Tearful farewell ... Brian Robertson with his children Matilda, Bokkie and Barney before he handed them to federal police in Launceston yesterday.
Photo: Courtesy of Channel Nine
Cultbuster on hand as dad gives up kids
Press » Sydney Morning Herald » 2007-05-04
By Andrew Darby, Ben Cubby and Les Kennedy
The mother of three missing children had a cult expert on hand as she reclaimed them last night from their father - who has admitted his ties to the fringe religious sect The Family.
Philippa Yelland - the mother of Bokkie, 10, Matilda, 9, and Barney, 7, who have been missing since their father, Murray Robertson, failed to return them from a custody visit - flew to Launceston for the reunion last night. She was accompanied by the Reverend David Milliken, a Uniting Church Minister who was instrumental in exposing the sect, known as the Children of God before police broke it up a decade ago.
In an interview with the Herald after he had voluntarily handed his children to the federal police late yesterday, Mr Robertson admitted he had close ties to The Family.
"They are wonderful Christian people, and I am very close to them," he said.
Mr Robertson said Mr Milliken had made critical statements about him, "saying how dangerous I am. It's ridiculous really."
Mr Robertson defended The Family and said he and his children had regularly been in touch with members of the group. "DOCs broke into all their homes and took about 70 or 80 of their kids into custody, and Milliken was instrumental in breaking them with help from DOCs."
The disappearance of the children became public on Tuesday when the Family Court made the unusual decision to allow the media to publish their names and images, as well as to identify their father, in an effort to locate them.
Mr Robertson, 59, who lives in the Blue Mountains, had their children on a regular custody visit that began on Friday, March 16. Their mother, who lives in Brisbane, expected them to be returned the following Monday, but they were not at school when she went to collect them.
Their father told the Herald that he realised their six-week odyssey around the island state was over when he read reports of their disappearance on the internet earlier this week.
He called Channel Nine news, who in turn contacted the federal police.
A self-described eccentric, Mr Robertson said he had taken his children to Tasmania to give them a "normal" life.
"The children and I together decided that we should go away from their mother," Mr
Robertson said. Since then they had been driving around Tasmania, camping and staying with different families, he said. The children had been happy.
"They are children who are very fond of the wild, of camping and swimming and tree climbing. And unfortunately their mother provides none of that. We studied marine life down near Hobart. There was horse riding, chooks, apples, you know."
He said he was glad the court had allowed publication of their identities. "It set me free to talk to you. Prior to yesterday they would never have found us, not that we were in hiding. But for six weeks the Tasmanian police had our descriptions."
He said he had asked the children what they wanted to do. "The children begged me and said, 'Can't we just be where nobody knows where we are forever'?" But they decided they had to return to their mother. They knew from the beginning that a day like this might come."
He said parting from the children was awful for him and for them. "It was very hard for me because I see children who have been abandoned by a system which is [so] obsessed with law and legality that the child is on the periphery."
No charges have been laid against Mr Robertson. "The order instructed me to hand the children on to the federal police, which I indicated my willingness to comply with."
Simon Bouda, the Channel Nine reporter who had been dealing with Mr Robertson, said the children appeared to be happy with their father.
They were hugging him, Bouda said. "I said, 'I think it's time' and he agreed. He told the children, and the little boy burst into tears. Then I phoned the police."
Later "he told them it was time to go, he had a tear in his eye and so did I", Bouda said.