Alleged Cults operating in Australia

The Family

The Family — also called the Santiniketan Park Association and the Great White Brotherhood — is a controversial Australian New Age group formed in the mid-1960s under the leadership of yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne (born Evelyn Edwards in 1921).

Around 1964, Raynor Johnson was hosting regular meetings of a religious and philosophical discussion group led by Anne Hamilton-Byrne at Santiniketan, his home at Ferny Creek in the Dandenong Ranges on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne. Also connected was a series of weekly talks he gave at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne, entitled “The Macrocosm and the Microcosm”. The group purchased an adjoining property which they named Santiniketan Park in 1968 and constructed a meeting hall, Santiniketan Lodge.

The group consisted of middle class professionals; it has been estimated that a quarter were nurses and other medical personnel and that many were recruited by Johnson, who referred them to Hamilton-Byrne’s hatha yoga classes. Members mainly lived in nearby suburbs and townships in the Dandenongs, meeting each Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday evening at Santiniketan Lodge, Crowther House in Olinda or another property in the area known as the White Lodge.

The Family teaches an eclectic mixture of Christianity and Hinduism with other Eastern and Western religions on the principle that spiritual truths are universal. The children studied the major scriptures of these religions and also the works of fashionable gurus including Sri Chinmoy, Meher Baba, and Rajneesh.

The group has an inner circle who justify their actions by their claim to be reincarnations of the Apostles of Jesus.

The basis of The Family’s philosophy was that Anne Hamilton-Byrne was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and a living god. Jesus was said to be a great master who came down to Earth, and the group believed that Buddha and Krishna were other enlightened beings who similarly came down to help humanity. Hamilton-Byrne was regarded as being in the same category as these teachers. One adopted daughter, Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, later described the group’s beliefs as a “hotch-potch” of Christianity and Eastern mysticism.

During the late 1960s and the 1970s, Newhaven Hospital in Kew was a private psychiatric hospital owned and managed by Marion Villimek, a Santiniketan member; many of its staff and attending psychiatrists were also members.

Many patients at Newhaven were treated with the hallucinogenic drug LSD. The hospital was used to recruit potential new members from among the patients, and also to administer LSD to members under the direction of the Santiniketan psychiatrists John Mackay and Howard Whitaker. One of the original members of the Association was given LSD, electroconvulsive therapy, and two leucotomies, also called lobotomies, during the late 1960s.

Although the psychiatric hospital had been closed down by 1992, in that year a new inquest was ordered into the death of a Newhaven patient in 1975 after new claims that his death had been due to deep sleep therapy. The inquest heard evidence concerning the use of electroconvulsive therapy, LSD, and other practices at Newhaven but found no evidence that deep sleep had been used on this patient. The Newhaven building was later reopened as a nursing home with no connections to its previous owner or uses.

Sarah Hamilton-Byrne was expelled by her adoptive mother in 1987 because of arguing and rebellious behaviour. With the support of a private investigator and others, she then played an instrumental role in bringing The Family to the attention of the Victorian police. As a result, a raid took place at Kai Lama on Friday, 14 August 1987, and all children were removed from the premises. Sarah later went on to study medicine and become a qualified doctor. She also learned that she had been adopted and eventually met her biological mother.

After the raid in 1987, Anne Hamilton-Byrne and her husband, William, remained outside Australia for the next six years. Operation Forest, an investigation involving police in Australia, the UK, and the US resulted in their arrest in June 1993 by the FBI in the town of Hurleyville in the Catskills in New York.

They were extradited to Australia and charged with conspiracy to defraud and to commit perjury by falsely registering the births of three unrelated children as their own triplets. Elizabeth Whitaker, wife of the psychiatrist Howard Whitaker, was their co-defendant. The Hamilton-Byrnes pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of making a false declaration and were fined $5000 each. The conspiracy charge against Whitaker was dropped, but she was convicted of falsely obtaining nearly $23,000 between 1983 and 1987.

Margot MacLellan, aged 64, was convicted of falsely obtaining $28,000 between 1978 and 1988. Joy Travellyn, aged 56, was convicted of falsely obtaining over $38,000 between 1979 and 1988. Helen Buchanan, aged 49, was convicted of falsely obtaining almost $15,000 between 1980 and 1987.

Information sourced from: Wikipedia

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