– Australia’s most notorious cult leader is close to death in a suburban Melbourne nursing home as remaining members of the sect she formed in the 1960s scramble for control, sources say.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne, 83, led the infamous Melbourne cult, The Family. She has had dementia since 2007 and lives in a nursing home in Wantirna South. Police and legal sources and also former victims of the cult say Hamilton-Byrne is now incapacitated.
From the 1960s she was the cult’s head at properties in the Dandenongs and Lake Eildon where dozens of children, obtained through adoption scams were allegedly kept, treated cruelly and administered LSD.
The children were told she was a living God and were taught extreme Christianity and Eastern mysticism. Their hair was dyed blonde and they were made to dress identically.
A child victim from the 1970s – now living in regional Victoria – recently visited Ms Hamilton-Byrne. The man, a Pentecostal Christian, said the visit was in the spirit of forgiveness. “She was in her final lap,” he said. “As I walked in, she was asleep on her bed, and she woke up and started rambling about her dogs being burned in a bushfire. There is a total disconnect from reality.”
Another person who has contact with Ms Hamilton-Byrne said: “She is in I’ll-health. But she’s holding her ground.” Ms Hamilton-byrne’s financial and legal affairs are handled by two key supporters, Geoffrey Dawes and Helen McCoy.
Mrs McCoy runs a wildlife rescue service in Gembrook and is also the principal of a school for disabled children. Neither would comment.
Along with other key supporters, including Michael Stevenson-Helmer, Peter Lyall (otherwise known as James Buchanan), David Munroe and Oliver Mackay-Dalkeith, Mr Dawes and Mrs McCoy are directors of a company called Life for all Creatures, registered to Mrs McCoy’s Gembrook home and live in the Dandenong Ranges. Ms Hamilton-Byrne was a director until 2005.
Sources said a power struggle had emerged in the sect between Mr Dawes and Mr Stevenson-Helmer over a succession plan once Ms Hamilton-Byrne dies. Mr Stevenson-Helmer, a long-time member who is very close to Ms Hamilton-Byrne, denied she was near death.
“A a true yogi, Anne will go when she is willing and ready,” he said.
He confirmed the sect still worshipped in the Dandenongs. “We meditate,” he said. “You surmise we are secretive but we have never hidden anything from you people.”
The cult was originally broken up when Australian Federal Police and a state government agency raided the property at Lake Eildon in 1987 and six children were taken into care.
In 1994 Ms Hamilton-Byrne and her then-husband were extradited from the United States to Australia to lead guilty to perjury – the only charge they ever faced.
Since 2010 Ms Hamilton-Byrne’s lawyers have used her dementia as a defence in several civil court actions by former victims trying to sue. All have been settled out of court for amounts around $250,000.
The victims have sought damages for ongoing mental health problems from abuse and cruelty suffered, false imprisonment, mind control and use of drugs.
In 2010 her physical health also began deteriorating after she fell and fractured bones.
Ms Hamilton-Byrne still owns at least three properties in the Dandenongs, including the original cult headquarters on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, and several overseas. Her estate is estimated to be worth between $10 million and $20 million – Chris Johnston


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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