Centrepoint commune leader dies

By Hana Garrett-Walker

Centrepoint commune leader Bert Potter has died aged 86. Photo / Geoff Dale.
Centrepoint commune leader Bert Potter has died aged 86. Photo / Geoff Dale.

Bert Potter, the leader and founder of controversial spiritual commune Centrepoint died today, aged 86.

Potter's daughter-in-law Felicity Goodyear-Smith said Potter was taken to Middlemore Hospital after a fall at a private hospital yesterday.

His condition continued to deteriorate, he became unconscious and died about 1am.

Centrepoint was opened by Potter in 1977 and at its peak had a permit for 244 fulltime residents.

It was based on therapeutic encounter groups popularised in California in the 1960s, promising social transformation by encouraging open communication.

The commune was shut down in 2000 after some leaders, including Potter, were convicted of sexual abuse and drugs crimes.

Potter was convicted and sentenced in 1990 to 3-1/2 years in jail on drug charges, and in 1992 to 7-1/2 years for indecent assaults on five children, some as young as three and a half.

Five other men were convicted of indecently assaulting minors, sexually assaulting minors and attempted rape of a minor.

Ms Goodyear-Smith, who is married to Potter's son John, lived in a mobile home on Centrepoint land with her husband for several years but said she was never part of the community.

She last saw Bert Potter several years ago, but because he was suffering from progressive Alzheimer's ``he didn't know who I was''.

Centrepoint's philosophy included sharing toilets, showers, sleeping quarters and open sexual relations among adults and children.

The community was based on a 30-acre block of land near Albany, Auckland.

In 2000 a High Court decision closed it down.

In 2008 the principal of the Wellpark College of Natural Therapies, Phillip Cottingham, bought the 7.6ha site from the Public Trust.

The trust sold it on behalf of the Community Growth Trust, successor to the Centrepoint Community Trust.

The Mills Lane site, off Oteha Valley Rd, was renamed the Wellpark North Shore Wellbeing, Education, Therapy and Retreat Centre and was used for a research centre in natural medicine and for courses in aromatherapy, nutrition, naturopathy, herbalism, yoga and ayurvedic medicine.

Following Potter's release from prison he reportedly said he did nothing wrong and although sex with minors was not inappropriate he would follow the terms of his parole to avoid further jail time.

Under the terms of his parole he was banned from having contact with children under 16.

Before founding Centrepoint, he reportedly worked as a clerk for the Department of Labour and then studied education and political science before becoming a leading salesman for a vacuum cleaner company.

He formed his own carpet cleaning business before moving on to pest control.

But after the unexplained death of his boss he pursued a career in therapy and attended the Esalen growth centre in California for three months.

Upon his return he set up the Shoreline Human Awareness Trust in Dunedin, before moving to Auckland and forming the Centrepoint Community.

Potter's children overseas, would be returning to New Zealand for his funeral next Saturday, Ms Goodyear-Smith said.

The funeral details were not finalised, but it was likely to be a simple service where friends and family could share their memories, she said.

- APNZ

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