The House That Love Built

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Fifteen minutes from Wellsford is one of Auckland’s greatest secrets: a haven for 18 to 30 year old’s on a 22-acre, bush-fringed property where money has no value. The Antara Association was formed in 1988 by a philosophical group based on the shared kaupapa of helping others without expecting anything in return. “It’s all very easy to sit there and be new-agey and spiritual and do absolutely nothing,” says Josephine Marsden, member since the trust’s inception. “So we decided to set up an organisation to create projects that demonstrated this idea.”

First came the Antara natural health clinic in Te Atatu, offering free, alternative health treatments to the poorest of the poor. Using pooled resources and donations (including $50,000 from Woolworths), the Association purchased the clinic within 18 months of its formation.

The idea behind Antara Retreat was to address the lack of youth support, coupled with the shocking rates of youth suicide. “My observation is that when a young person reaches 18, the welfare system steps back and they are on their own,” says Josephine, who used to work for family support service Homebuilders. “Our philosophy is that we all come here to help each other, and by helping each other we are helped”.

With the land purchased in 1995, the 320 square metre dwelling opened its doors in 2002.  Built over nearly eight years with the blood, sweat and tears of dedicated volunteers, the house uses 5000 Muriwai earth bricks created by a team of seven over three days, with the business owner offering his machinery and guidance for free. There are recycled and native timbers, an entire recycled kitchen and recycled doors too.

The building also boasts solar and wetback heating systems, worm farms, a thriving orchard, a composting loo and a nettle bath - a key food source for the caterpillars of red admiral butterflies.   There are no septic tanks on the property, with sewage undergoing a series of complex systems including aeration, and being pumped out (almost cleaner than when it went in, I am assured) to the shelter belts.

The Retreat holds six weekends a year for small groups of young people, covering topics like yoga, art (one was facilitated by artist Max Gimblett), meditation, and preserve-making using the figs, feijoas, plums and citrus trees on the property. Accommodation, attendance and food is provided for free. The space is also used by groups aligning with the ethos of the Association, including Rainbow Youth and Youthline.

Open weekends take place throughout the year, acting as a chance for individuals and organisations to scope out the centre, to garden, and to stay and indulge in some wholesome, whole food cooking.

Operating in a money-free sphere poses its challenges, explains Leigh McIntyre, former caretaker at the Retreat. The Association cannot borrow money or rent premises. No one is paid a salary, but rates and insurance bills still need to be paid.  Funds are raised through events, donations and small grants - however some grant funding could be lost due to Antara’s refusal to charge attendees. “Organisations think that if people don’t pay, they don’t appreciate what we offer,” says Josephine. “But that is the very thing we want to change in society.  It’s about giving, and that giving is high-value. So for us it’s worth it.”

Despite these issues, Antara Retreat offers a hopeful glimpse of what life could be like if society was based on giving, and not getting.

Antara’s next open weekend will be held 10 - 12th of February.  Antara retreat is looking for a new live-in caretaker on the property. For more information, and to sign up to their newsletter, contact info@antara.org.nz.