:20). Raynor Johnson believed in the spirit help that Anne exercised, that enabled Judith to leave hospital earlier than expected and to recover fully from her injuries. The first relationship that Anne broke up was between Trish Macfarlane and Don Webb, who were experiencing difficulties after the death of their son Adrian in 1967. Anne commanded that Don move in with Liz Whitaker (who had to separate from her husband Howard), then Trish took up with John Mackay. Johnston and Jones note that Anne also mandated cosmetic surgery for female followers and “other cult women began wearing blonde wigs, as Anne did” (Johnston and Jones 2016:41). These artificially constructed relationships were rarely successful, but had the effect of binding individuals ever more closely to Anne.

The use of hallucinogens by Family members could be profitably regarded as part of the ritual life of the group. It seems that from the initiation of Anne’s first seven followers in 1963 she administered psychedelic drugs in particular contexts. It is not possible to know whether Anne herself ever took drugs, but it seems unlikely as she was always in control and the loss of control by the devotee strengthened her hold over them. Raynor Johnson wrote a lengthy account of his initiation, in which he took psychedelic drugs and encountered Anne as the Christ, existing in the highest state of consciousness:

Anne decided to rise to that high state of consciousness known to Masters and God-conscious souls as “Samadhi” … Her face became, to my human eyes, supernaturally beautiful and She spoke with authority and divine power as one might imagine the Christ would do if speaking in the first person to each person there. Looking around slowly … She said “Do you know who I am? I and my Father are one. My peace I leave with you. You will be my gurus, all of you … She said that he would never again experience such a visitation from her as Jesus, but to know that She was Him, “the Master of Masters Himself” (Johnston and Jones 2017:25-26).

From that day on Raynor often took psilocybin or LSD in Anne’s presence and would kneel as her feet, experiencing darshan (viewing of a deity) during these “sacred hours.” Anne told him that the world would end in 1983, and that her divine status and mission must not be revealed, because the “forces of evil were always looking for ways to frustrate the work. The plan for her was to work unseen, unheard and unknown” (Johnston and Jones 2017:26).

Sarah Hamilton-Byrne’s experience of the “going through” initiation, which she underwent at age fourteen, was far less benign that Johnson’s. In 1984, she experienced several traumas, including: her name being changed from Andrée to Sarah; her nationality being changed from Australian to New Zealander; becoming a triplet with two boys in The Family (discussed below); and travelling to England for her “going-through” ritual (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:139). She described the preparation for this initiation: reading Yoga and the Bible; days of sleep deprivation; eating toast for breakfast and being bathed by Anne; and being put to bed and dosed with LSD and another unknown pill. Sarah knew that she was supposed to recognize Anne as the Christ and other aspects of the content of the “going-through” ritual, but felt only terrible fear. After approximately twenty-four hours, Anne gave her more LSD, and Sarah was, after that, unable to recall how long she kept drugged. She says that:

Anne came in once or twice, and also sent messengers to say that I should prepare for a spiritual experience and that I should repent of my selfishness and my sluttish desire to be raped …Eventually Anne came in once more, and made me curl into a ball, so that I could regress to babyhood … She gave me some more LSD and told me to keep working and that I would get some good insights into myself before long … The drugs made it difficult to tell what was real and what was hallucination. I am not sure what happened after that. I remember the door opened and a doctor came … He sat on the bed. He said I was evil … subconsciously I was wanting to be raped. I didn’t know what he meant by this … He told me he was going to give me an operation “to mix up your insides so you will never be able to have children” and that I would never want to think about sex again because I would be sick if I did … He had a knife. I think he cut me. I remember screaming. I thought I felt the knife deep inside me. In the redness of the pain I heard Anne’s laughter. She was in the room watching, goading him on. I thought that I heard her yelling, “Perhaps that will teach you, you whore, you slut. We will give you what you want.” I passed out (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:144-45).

It is clear that Sarah is not an objective or dispassionate witness to the “going-through” ritual, but other survivors including Anouree Treena-Byrne (whose mother was treated with LSD at Newhaven and later committed suicide) and Ben Shenton, whose autobiographical memoir Life Behind the Wire will be published in 2018, have confirmed her account as broadly true (McKenzie 2017; Marshall 2017). Treena-Byrne and Shenton are now middle-aged, and are among the more “successful” of the survivors of The Family, both having moved on to new lives. Marie Mohr, the journalist who had doggedly investigated The Family, became a close friend to Sarah, who lived with her for a time. Sarah, who studied medicine and practiced as a doctor, was admired by the other children as a leader, and later a liberator, but her traumatic childhood resulted in multiple suicide attempts. In 2008, one of these attempts resulted in the amputation of her lower leg. She died in 2016 and the precise cause of death has not been revealed. Her Buddhist-themed funeral was attended by Mohr, Lex de Man and his colleague Peter Spence, Anouree, Ben (now a Christian pastor), and Leeanne, her closest friends among the children of The Family. Michael Stevenson-Helmer, who remains loyal to Anne, came to disrupt the funeral, accusing Sarah of being a liar and proclaiming Anne’s divinity for one last time (Johnston and Jones 2016:262-63).

