Public gets peek at former cult grounds

Fairfax Media, New Zealand/November 7, 2008

By Rob Stock

This weekend the public will get what could be its last chance to walk around the old Centrepoint community grounds in Albany on Auckland's North Shore before they are sold.

Centrepoint has a special place in New Zealand history as its best-known cult-community. It was founded by former businessman Bert Potter, whose philosophy of communal therapy and free sexual practices scandalised the country in the 1980s and 90s.

The cult saw its heyday in the late 1980s with some 270 people living in the bush-clad site in Albany on Auckland's North Shore, before entering terminal decline in the 1990s following accusations of child sex abuse, which were corroborated with the convictions of Potter and other adult community members for sexual abuse of minors.

But though Centrepoint vanished, a community remained on the land, which was put under the control of the Public Trust as trustee for the New Zealand Communities Growth Trust (NZCGT) which was founded to administer the assets of Centrepoint for the benefit of Centrepoint survivors and the survivors of other cults.

Potter loyalists were paid to sever all ties with those that remained, but Public Trust allowed the rump community to remain, though over the years have been replaced by new-comers and the Public Trust, which has allowed many of the buildings on the land to fall into disrepair and much of the land to become overgrown, is now selling up.

It hopes to raise $4.8m from the sale, believing the site is ripe for development, perhaps for a hotel, though with the property market in a slump and banks unwilling to lend to developers, a sale is not assured.

The current inhabitants of the site- a loose community of mainly artists and drop-outs- will throw open the doors of the "Kahikatea Eco-Village" to the public on Sunday for what they are billing as an "Environmental Action Day" on Sunday.

They hope to use the day to raise public awareness about the sale of the land, which many fear will eventually leave them homeless and see the land fall into the hands of developers who care nothing for the land.

Visitors are promised such treats as flax-pruning, free yoga classes and environmental discussions. They will also be able to see into the studios of artists that rent space. The statue of Phar Lap is being created on the site by sculptor Joanne Sullivan-Gessler.

But visitors will find much of the land uncared for. Rusting cars, dilapidated buildings, tennis courts run to seed and dumped computers lie about, though some buildings remain in good repair.

The land-holding was originally more extensive, but parcels were sold off by the Public Trust to free up cash to help fund a nursery business which it was hoped could one day would generate income to help support the trust in giving grants to the survivors of Centrepoint and other cults.

The nursery business collapsed earlier this year after over a million dollars of trust money was sunk into it.

A tide of development has washed right up to the door of the old Centrepoint land, with construction on a huge Mitre 10 Mega underway just across the road from the leafy entrance to the old Centrepoint land. Car yards and new housing estates hem it in on other sides, with more neighbouring land being cleared at its borders for further development.

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