When you hear those two words together, you may think of the people nearest and dearest to you. Or if you are a Martin Scorsese fan, you may think of an Italian family with criminal dealings, a la The Godfather. And still others may think of a New Age cult in Australia. Today we will be talking about The Family, also known as the Santiniketan Park Association, or the Great White Brotherhood.
The Family taught a mixture of Christianity and Hinduism. There was also a great mix of other Eastern and Western religions, with the principle that spiritual truths are universal. The leader of this Family was a woman, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and a living god. The inner circle of the group, claimed to be reincarnations of the Apostles of Jesus.
So how did it all begin? In 1964, Anne Hamilton-Byrne was leading a discussion group of religious and philosophical topics. These were hosted at the home of Raynor Johnson, in Melbourne, Australia. The group then purchased the adjoining property to his home and named it Santiniketan Park, with a meeting hall built on the site, Santiniketan Lodge.
In the next several years, the Newhaven Hospital, which was a private psychiatric hospital owned and operated by Marion Villimek, a member of the group and many of her staff were as well. They recruited potential members from the patients, many of whom were given LSD, electroconvulsive therapy and even lobotomies.
Between 1968 and 1975, Anne acquired fourteen infants and young children. Some were natural children of the members of the group, and others had been obtained through irregular adoptions, arranged by members of the group to bypass normal processes. The children were all renamed with the Hamilton-Byrne surname, and were dressed alike, down to their uniformly dyed blonde hair.
The children were home-schooled, told that Anne was their biological mother, and were denied almost all access to the outside world. The children were harshly disciplined with severe beatings and starvation diets. They were also dosed with psychiatric drugs.
In 1987, Anne’s “daughter”, Sarah, was expelled from The Family, by her mother, as she was argumentative and rebellious. Because of this, Sarah helped bringing The Family to the attention of the local police in Victoria. A raid took place in August of 1987, and all the children were removed from the premises.
After this raid, Anne and her husband, William, remained outside of Australia and were eventually apprehended in the United States in 1993. They were extradited to Australia and charged with conspiracy to defraud and to commit perjury by falsely registering births of three unrelated children as her own triplets. These charges were later dropped. The only penalty Anne and her husband ever faced was a $5000 fine each, for falsifying a statutory declaration. She never faced justice for her more serious crimes.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne passed away June 13, 2019, she was 98 years old and had been in a retirement home for many years with dementia.
Have you heard about The Family before? Is there more to the story? My research didn’t get me too far into this cult, but that’s the point of cults isn’t it? Secrecy.
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