Common Ground run by a dangerous cult?

I always used to enjoy the wholesome food from the Common Ground Café at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, the Newtown Festival and other events. There’s now a bad taste in my mouth now that I’ve discovered they’re owned by an isolationist cult with abusive child-discipline practices.

A former member says workers aren’t paid and there’s no workers compensation or insurance.

[Update 25 April 2012: I’m closing comments on this post now, for the reasons given in the final comment. If you want to tell me anything more about Twelve Tribes or Common Ground Cafe, please email me.]

34 Replies to “Common Ground run by a dangerous cult?”

  1. I have a similar bad taste over my (fortunately small) donations to the Mercy Foundation which turns out to be a Hillsong affiliated cult which has done serious damage to the young women I was trying to help. I did realise it was a religious organisation, but without thinking about it too much, thought it was the Sisters of Mercy, who are not a bad bunch. I think all my donations will go to the Smith Family in future, who are explicitly non religious.

  2. For similar reasons, I avoid donations to political lobbyist organisations.

    Too many of them have affiliations in unexpected directions, or spend too much of their donated income on “non-core” (i.e. non-helpful) activities.

    (And when a high-profile green group starts being associated with Eco-Terrorist groups such as Sea Shepherd, I start to really wonder about the height & stability of their moral high-ground. <sigh>).

    These days, most of my donations go directly to the needy (by buying them food, not giving $$), or to organisations like ABM, St. Vincent De Paul & the Salvation Army — who publicly argue with policy makers about social justice issues.

  3. There’s a follow-up story in the Sydney Morning Herald today: “The general manager of the Royal Easter Show said he would not be surprised if a café run at the event by a Christian sect was inspected by the state’s workplace watchdog after revelations its workers were not being paid.”

    @Quatrefoil: It’s getting hard to know which charities are in accord with one’s beliefs. Is more openness needed?

    @Crispin Harris: I’m with you on Sea Shepherd, of course, as I’ve previously written…

    1. You’r funny guys,
      You need to know that if workers don’t get money it is called WWOOFING (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). It’s a fair exchange of knowledge. Wwoofers get food and a great accomodation for working half-time. There are about 20 000 home/farm/enterprise that work with this principle in Australia and it’s a great deal!
      I am an experienced wwoofer and i can say there is nothing dodgy behind even at the Common ground cafe. Most of the serious-looking company that gives a lot of money are less reliable.

      1. I agree with Cyril. I too Wwoofed for Common Ground Cafe in Katoomba and they are an amazing group of people who are philanthropic and have genuine concern for others wellbeing. They are self sustaining and at the cafe, they serve healthy food of the highest quality.

        My experience was nothing but gratitude to them for allowing me the opportunity to learn through working in their cafe as a Wwoofer.

        Language is a powerful thing, it can be destructive to others unnecessarily but used with good intent it can be constructive.

      2. @Cyril: This is all way off topic of the Common Ground Cafe — except that you claim without any real argument that there’s “nothing dodgy” there. I’m glad you’ve been able to audit their compliance through some sort of magic hand-waving, and investigate what happens in their homes similarly.

        But, this wwoofer thing. You’re working for a farm that then sells its products for money, right? It’s a business. You were paid the appropriate legally-mandated minimum wage for that work? You know for sure that your Workers Compensation insurance was being properly paid? Your compulsory superannuation payments? That all labour laws including occupational health and safety requirements were being met? That the right taxes were being paid?

        If any of that was missing, that’s dodginess right there.


        This bit here…

        Language is a powerful thing, it can be destructive to others unnecessarily but used with good intent it can be constructive.

        … is meant to imply what, exactly? As it reads now it’s just saying “a tool like language can be used for good or bad”. Well, der.

        I certainly hope you’re not being so naive or disingenuous as to equate criticism with destruction, or so gutless and dishonest that you can’t speak plainly.

  4. I don’t give to ‘charities’ as such anymore. There are plenty of people needy enough of money to ask for money in the street. I would rather give to them. What they spend it on is their own business.

