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Tuesday 31st December 2013

Community living might conjure up images of hippies spending their days smoking pot and docilely playing guitars while their offspring run rampant, but Alok D’Hondt 16, who has lived at Riverside Community near Motueka for most of his life, begs to differ.

Over 208 hectares of land, there’s a farm, a cafe open to the public, mechanics, gallery and produce gardens supplying work and income to the community of about 40 members and their children. He tells Stacey Knott about busting the hippie stereotypes.

Riverside was created by people who refused to go to World War Two. They were imprisoned until the war finished, and when they came out they realised they had the same ideas and wanted to create a peace community. Those founding members are the elders of the community, there’s still a few of them around. There are new generations of people living here bringing all their talents to the community in different ways.

Each member of the community has to spend [a certain amount of] many hours working, giving back to the community they are a part of. People will be working on the land, doing all sorts of jobs like milking the cows; working the gardens; cooking (for the cafe); sorting out events. Some people do maintenance work on the cars we share. I’ve worked on the farm, milking, worked in the cafe doing dishes and waiting tables and also worked in the garage doing clean up and an apprenticeship on how to fix cars.

There’s lots of really intelligent, hard-working people, we’re not just all laid back hippies sitting there chilling, but the stereotype rubs off on us.

I was born in Belgium but we moved to New Zealand when I was two. We started out in Dunedin where my grandparents live but when we heard about the community living in Tasman region we moved here. My parents liked the prospect of community living and working with other people, they wanted a place for their kids to be able to grow around other people.

Everyone in Riverside gets money to match their needs: if they have three kids they get more than someone with one kid. Everyone has to work so many hours, the same amount of hours for the same pay, no matter the work they do.

Living here is quite cheap, your rent and bills are paid, and you get money to pay for food and clothes. As a result of that you don’t get much money coming in so it’s hard to leave. You won’t have a savings account that has heaps of money to buy a house somewhere, to leave the community.

As a member, if you were to work in an outside job all the money you earn goes into the pot and comes back to you in the form of Riverside money, so if you work at a high rate with many hours it comes back to Riverside then back to you in a different (probably lesser) amount.

Riverside has 32 houses, they are all different kinds, there’s members and tenants. The community garden people work on, if you are a member you get to take food. Each house has its own garden as well. So there’s lots of food and you take whatever you want at any time so that helps as you don’t have to spend heaps of money on veggies and fruit. We kill our cows and sheep and have eggs from our chickens so we don’t have to spend much money, we’re not self-sufficient yet but really close. We’re not spending too much on groceries...about $100 a week for five people.

(Video: Produced by Brook Freeman/Tui Video Productions for The Wireless)

Growing up here was really fun. There’s always lots of kids around and lots of different families. I met my best friend at Riverside, he’s basically my twin, we are born three days apart. We hang out and get up to heaps of stuff together, it’s really cool, your best mate as your neighbour.

There are always lots of kids around to start a game of football, so heaps of people join in, we’d play hide and seek. There’s so many kids it’s almost like you're in a neighbourhood where all the kids would come out and play on the street but at Riverside, there’s grass, trees, a whole different kind of playground. We’d also go swimming, a lot at the dam, there are lots of rafts and kayaks around. It’s really fun when you are younger, but does get boring when you get older.

We don’t all fit the stereotype of hippies there’s quite a lot of nerds and gaming geeks! There’s a lot of people really into gaming here, you bring your computer and set it up to play massive multiplayer games for hours. Its lots of fun. We have LAN parties. A lot of my friends are really nerdy, it was great fun, they are six years older than me, I was eight when I started getting into it and they were teenagers.

We’re not really that hippie-ish, we are just normal kids – what our parents do doesn’t really affect what we do. Not everyone has super hippie parents, sure you’ll find the occasional hippie, mostly it’s the woofers and tourists that like to embrace that aspect.

A lot of the parents are normal, my mum is a teacher. There’s lots of really intelligent, hard-working people, we’re not just all laid back hippies sitting there chilling, but the stereotype rubs off on us. Like at school if someone says ‘oh you’re from Riverside, you’re a major hippie’ but if I come in with a shirt and jeans, looking more like I’m from the city, they are like ‘oh, where’s the hippie in you?’ 

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