The ritual life of the group was limited in the sense that it principally involved reading neo-Hindu texts, meditating and doing yoga, venerating photographs of Anne in their domestic contexts, and listening to Anne’s “discourses” in person or in recorded form at Santiniketan Lodge. The initiation or “going-through” was the most extreme experience that members of The Family underwent, and it served to bind them to Anne. The taking of hallucinogens was a practice that members engaged with regularly, and the visions they received were viewed as evidence of the truth of Anne’s teachings.


The Family was controlled by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, with senior members including her John the Baptist, Raynor Johnson, her most trusted psychiatrist, Howard Whitaker, and the chief solicitor of The Family, Peter Kibby. It is difficult to see clearly any lines of authority that lead to a better understanding of the movement. Anne’s husband Bill was the subject of affection for many of the children who thought he was their biological father. However, it was clear to members that handsome, well-dressed Bill was without true power, and Anouree Treena-Byrne has gone so far as to term him “another victim” of Anne (Marshall 2017:74). It seems that in the 1960s The Family was not as authoritarian or harsh as it later became, and it was only in 1969 that Anne’s plan to adopt the children was revealed. The life led by the children at Kai Lama was dominated by dietary restrictions and educational strictures, mentioned above. In 1984, [Image at right] The Family had Kai Lama registered as a school, Aquinel College in 1984 and the children were coached to pass the annual inspection, so that they could continue to be taught by The Family members Helen and Leon Dawes and fly under the radar (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:97). The members of The Family turned over the majority of their income to Anne, which explains why she became so wealthy when the group never had more than a few hundred members (Mikul 1999:49).

Anne was involved in complex legal deceptions, such as changing the names and birthdates of the children and of other Family members. Thus Beryl Hubble, Raynor Johnson’s youngest daughter, was known as Christine Fleming, and legally changed her name to Anne Hamilton-Byrne to be able to fraudulently sign documents as Anne.  Sarah records that:

Possibly to explain why we were all so close in size and age, Anne created groupings of triplets and twins, which would be changed whenever it suited her. For example, I was a “single” until I was about 7, then she decided I was Stephen’s twin. Stephen and I were very close at this time. He had been born congenitally blind and with a form of autism that meant he did not learn to speak until very late … I think that because I had befriended him … Anne decided we should be called twins for a while. This lasted for about a year or two, then she decided I was a “single” again. Finally, when I was 14, I became a triplet with Luke and Timothy (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:10).

Sarah and her triplet “brothers” were said to have been born in Auckland, New Zealand. This passage demonstrates Anne’s power over facts, and her ability to alter reality at will. She taught a version of reality that bore little resemblance to the lives of her followers. She said cruelty was a sin: “If anyone can be cruel, they are better off asking God Almighty to take them now. Don’t let us hurt or cause suffering in any way or any level … death is preferable” (Johnston and Jones 2017:45).

Yet there are other aspects of Anne’s character and life in The Family that merit attention. Many commentators have noted that dogs and cats were especially beloved of Anne. There were always large numbers of dogs on Anne’s various properties, and even larger numbers of cats. Sarah Hamilton-Byrne describes the death of a dog called Joshua in the following way, which indicates Anne’s belief in reincarnation for animals as well as for humans:

He was taken to Anne’s room and for three days we had to sit around him in a vigil, praying beside the dead dog, with incense burning and Handel’s “Largo” playing in the background. It was the middle of summer and after a few days Joshua started to stink. At dawn on the fourth day we buried him in the garden, a ritual that was supposed to allow his soul to move on to the next level more easily. This ritual was observed with all the animals that died Uptop [sic] (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:83).

This interest in animals, particularly cats and dogs, reflected Anne’s interest in Eastern religions and prefigures the evolution of the Santiniketan Park Association (a legal entity  created while Anne and Bill were living in New York state after the Operation Forest raids in 1987) into the animal welfare group Life for All Creatures, now based at Crowther House (one of Anne’s former residences) and registered in the names of The Family members Tim Mackay and David Munroe (and linked previously to Helen McCoy) (Johnston and Jones 2016:244-45).


