The Australian cult that fed children LSD: Guy Pearce on the ‘disturbing’ true story behind The Clearing

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As soon as he put down the script, Jeffrey Walker knew he wanted to work on the Disney+ series The Clearing. “It was one of those reads that you just couldn’t stop thinking about,” the show’s co-director says. “It affected me emotionally and psychologically.”

This might ring as hyperbole if it wasn’t for the disturbing real-life story the script draws from. The new eight-part series, adapted from JP Pomare’s novel In The Clearing, is based on the true story of the Family, the Australian cult who operated in the shadows of regional Victoria from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Among its various cruelties across two decades, the Family obtained 28 children, mostly through shonky adoptions or as “gifts” from unwed mothers, and housed them in a sprawling property at the secluded Lake Eildon. There, they were subject to beatings and starvation, given daily doses of benzodiazepines to keep them docile and forced to begin taking psychedelic drugs, escalating to the point of days-long trips once they turned 14. In order to look like the “family” they were told they were, the children’s hair was bleached blonde and they were dressed in matching outfits.

Those involved in The Clearing are keen to stress that viewers should not expect a to-the-letter retelling of the real-life case (for that, watch the 2019 documentary The Cult of the Family). But the series is still rich with details that echo the facts, like those matching platinum hairdos – a subtly chilling sight – as well as the filming locations, which included Lake Eildon.

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