The Royal Commission has examined everything from Sydney’s Knox Grammar School to the Jehovah’s Witnesses; Cardinal George Pell to Tennis NSW. But not the Exclusive Brethren, a wealthy Protestant sect of 40,000 worldwide (including 15,000 in Australia), led by Sydney-based Bruce Hales. Among the Brethren, public scrutiny is shunned just as surely as are radios, TVs, voting and other trappings of “worldly” society. So far this group has managed to fly under the radar. That is about to change.
TONY McCORKELL is an anomaly. Just like the girl and her abuser, and everyone else in the Brethren, he was born into the sect. But in 1985, on Tony’s sixth birthday, his father – from a prominent Queensland family within the insular community of the church – was kicked out. He was lucky enough to take his wife and children with him, but McCorkell grew up not knowing any of his extended family.
Then, in 2006, to the dismay of much of his family, McCorkell went back. The Brethren had come to public notoriety after it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the 2004 election in favour of conservative Christian PM John Howard. McCorkell, by then a public relations professional, was intrigued, and a little horrified. The virtually unknown sect that had dominated his own family’s life was now on the national stage, as Brethren members campaigned on the streets in Hobart against the gay-friendly Greens, and threatened journalists outside churches.
– Michael Bachelard