  5. @fatty samuels: That’s an interesting angle. I agree that helping the people in your own community directly is perhaps a Good Thing. However, given that when most people express concerns over where their charity dollar goes, I’m amazed you can happily let the money be spent on… whatever. Or do you choose the recipients more wisely?

  6. I am not a member but these folk are my neighbors, so I feel I should say something in their defense.

    I walk past the common ground cafe in Katoomba every day, I see their families, children and members happily going about their business on a day to day basis and openly sharing their lifestyle within our community, harming none. They all look happy, radiant and serve bloody great food with a smile every time….. I am sorry, but, what, is their crime again? I work tirelessly for my parents who need ongoing help and assistance and I do not get remunerated, insurance, super etc! If you should so judge an entire group of people by the murmurings of , was it one!, disgruntled ex- members, perhaps you r contributions are deserving for reputable websites such as crikey!

    Over the 3 odd years that we have observed them and cordially interacted with them as we pass, not once have they ever tried to convert us, ask us for money, donations- unlike your website~, assistance or tempt us in any way. They do not hide who they are and nor should they. They do work bloody hard, and so do my husband and I and most of the small business owners in this community and what’s the crime in that.

    If anything, they are the complete antithesis to what you describe. They are mostly incredibly intelligent and talented individuals, many with tertiary qualifications, who, additionally, seem to have very balanced children. They ( the children) are not frightened of people outside their group and are even allowed to talk to them!!!. The common ground folk share their meals, generosity of spirit and business with people outside their group, unlike other christian sects which dominate small business throughout Australia.

    I feel that you have been harsh against a group of people that seem to share only the best of what they have to offer.

    Incidentally, the police station is across the road from the Katoomba Cafe, not exactly an ideal breeding ground for a harsh sect as so described by this site and related articles.

    Charity begins at home , does it not. …I daresay the very place you are writing/ maintaining this very website from!

    1. I agree, also being a neighbour and interacting with them regularly since they first opened in Katoomba. I think there’s a lot of bad press about that is just hearsay and people actually not really knowing anything much about the. Like you, I care for my daughter, who is ill, without remuneration or recognition … and yes, charity does begin at home.

      I have no reason to believe the rumours and gossip that I’ve heard – similarly, I’ve observed the children who all seem well cared for, happy, loved and very much able to interact with the adults and others around them.

      It’s always a worry when all you have heard about people is via internet sites that often like to bad mouth others. I will be supporting Common Ground in Katoomba, unless I see evidence that proves they are anything other than they appear to be – a Christian group who live very much as a community of people who support one another.

    2. Well done for beautiful response:) I lived with the people for two weeks and witnessed the manner they related to each other, their guests, customers and especially the love for their children who are solid, well balance children.

      You are absolutely correct, they have nothing to hide “They are an open soul” because their home is open to all who wish to enter it.

  7. @Conservative View: Your detailed comment precisely sums up the dilemma when thinking about Common Ground and their parent organisation Twelve Tribes.

    Yes, they’re friendly, work hard, make yummy food in their Common Ground Cafés, and don’t proselytise at events like Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. Nevertheless, there are continuing reports of domestic violence within the group — that Sydney Morning Herald article quotes two former members, not just one as you imply. While one or two disgruntled former members might be making up horror stories, there do seem to be consistent long-running narratives.

    There’s certainly nothing wrong with hard work, and even nothing wrong, per se, with working hard for no personal reward but only for “the good of the group”. Indeed, in other contexts I’ve expressed sadness that many volunteer activities people used to do “for the community” are in decline.

    Still, when a group “requires the surrender of all private possessions and denies the opportunity for personal wealth”, when “wives are to respect and to be submissive to their husbands”, when “children should honor [sic] and obey their parents as their supreme authority” (especially when home-schooling and no electronic communications means there’s no source of complex information apart from their parents), and when corporal punishment is not only permitted but recommended, you have the elements of something which could be quite dangerous.

    Yet Twelve Tribes members do seem to be more sincere in their Christian faith, and in following the teachings of that bloke from Nazareth, than many if not most of the much larger churches supposedly established in his name.

    As I say, it’s a dilemma.

