Compelling viewing

By Tara Whitsed

4/5 stars

There really is something incredibly fascinating about cults.
So when it comes to ABC docu-series The Cult of The Family, it ticks all the boxes when it comes to intriguing viewing.
The series takes a deep look into The Family – a cult or sect started by Anne Hamilton Byrne during the mid-1960s.
The cult was known as The Family due to Hamilton Byrne’s penchant for collecting children and claiming them to be her own.
It is important to note the fact that during the 1960s adoption was rampant due to a lack of support for single mothers as well as the inability to have pregnancies terminated.
Hamilton Byrne was also connected to a number of doctors and nurses, many of whom were cult members, who helped to facilitate the babies being plucked from their mothers and given to Hamilton Byrne.
Perhaps the most interesting element to the entire story is the fact The Family used to hide out in Lake Eildon in its compound called Kai Lama, not too far from Shepparton in the Victorian Alpine region.
The far-flung hideaway enabled Hamilton Byrne to keep the children – more than 10 of them –  isolated from the rest of the world.
The cult is heavily known for the appearance of the children, with Hamilton Byrne dressing them in matching clothing, all with matching blonde short haircuts.
Many would be relatively familiar with the cult’s story but The Cult of The Family delves into what society was like during the 1960s and how this influences cult members – several of whom willingly joined Hamilton Byrne after attending her yoga classes.
Directed by Rosie Jones, the documentary uses archive footage of The Family alongside several interviews conducted with the children during the present day.
The children are now well into their adulthood and hearing their experiences first-hand is perhaps the most compelling part of the series.
We hear from one member, Sarah Moore (formally Sarah Hamilton Byrne), regarding when she first alerted the authorities to what had been happening, and shocking recounts of the abuse the children suffered at the hands of their ‘aunties’ – sect members tasked with looking after the children.
We soon find out Hamilton Byrne is not exactly who she says she is and we know from the beginning of the series that the Lake Eildon home is ultimately raided during the late 1980s.
The series conveys not only the story of The Family but the culture that fed into the rise of cults during the 1960s with incredible detail – and for this Rosie Jones should be commended.
The entire series can be streamed on iView and the final episode will air this Tuesday from 8.30pm on ABC.