Children Tell Of Hunger Strike Threat
Sydney Morning Herald/1992-05-23
By COL ALLISON
Twenty children from The Family religious sect, who were seized with 52 others by the Department of Community Services and kept at a Thornleigh detention centre, said they were on the verge of a hunger strike when released on Thursday night.
"We had already boycotted attendance at the jail school and that really made the principal hopping mad," a 15-year-old girl told the Herald yesterday. She said she was very happy to be reunited with her extended family of 10 adults and 21 children in "the happy chaos" of their communal home.
"They treated us very well, but we wanted to go home. We signed a petition saying 'We hate it here. We were kidnapped and if we aren't sent home to our parents we'll go on a hunger strike and die'," she said.
The teenager's "cousin" who, in common with all 72 Sydney children plucked from their homes on Friday last week in dawn raids, has spent half his life overseas, won't forget this past week.
He said: "It was my 14th birthday on Monday and my brothers and sisters weren't even allowed to wish me happy birthday. They were separated in another group. I was 20 metres from them and we weren't allowed to talk."
The boy's father, the 40-year-old sect leader, a third-generation Christian fundamentalist and former Salvation Army officer who readily admits he and his wife once belonged to the Children of God cult, said he was disgusted he couldn't even speak to his son on his birthday. "How mean can you get?" he said.
The children were forced to read and play indoors yesterday because of the rain. But their budgies and pet mouse received plenty of attention. After writing letters of thanks to their lawyers, the children lined up for a lunchtime meal of noodles and egg soup with vegetables and fresh fruit.
"It's really nice to be home again," one little child said. "I missed my mummy and daddy and I was scared."
The Friday raiders - called a Gestapo-like force by lawyers - struck 30 minutes before the sect members normally arise at 6.30 am, hoping to find deviant sexual behaviour in progress, Cobham Children's Court evidence revealed. They left behind much angst and heartburn and a broken door yet to be mended.
"It was really scary. I was hauled out of bed sound asleep," the teenage girl said. "There were more police and cars than there were people in our house.
"They told us we were probably in need of departmental care ..."
The raiders swooped on three homes of the sect simultaneously. The children, aged 22 months to 16 years, were taken in buses to facilities at Thornleigh, Guildford and Woollahra. The 15-year-old girl said that for the first few days all the children were bewildered and felt like criminals.
"There were bars on the windows, bolted doors. A guard went with you to the toilets and we were separated from each other. They liked us, so they said, but it took them three days to loosen up, to get their act together."
A 13-year-old boy said there was a news blackout but they found a way around it. "We couldn't read newspapers or listen to the radio, but we came across a bed with a headset in it and we listened on that," he said, laughing. The eldest girl said: "I couldn't believe it when I heard what was supposed to be happening."
"It was a pack of lies, all lies. Nothing was going on at home."
She said some of the younger children cried a lot during the persistent questioning, which went on for up to three hours at a time.
"Everyone was talked to at least once." Questioning wasn't specific. "They'd say 'Do you have anything you'd like to tell us? Do you know of any mistreatment?' that sort of thing."
The girl said there was bedlam late on Thursday night when it was announced"in a really quiet voice that we might be going home tonight or tomorrow ... we all went mad with happiness and ran up and down the hall shouting out. I couldn't believe it. It was wonderful news."
The lawyers representing the sect - assembled by solicitor Mr Christopher Murphy - will meet barristers from the Department of Community Services in Cobham Court next Thursday, May 28, to work out a hearing date.
The case is expected to last at least two or three months.