    Nevertheless, I reckon that using violence to enforce particular behaviours — whether it’s with “a small reed-like rod” or anything else — is inexcusable. If it’s being done to children, and Twelve Tribes will freely admit that it is, then they are criminals.

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  9. I think you would be a fool to believe everything you read in the Sydney morning herald.
    And if you want to know the truth about the Twelve Tribes .then just go and visit or stay with them .they do welcome people at there home.until then you cant really make any sort of judgement .. right … go and see for youreself

  10. @Bob: A lovely bit of rhetoric there, Sir, but it changes nothing. I don’t “believe everything [I] read in the Sydney Morning Herald“. Nor do I believe that visiting people who might be polite and welcoming to their guests would reveal the “truth” about what they might do in private, one way or the other.

  11. Yes, well i guess you would have to be careful of what you say about these people or anyone mind you ,and the fact still remains that you will never no the “truth” unless you see for yourself.
    Behind close doors or not the “truth” will speak for itself when you observe the children .It should be obvious, (unless you are an idiot)whether the way they are being raised is right or wrong.I think is so great that children would honor and obey their parents,that is normal.And if the wives submit to there husbands then good on them.Isn’t there more problems in the world you should be worrying about than the Twelve Tribes?

  12. @Bob: Right. That’s the second time you’ve called me a “fool” and an “idiot” on my own goddam website, so it’s fucking well gloves-off time, you prick!

    It’s a bit fucking rich, too, seeing you’re so ill-educated you don’t even know the difference between “no” and “know”, or “there” and “their”. Now there’s the sign of a successful culture. Not.

    If you’re the kind of neolithic cunt who thinks that women — fellow human beings! — should “submit” to their husbands, or anyone else for that matter, then you really do need to be sorted out.

    This whole attitude, that it’s good that kids “honour” their parents and that it’s just fine if we beat them up to achieve it, is truly disgusting. And what’s even more disgusting is that you clearly don’t see anything wrong with your worldview.

    Women and children are not your possessions or your slaves, you arsehole.

    “Isn’t there more problems in the world you should be worrying about than the Twelve Tribes?”, you ask, ungrammatically. You mean, “Go away and leave us to beat up our families”? Hell no.

    If you were here, right now, I would spit on you.

    For starters.

  13. Yeah Bob, what he said!

    Any philosophy that encourages inequality of rights based on age, sex, sexual orientation, race, social position etc etc deserves as much bad press as it can get.

    Is there a legal or moral problem when the community works for free? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Is there a legal or moral problem when members of a community are physically etc abused for not following the rules? Unequivocally YES.

    Is there a social problem in play when women and children are second-class citizens, there only to please the men? Hell YES!!

    Seriously Bob, if you have an issue with the site owner, take issue with that, but defending whatever he attacks just makes you look more like a dickhead than your illiteracy. Seriously.

  14. Well sorry i didn’t mean to offend you, but i will say that unfortunately you’re fowl language and threats discredit you from having any good morals. nor is it edifying for any “women” to read such “bad English” ..all the best.

  15. Sorry Stilgherrian & Deb I have to agree with Bob.You cant believe everything you read in the papers. you even said yourself Stilgherrian ,that you didn’t believe everything that you read.Even that so called ex member,how do we really know what he says is the truth?for all we know it could be a pack of lies or an over exaggerated story?So what you end up with could just be speculation or gossip.If you are truly concerned about the well being of those who live within the Twelve Tribes or even them being a threat to the outside community go and see them & observe their behavior.They run a busy cafe on the main st of Katoomba.Some of the children who have grown up in the Twelve Tribes(whom you think have been abused)are now young adults and are running the cafe with warm hospitality and friendly service with a smile.We cannot forget that there is always two sides to a story, so unless you have confidence there is injustice within the group then really you are all just speculating . As a women i believe if they aren’t a threat to society and there is no violence amongst them,then there is no threat to a child respecting their parents,i would expect my child to obey and respect me, and if a wife “chooses” to submit to her husband and she is comfortable with that and happy then it is her choice.and that is O.K
    One last thing is that i did think it was quite aggressive the way you responded to Bob and that sort of language and attitude is disgusting.Who’s grammar is worse? just remember that he is you’re “fellow human being”and if you set up these websites then remember that we all have the freedom of speech.

