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Family, The (2016) (ATOM Study Guide)

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Anne Hamilton-Byrne was charismatic and beautiful, but she was also incredibly dangerous. Convinced she was a living god, Hamilton-Byrne headed an apocalyptic sect called The Family, which was prominent in Melbourne from the 1960s to the 1990s. With her husband Bill, she acquired numerous children – some through adoption scams, some born to cult members – and raised them as her own. Isolated from the outside world, the children were dressed in matching outfits, had identically dyed blonde hair, and were allegedly beaten, starved and injected with LSD. Taught that Hamilton-Byrne was both their mother and the messiah, the children were eventually rescued during a police raid in 1987, but their trauma had only just begun.

With survivors and cult members telling their stories alongside the Australian and international detectives who worked the case, this confronting feature documentary exposes not just what happened within the still-operating sect but also within the conservative Melbourne community that allowed The Family to flourish.

Curriculum Guidelines

The Family would be suitable for Year 10–12 students in the following curriculum areas:

  • Philosophy (understanding the power of individuals)
  • Religion and Society (what constitutes a cult?)
  • Psychology (the damage resulting from a closed community with an absolute leader)
  • Australian Culture and Society (changing values and attitudes in the 1960s–1990s)
  • Health and Personal Development (rights and resilience)
  • Legal Studies (the rights of the child and the policy of forced adoptions)
  • Ethics (how can children be protected from groups and/or adults with their own bizarre agendas?)
  • English (language and images: revealing and concealing)
  • Media and Film Studies (telling a complex story using a range of records)

It would also be a very powerful film to show to tertiary students of Psychology, Social Work, Community Services, Children and Family Services, Sociology, Religion and Society, and Media and Film Studies.

The Family is also available to purchase on DVD here.

A book about The Family written by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones is available here.

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