Bert Potter's son offers apology to victims

By Kathryn Powley

John Potter greets mourners. Photo / Janna Dixon
John Potter greets mourners. Photo / Janna Dixon

Centrepoint founder Bert Potter's son has voiced what his father never could: an apology to the victims of his sexual offending.

Bert Potter was the controversial leader of the Albany commune which opened in 1977, but which was finally shut down in 2000. Bert Potter served almost nine years in jail for child sex and drug offences in 1970s and 1980s. His son John Potter was later sentenced to eight months' prison after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting two girls when he was in his early 20s.

Bert Potter, who'd had advanced Alzheimers, died aged 86 last Sunday after a fall.

Speaking at his father's funeral at Shnapper Rock, Albany, John Potter, told about 100 mourners: "I know you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but some things have to be said. By committing himself to a radical ideology promoting the sexual liberation of children, Bert got it badly wrong and people were damaged as a result. Sadly he never accepted his social experiment failed in this respect and he believed to the end that he'd done no harm.

As one of the other residents of Centrepoint however I have to accept just as much responsibility as him for creating and maintaining an environment where children were not protected from deluded adults. He didn't make me do it. I sincerely apologise to anyone hurt by either my actions or inactions and if I can now finally presume to speak on dad's behalf, I apologise for him as well. I hope his demise will bring some closure to those with unresolved issues."

But John Potter said his father had also transformed thousands of people's lives in a positive way. By breaking down what was considered socially acceptable, he encouraged people to reach their full potential.

Bert Potter was a master salesman. In his earlier life he'd sold vacuum cleaners, carpet care and pest control and finally personal growth. "He pursued a career of talking people into buying whatever he was selling."

He rebelled against the establishment, and senseless rules. He was also a caring father and grandfather.

"The way I see it, by the time Centrepoint got started, he'd figured out how to set himself up as alpha male. He'd surrounded himself with an awesome bunch of strong, capable and desirable women, and this attracted a number of on-to-it men who could see that there was plenty to go round."

After Bert Potter's release from prison he'd lost the energy and fire he once had.

Once he accepted Centrepoint was over, he settled down into a life of retirement. His Alzheimers worsened, to the point where John Potter virtually became parent.

"The gap between the powerful and manipulative 1980s Bert Potter in the public imagination and the retired old man losing his memory has got increasingly large over the years."

Henry Stonex, who in 1992 pleaded guilty to indecent assault on an eight-year-old Centrepoint girl, told the service: ``Bert Potter was the most important person I met in my entire life''.

Messages were also read aloud at the service on behalf of some who couldn't attend and others who had decided not to come for fear a media presence would publicly associate them with Centrepoint.

Those messages spoke of a man who'd changed lives through his therapeutic work. They spoke of a loving but flawed man. They thanked him for helping them to succeed, for allowing them to reach their full potential through unconditional love and forgiveness and through the "cutting edge" therapy he offered. But they also acknowledged his faults, mistakes and blindness to his offending.

One wrote: "It was with great sadness that I watched the goings on at Centrepoint. How the mighty had fallen."

Another said Potter's "strength, personality, spirit and courage of his convictions" needed to be acknowledged.

"There are a lot of things that can be said about Bert, but one thing is for sure - he was never a follower."

A former Centrepoint member wrote that they would have liked to have been present to farewell Potter, but couldn't risk the "fallout" on family members if publicly identified. The message said that Bert Potter's mistakes would be remembered much longer than all the good he did.

"The real record should be much more evenly balanced than it will be. On some level Bert's gifts were the same as his faults. It was his certainty that he was right, total lack of fear and his perceptiveness in relation to other people's process along with his blindness to his own that made him what he was: genius / psychopath; supreme therapist / arch manipulator; superlative lover / seducer abuser; social revolutionary / false prophet. I don't know whether it would be possible to have one without the other."

- Herald on Sunday

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