‘Give me back my baby, I’m not a bad mum’
It was confronting footage that went viral last week; a teenage mother having her baby forcibly removed by child protection officers.
Now the older sister of the teen has defended her as a loving, wonderful mother.
The mother cannot be named for legal reasons but her older sister said the baby was healthy, well cared for and loved by its mother and father, who live in a commune in the Byron Shire.
The baby's mother is 17 and was 16 when she fell pregnant. The father is 18.
In the video, the crying and naked baby appeared to be forcibly removed from his mother while she was breastfeeding.
"I've got concerns for the safety of your baby," a police officer said, as she and child protection officers took the baby out of the mother's arms.
"No, no this is my baby, no, you are not taking him. This is my child, you are not taking my baby. I birthed this child and he will drink my milk," the distressed young mother said.
The teenage parents are living between a friend's house, a bus and a bush camp commune in Main Arm, behind Mullumbimby.
"She's an incredibly loving, health-conscious and intuitive mother and she is not your typical teenager. (The baby) is healthy and big and happy and he is the calmest baby, he's always laughing," the sister, 19, said.
"They want a clean, organic lifestyle and to have a strong connection with the land."
The baby was taken into foster care after fears were raised about his wellbeing.
"Our beautiful son has been stolen from our arms due to false and misleading information," the teen mother wrote on a crowd-funding page which has raised over $18,000 in four days.
"(The baby) is 8 months old and still meant to be breastfed, this is causing myself a lot of pain and risk of mastitis and drying of milk.
"We eat and live an organic lifestyle and love spending our time in nature, swimming and having fun."
His father posted: "I miss my son. I only wash our boy with fresh fluoride-chlorine-chemical-free water from the sky and the person with (him) is most likely using artificial perfume and bathing him in chems and is completely disconnected from this earth … he is also getting fed though a plastic bottle (bpa) and looking at a white wall and also sleeping in a cot (prison cell) … we don't know when he will return, hope to be reunited soon."
The mum, a former student at Mullumbimby High, left home at 15 and travelled with her boyfriend and his father to north Queensland.
"They travelled to the Daintree with her boyfriend's father and learned to live off the land and when she came back, she was pregnant," her sister said.
The sister believes tourists may have complained to the authorities.
"They deemed it an unsafe environment, the way they were living. There must have been eight complaints for this to happen. It could have been tourists who don't understand their way of living," she said.
Questions have been raised about the manner in which a breastfed baby was taken into foster care.
"He's only ever been breastfed and they are presumably feeding him formula, we assume that is what is happening. My sister has had to express her milk," she said.
The young couple faced Tweed Court on Thursday and had a large contingent of supporters outside.
"This is just the beginning, we are sure she can start to see him from next week and start breastfeeding him again," the sister said.
"They are so connected to living off the land, they want their home in the forest but she will do anything for him and will do anything to get him back," she said.
Commune and off-grid living is common in the Byron Shire and has been since the Aquarius Festival, held in nearby Nimbin in the 1970s, attracted alternative lifestylers in their thousands. It is still a mecca for modern-day hippies.
"It's quite common in this area to live like this," the sister said.
A former case worker for the Department of Communities and Justice in the area said the agency would have to have "direct evidence that the physical health of the baby has been harmed or that the mother had been seen actually doing something harmful" to justify taking him.
In 2014, a man and his wife had their five children taken from them after living a nomadic lifestyle around the Byron Shire, including living under a tarp in a makeshift camp in the national park in Broken Head, a stone's throw from Chris Hemsworth now lives.
The children were home schooled and were responsible for catching fish for food.
"We would go to the best spots in the country, living an indigenous life that was nature based, the journey was all about them, the kids," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
"We lived like kings because we didn't pay rent. Camps were always simple, we'd pick the best place, we had a tarp if it rained but often we'd just hand it so we could see the stars, we slept on a bunch of mattresses, we'd play guitar, cook, eat and tell stories."
Originally published as 'Give me back my baby, I'm not a bad mum'