  16. @julie: Do you actually know how newspapers work? They have people called “journalists” and “editors” and “lawyers” who are all trained to weigh up the information they’ve gathered and decide whether to publish it or not.

    I’d much rather believe a newspaper report written by a professional journalist who’s aware of the potential threat of a defamation suit than a bunch of random commenters who would seem to be connected to the organisation and practices they defend.

    (If you are actually connected to Twelve Tribes, then it would be ethical to declare it rather than speak about them in the third person. Are you so connected?)

    Do you actually know how logic works? What on earth would me observing people working in a café in Katoomba tell about me about what those people might have experienced in private as children? What would it tell me about other people who are not present?

    Do you actually know what grammar is? Bob can’t spell (which is not grammar) and has trouble forming proper sentences (which is grammar), and you’re little better. What I did was swear at him (which is not grammar).

    And you thought I used aggressive language towards Bob, did you? Well spotted! I know damn well it was aggressive. He called me an idiot and a fool, and both he and you are defending what I consider to be a disgusting worldview, one where women and children are seen as the possessions of the men and where, reportedly, corporal punishment is encouraged. Such language accurately captures the disgust and moral outrage I feel. Get used to it.

    Your little whinge about freedom of speech is hilarious. Grow the fuck up. I’m letting you have your say, completely unedited, on my website. Would I be as free to post critical comments on the Twelve Tribes or Common Ground Café websites? I suspect not.

  17. @julie and @bob: While we’re on the topic of ethical behaviour, would you care to comment on the fact that you both posted your comments from the same, fixed IP address?

    This would normally indicate that you’re simply connecting to the internet using the exact same connection — so there’s obviously a connection between you that you’ve failed to declare.

    But you also make exactly the same writing errors — mistaking “you’re” for “your”, no space between sentences, typing a space before a comma rather than after, using quote marks for emphasis rather than quoting text or as scare quotes for example.

    This strikes me as an odd coincidence.

    Does it strike you as an odd coincidence?

    I’m guessing it doesn’t, because you’re really one and the same person, right?

    What do you think it says about the ethics of someone when they make up false identities to support their argument?

    I know what I think. I think it says that person is dishonest — that they’re a liar and a fraud.

  18. I first ran into the group in Katoomba about 5 years ago – before the cafe had finished being built.
    They invited us in for afternoon tea, and we stayed all afternoon. They had a lot of interests that coincided with mine – like holistic medicine, food and nutrition and creating culture.
    It was fun, and their kids were a delight.
    I didn’t see anything that looked like submissive behaviour from the women – they were actually a lot more vocal in our discussions than the men.

    However, some of the stuff they talked about put my hackles up – around the no personal wealth, distancing from family kind of stuff.
    I did a bit of research when I got home. Twelve tribes are an interesting mob, and in the US they’ve been investigated for child-abuse claims (and not home-schooling in an officially sanctioned way) and other cult behaviour stuff. Thoroughly investigated numerous times, and cleared each time.
    (sorry, i’d share the links, but it was a while ago, and I haven’t got time to dig them up today)

    From what I could find out of their beliefs, they are an end-of-days cult that believes that when they manage to raise a generation of loving, sin-free, innocent children, the kingdom of god will come to earth.
    or something like that.
    they also had a lot of propaganda aimed at people who’d tried a hippy commune experience and were looking for something that ‘worked’.

    Stil, I agree that as a guest in their home, I wouldn’t have seen what they were like behind closed doors. But I’m not sure that as a group they could be considered as evil as you’re making out here. A lot of the issues brought up in that article (corporal punishment, no workers comp, etc) put them in line with groups like the Quakers in the US. Another group I’m not keen to join, but still not going to call a cult.

  19. I have had the pleasure to eat at Common Ground Cafe and was suitably impressed enough to want to learn more about these people. They served very good food reasonable prices and played hosts very well. In my search on the ways of the community, it appears to me that, while they are different in what I have been brought up to believe, they do not appear to be a problem to society in general. If you are not happy there, you certainly have the option to leave. Members do the best they can to emulate Jesus Christ. If you have researched Him at all… You will find that He loved children and women, treating them respectfully and all men (meaning everyone) equally. I am not a member of this organization (for your information).