The exposure of The Family to media coverage began in 1980 when a little girl called Kim Halm, age ten, went missing. Her mother Patricia Halm was a member of The Family and her father Hans Halm went to the police in order to get his daughter back. The case went to court, and two of Anne’s followers, lawyer Peter Kibby and doctor Christabel Wallace, both testified against Hans Halm. The judge ruled they did not answer questions honestly, and ordered Patricia Halm to return Kim, issuing a warrant for her arrest. Johnston and Jones state that “a week later, in September 1983, mother and daughter were found in Auckland, New Zealand; they were using the names Jeannette Berger and Jeannette De Haven and were using a motel as a contact address” (Johnston and Jones 2016:56). Kim Halm had been abducted by her mother, so the case did not spark an enquiry into The Family. The next year, 1984, was important because Victorian state adoption laws were changed to give adopted children access to birth records. After the 1987 raid on Uptop, an adoption worker named Bryan Cussen was given the task of finding the children’s birth parents. He was assisted by Marie Mohr, who ran a telethon asking women in Victoria to tell their stories, and the then state Premier, John Cain, ordered an inquiry into the legal processes of adoption (Johnston and Jones 2016:74-77).

Operation Forest continued investigating The Family and charged two members with drug offences after “two kilograms of marijuana” was found on a property belonging to the group (Johnston and Jones 2016:144). Since approximately 1970 when Howard Whitaker left The Family, long-standing and important members had departed. This intensified after the 1987 raids, and by the time Anne and Bill were put on trial the group was significantly reduced in numbers, with little or no likelihood of new members. Peter Kibby, Barbara Kibby, Trish Macfarlane, and others gave Lex de Man and his team all the information that they needed. Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne were extradited from the United States after being arrested by the FBI in Hurleyville, New York state, on June 4, 1993, and were held in custody. Johnston and Jones report that fifty members of The Family met at Santiniketan Lodge to discuss how to handle the crisis. The American authorities let the Hamilton-Byrnes out on bail, and Lex de Man flew to the U.S. to escort them home. The trial took place in November 1993, and the convictions recorded were for minor offences, and they each paid a $5,000 fine (Johnston and Jones 2016:233).

Anne appeared in the media a few times, and talked down the accusations that had been made against her. She told Ranald Macdonald, an ABC interviewer, that she was not a religious teacher, that she had never used drugs, that she had taught yoga and worked at Newhaven, and that she had been approached to arrange the adoption of “a bunch of handicapped children” (Johnston and Jones 2016:236). The Family children were angered by the lenient treatment she and Bill received (which was due to the fact that a Melbourne court could not hear charges that belonged under the jurisdiction of New Zealand), though some remained loyal. Bill Hamilton-Byrne died in 2001, and by 2004 Anne was in a nursing home, having been diagnosed with dementia.

In 2017, the principal challenge facing The Family was that Anne Hamilton-Byrne was ninety-six years old and suffering from dementia. The group had shrunk to a few loyal followers who care for her, including Michael Stevenson-Helmer, the nephew of Sir Zelman Cowen (1919-2011), the former Governor-General of Australia. Stevenson-Helmer said Anne inhabits Christ consciousness and has power; he rejected the medical diagnosis of dementia. He told Johnston and Jones:

The people who think she is demented don’t understand where she is coming from … They come in occasionally, when their diary allows them, and Anne doesn’t want them there or doesn’t want to speak to them, or she withdraws into an inner world where she doesn‘t communicate. They think it’s dementia but it is not. It’s another dimension. I can’t understand who some people want to turn her into something negative (Johnston and Jones 2016:245-46).

Since the release of Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones’ book and documentary on The Family in late 2016, the children of the group (especially Anouree, Ben and Leeanne) have appeared in the press, including Australian newspapers and magazines, and international publications. Overwhelmingly, these articles repeat the same limited information and add little to what is known about The Family (see Connaughton 2017; Marshall 2017; Johnston 2017; McKenzie 2017). Anne Hamilton-Byrne was for many years prior to her death in 2019 incapable of telling her adopted children, her accusers, and the public anything about her intentions, motives or beliefs (Cowie and Hope 2019). The release of Ben Shenton’s book will add to the primary literature on The Family, but academic treatments of this fascinating movement are yet to be undertaken.

Image #1: Photograph of Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
Image #2: Photograph of The Family children.
Image #3: Photograph of Kai Lama.


Bird, Carmel. 1998. Red Shoes. Milsons Point: Random House Australia.

Connaughton, Maddison. 2017. “A Look Inside Australia’s Mot Notorious Cult, The Family.” Vice, September 26. Accessed from on 21 December 2017.

Cowie, Tom and Zach Hope. 2019. “Anne Hamilton-Byrne, leader of notorious cult The Family, dies at 97.” The Age, June 14. Accessed from on 15 June 2019.

Cusack, Carole M. 2016. ‘The Cultic Milieu in Australia: Deviant Religiosity in the Novels of Carmel Bird.” Pp. 253-68 in The Free Mind: Essays and Poems in Honour of Barry Spurr, edited by Catherine A. Runcie. Sydney: Edwin H. Lowe Publishing.

Hamilton-Byrne, Sarah. 1995. Unseen, Unheard, Unknown: My Life Inside The Family of Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Ringwood: Penguin Australia.

Johnston, Chris. 2017. “Family Ties.” Sydney Morning Herald, February 9. Accessed from on 20 December 2017.

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Post Date:
3 January 2017