This post is the first in a series explaining the spiritual dynamics at work in Bert Potter’s Albany Sex Commune, Centrepoint. I speak from the Christian perspective/world-view and cover the recently released film Angie, my own experiences at the commune in its heyday, give a summary of the spirituality involved concluding with notes on the legacy of ‘sin’. Enjoy!
The Albany Centrepoint community, the ‘infamous’, ‘notorious’, self-confessed sex commune was established in the late 1970s by the [again] self-styled “spiritual leader” Bert Potter, now  six years deceased.
The community gained notoriety for activities ‘socially unacceptable’ in its day and was increasingly ostracised as word got out of what was happening there; adherents left and laid complaints with the authorities and the mainstream media got involved in ‘attacking’ the set-up. Bert Potter’s eventual arrest, trial and imprisonment on various underage sexual activities (and drugs) was inevitable. The commune carried on for a while with his imprisonment but was eventually wound up and Bert died in 2012.
A good commentary on the early days of the commune and criminality can be found at www.crime.co.nz.
The film Angie premiered at the [current] Auckland International Film Festival with both the subject Angie Meiklejohn and Film Director/Producer/Cinematography/Editor Costa Botes present at the premiere to answer questions following the showing. The film’s marketing spiel included:
On the plus side:
- A lot of work has gone into the film – indeed in the post premiere interviews the key players discussed how it developed and grew into a feature film over several years of filming:
- Angie, and her family shared well, opening up to speak about their many and varied experiences on camera – sometimes for the first time;
- The core facts of Centrepoint’s operations and operational style came through quite well;
- The film, while rather long and sometimes repetitive, told Angie’s story well. Angie should be proud and it’s release should open the doors to the healing she wanted.
- Angie is a major step forward for those who engaged in some way with Centrepoint. Since Bert’s death others like Angie have chosen to tell their story, thus the film could precipitate a potential tidal wave of trauma, stories and confessions being released. Indeed it is quite likely that I would never have shared my experiences at Centrepoint here without the film Angie as a trigger to speak, and I am not afraid to speak only about much.
On the negative side:
- The sexual aspects of Angie’s experiences and indeed the sexual freedoms of the entire community are exaggerated in marketing materials and to some degree in the film. Some of this criticism relates to our infatuation with sexuality but not everybody went through the same experiences that Angie did, and the reality of life at Centrepoint was different for different people. This was never explained, as the film was entirely about Angie and it was her story;
- The essence of Bert’s value system was exposed only slightly, and again this was limited to Angie’s experiences and her and her families experiences – valid, but a little less than what I think the public need or want when it comes to understanding the Centrepoint phemonemon;
- The entire angle taken by the Director omitted meaningful commentary and missed huge opportunity to assist others to deal with their difficult engagements with Centrepoint or other cults. This was clearly not his intention and indeed in the post premiere interview he made it clear that he did not know how the film would shape up until quite late in the piece. As a telling of one person’s story it achieved well. As a help to others it can only do this indirectly and to those very few who would have had similar experiences to Angie. My posts here an an attempt to fill the gaps and explain reality.
Centrepoint was established to give people who wanted it a physical and social environment to live outside of the social expectations of the day. New Zealand was at the time a relatively conservative society living in the shadow of a Christian value-system. Sex outside of marriage (by way of fornication & adultery) was frowned upon, and the nuclear family with a 1/4 acre, house and mortgage the norm. Bert openly and brazenly created a community which broke the rules, and in that sense he was most definitely a visionary and a leader.
Unfortunately he claimed spiritual leadership, and (as the film Angie brought out well) was also widely seen as a creep and a sexual pervert – the consequences of his spiritual leaning towards rebellion, aka “anything goes”. As spiritual leader he manipulated others for reasons of self in the guise of offering his ‘victims’ freedom. Many (even including those within the Centrepoint community) looked down at him and wondered why others looked up at him or saw anything in him.
The short Wikipedia entry is [to me] surprisingly accurate and is worthy of repeating in full:
Centrepoint was a commune in Albany, New Zealand, created in 1977 by Herbert “Bert” Thomas Potter (1925–2012) and 36 others. The commune was created in the model of the therapeutic encounter groups popularised in the 1960s in California. At its largest, it was home to over 200 people.
On 25 April 1990, Potter was convicted of drug charges. In November 1992 Potter was sentenced to 7 years jail after being convicted of 13 charges of indecently assaulting five girls between 1979 and 1984. Justice Blanchard said Potter had “systematically corrupted children for his own sexual pleasure and had abused the power and trust community members placed in him”.
I interrupt here to note that “abuse of power” is a phrase that implies deceit – in other words that Bert deceived his adherents by kiddy-fiddling behind their backs. This is either not what the Judge meant or it is an error in his judgment. All knew that Bert was who he was and did what he wanted and all chose to either leave Centrepoint or they chose to stay. Excluding morality I am with Bert that [if the judge used social norms or biblical values as the basis for his “abuse of power” comments] he “did nothing wrong” on this abuse of power thing. He held alternative values and was who he was . . .
On release Potter maintained he had done nothing wrong and that he still believed sex from the start of puberty was appropriate. Six other male leaders (one of them Potter’s son John) were convicted for assault on a minor, indecent assault, sexual assault on a minor or rape of a minor. Bert Potter died on 6 May 2012.
After Potter’s fall from grace it was renamed Anahata for a number of years before rebranding as the Kahikatea Eco-Village which had links to the commune and shared at least some members.
A study found that while not all of the approximately 300 children who lived at least part of their youth at the commune were abused, sexual relations with children as young as 10 had occurred with regularity, with parents either neglecting to protect their children from the assaults, or actively abetting them.
Centrepoint was an ‘experience and a half for many’, including myself – particularly challenging, to say the least. In the next post I share my own experiences during its heyday before moving on to describing the spiritual roots and significance of this most extraordinary of New Zealand creations.