    As to the contents of discussion here in this website, I find it appalling that the owner should attack a contributor with clear and hostile intent. To me, that’s not free speech, only abuse which is clearly something you say you are against. It might do you some good to figure out how to respond to people who disagree with you in a less hateful manner and people might actually take head to some of what you say. As long as you color your speech with hate and hurtful intentions, most people will blow you off as trash.

    On the subject of spanking children. I grew up in an age where spanking was OK (beating was never ok) and I think I turned out alright. I have no psychological issues from having been spanked when I pummeled my little brother or called my mother a name that was not becoming to such a lovely woman. AND… I have a healthy respect for being punished for wrong doings… Therefore, I have NEVER been in trouble with the law. I am a successful member of society, having completed a Master’s degree and worked most of my adult life. I do respect and honor my husband (mostly because he is honorable) and don’t have any problem with the submit part either. As a matter of fact, we routinely submit to one another!

  20. @Rebecca: So to sum up your comment: I didn’t see anything wrong at Common Ground Cafe, so there isn’t anything wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with myself, so there isn’t anything wrong. I have been (metaphorically) beaten into submission to the extent that I never challenge the world around me and never vent my true feelings — which might sometimes include rage. I am a Christian, you should be too. And a lecture about how you should write.


    Look, I’m happy that you’ve got yourself a comfortable, unchallenging existence. Well done. You’re a “successful member of society” even! Woohoo!

    What does that even mean?

    What it means is that you’re part of the great middle-class majority, looking down at anyone who doesn’t fit your version of success or speak the way you speak it. The fact that you critique “the contents of discussion here in this website” solely on the basis of me telling a liar where he can get off using a few short-sharp Anglo-Saxon words is ample proof. Hiding your insults in implication wrapped in sanctimonious righteousness is no less aggressive than an insult written with the earthy honesty of “strong language”.

    Actually, there’s more than 2000 posts here. A tiny minority use “strong language”. Did you read any of them? Or are you happy to write someone off as trash based on a superficial reading of just this one conversation? If so, you’re even shallower than I thought.

    Sorry. You have a Masters degree. You can’t be shallow. And besides, I’d never judge someone’s whole life on the basis of just one conversation. That would be hypocritical, right?

  21. That’s a shame. I live closer to the CBD but I come up to Katoomba with my boyfriend now and then. I really enjoy the food, ambience and service there at the common ground. As we all know, not everything is in black and white. Perhaps we could eventually find some middle ground here. I’d hate to stop visiting that place! Gustastissimo is nice, but it’s just not the same.
    I am Christian but I don’t agree with female oppression or abuse of any kind. It’s disheartening to hear about this.

  22. Reflecting again upon this comment thread, there seems to be a disconnect.

    Most of the commenters who wish to disagree with me are talking abut how they visited Common Ground Cafe, found that the people were pleasant, the children polite and well-behaved (according to some pre-conceived chocolate-box idea of what “well-behaved” means), and that they didn’t see anything wrong when they were there. Oh, and how dare I swear.

    At least that’s the commenters who weren’t straight-up lying about who they were and what their association was.

    What I’m talking about is how Twelve Tribes represents a disgustingly outmoded worldview with only men in charge, where women and children provided to do their bidding, and where access to information that contradicts that worldview is forbidden.

    Note the ban on sex education (which is basic health information, so denying this knowledge is essentially abuse) and the teaching of evolution.

    All that has precisely nothing to do with how much they smile, or how freshly-washed the kiddies’ faces are, or how good the bread tastes.

    I’m talking about an organisation that has, according to numerous news reports over the years (not “gossip”, note!), stated that it is acceptable to use violence against children, and defends the practice by saying that the stick we hit them with is only a little stick.

    I am thoroughly baffled by the idea of anyone with even half a brain or half a moral compass supporting this sort of thing in the 21st century. Baffled. And appalled.

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