Real Life

Real life: My family and I have been living a lie... but now it's time to come clean

'After years of living a lie, my past finally caught up with me.'

By: As told to Take 5

Maya Eidson, 48, from Julatten, QLD, shares her unbelievable true story;

I sat around the camp fire mesmerised by my dad, Peyton, playing the guitar.

"Check under that log you're sitting on," he said with a grin.

I turned it over and found a packet of lollies hidden beneath.

"How did you…?" I began.

"Magic," Dad laughed.

It was so typical of him to surprise me like this.

He and my mum, Sonja, travelled the world collecting tribal artefacts.

As their only child, I got to go everywhere with them.

One minute I'd be at our home in California.

Next, we'd be boarding a plane bound for the Indonesian jungle.

It was an exciting life for a 15-year-old.

But one day I returned home to find Mum packing everything frantically.

"The police raided us today – your father's in trouble," she sobbed.

"What? Why?" I cried.

Mum shook her head. "Quick, just grab a bag. We won't be coming back here."

I was so confused but did as she said.

Fleeing the house we met Dad, who looked terrified.

"The cops reckon I'm a drug smuggler," he said. "I've been set up by the people I do business with."

A wave of fear rolled over me.

"What are we going to do?" I asked.

Dad's face was grim.

Australia is my home and I wouldn't want it any other way. Pictures exclusive to Take 5

"Maya, you've got two choices," he began. "You can stay in America and never see me or your mother again. Or you can come with us, change your name and forget all about this life."

I knew there was only one option.

Dad handed me a false passport with the name Sharon Gregory.

He and Mum would now go by Anita and Mike McGoldrick – the real McGoldricks were family friends of ours.

They'd both given Dad their passports and swapped the photos.

"We're going to Australia," Dad continued, explaining how the three of us would all board separate flights so we wouldn't get caught.

Australia? All I knew about the country was that it was the land of kangaroos and on the other side of the world.

But after four long and nerve-racking flights, I finally touched down in Sydney, where I was reunited with Mum and Dad.

We'd made it.

Eventually, we ended up in Julatten, a tiny rainforest town in Queensland.

"This feels like home," Mum said, breathing in the fresh air.

It was a long way from the US, but we settled in remarkably easily.

"Remember you're Sharon Gregory and we came here so I could retire," Dad reminded me.

But I didn't need any warnings.

The night of our runaway was still fresh in my mind and I constantly felt on edge wondering if police would turn up on our doorstep.

There were even a couple of times when Mum and Dad slipped up and called me Maya in public.

"That's my nickname," I told people, desperately hoping they believed me.

Mum, Dad and I before we got caught. Pictures exclusive to Take 5

Everyone was so laid-back in Australia that we made plenty of good friends.

Soon enough, I relaxed enough that I just told people to call me by my nickname.

I later fell in love with a man named Steve and we had a little girl, Azia.

But after years together Steve started to grow suspicious.

"Why are all the names scratched out on the back of your family photos?" he asked.

"Oh, I… did it after an argument with my parents," I stammered.

My heart was pounding as Steve looked at me in concern.

"Something's not right, Maya. I can tell," he continued.

"It's better you don't know," I said, trembling.

After nine years together we split.

By now I was an Australian citizen, using my false identity to gain a passport.

I never told Azia our secret.

When she grew up and went backpacking around the US with her boyfriend, I found myself all alone.

One day I arrived home to find police in my driveway.

"Are you Maya Eidson?" an officer asked.

My legs turned to jelly hearing my real name.

This could only mean one thing: my life as a fugitive was over.

Dad gave me a wonderful childhood full of adventure.
Pictures exclusive to Take 5

Police had raided my parents' house while they were away camping.

After charging me with migration offences they released me, and I immediately called Mum and Dad.

"We'll have to turn ourselves in," Dad sighed.

Beforehand, we arranged to meet one last time, just in case we were deported or jailed.

I called Azia, who was really freaking out.

US Marshals had raided the hostel where she was staying.

"Mum, what's going on?" she pleaded.

"Our past has caught up with us," I said, explaining everything as best I could.

She got on the first plane back to Australia.

But before I could meet Mum and Dad, the Australian Federal Police arrested them in Townsville, Queensland.

Our troubles made headlines around the world.

We learned that in the US the McGoldricks had died.

Routine checks showed that the people using their passport were alive and well in Queensland.

In court I admitted lying on my residency and citizenship forms.

Me (centre) with Azia and Dad.
Pictures exclusive to Take 5

The magistrate saw that I was just a kid and only gave me and Mum a good behaviour bond.

But as the instigator of the plot, Dad got two years' jail. He was released after six months.

Once free, the government didn't seem in a hurry to deport him and the Americans didn't appear to be pushing for it either.

I hoped maybe they'd decided it was all too much bother for an old man and something that had happened so long ago.

Meanwhile, the community rallied around us.

A petition supported our right to stay.

But then, the Minister for Immigration revoked my citizenship.

"I'm Australian!" I cried.

I appealed the decision, but couldn't travel until it was heard.

Tragically, my mum passed away from cancer at 73 while everything was still up in the air.

At 74, Dad was a sick grieving old man, when immigration finally came for him.

He was sent to a detention centre.

I lost my appeal but could remain an Australian resident.

With the help of local politicians Dad was told that if he returned to the US to face charges, he could come home afterwards.

So he went to America, but he was thrown in jail and denied bail.

It took a month before I even got to speak to him by phone.

Mum and Dad made their home in Australia. Pictures exclusive to Take 5

"I could get 16 years," he said with a quiver in his voice.

At his age, it was a death sentence.

After discussions with Azia, I flew to the States.

"I'm so sorry I dragged you into this," Dad choked from behind prison glass.

He denied being a drug smuggler, but was offered a lesser sentence to plead guilty.

"If I don't take it, I could spend the rest of my life in jail," he told me with a heavy sigh.

He got three years and may be free by the middle of next year.

But an American federal prison, with serial killers and mass murderers, is no place for a sick old man.

So I'll stay in America until he's released.

It's the least I can do for the father who made my childhood a magical adventure and made Australia my home.