Zap’s top three now key Canty figures
In the late ’ 70s and ’ 80s, Zenith Applied Philosophy followers took to the streets to win converts. One adherent has close ties to the Christchurch City Council. Until recently, another was vice-president of theACTParty. MARTINVANBEYNENlooks at the Zapp
Zenith Applied Philosophy (Zap) is a peculiarly Christchurch phenomenon. Its three most prominent adherents are well known locally but not nationally.
Local developer Dave Henderson has been a committed member for nearly 30 years and, these days, is never far from the headlines. Trevor Louden, who until recently was the vice-president of the ACT Party, is based in Christchurch, researching Left-wing groups.
Former Christchurch city councillor and Canterbury District Health Board member Robin Booth was also a member of Zap. The Wizard attended Zap meetings until going his own way.
The city council’s purchase of five Henderson properties for $17 million this month has evoked a raft of rumours associating mayor Bob Parker with Zap. Parker said he had never even heard of the organisation.
‘‘You have to ask where on earth are these rumours coming from,’’ he said.
Zap adherents have been described as kooks and antiSemites but the sect’s manifesto remains something of a mystery.
Over its 30-year history, Zap has taken elements of Scientology, Eastern mysticism and the John Birch Society to cook up a pot-pourri of ideas to suit people of many persuasions.
Its heyday was probably in the late ’70s and ’80s when followers took to the streets in Christchurch to preach an antiunion, anti-tax and anticommunist message.
They flogged pamphlets and books such as None Dare Call it Conspiracy, a John Birch Society tract espousing a conspiracy theory that communism was controlled by international bankers.
They engaged people in conversation and those seen as ‘‘achievers’’ or ‘‘high tone’’ were invited to take personality tests and encouraged to take a series of self-improvement courses costing between $160 and $680, large amounts in 1979.
The early years of the movement were wild times by all accounts. The founder, John Dalhoff, formerly of Golden Bay and whose parents were from Denmark, claimed to have mastery of the physical universe and at one time asserted he had absorbed aWellington earthquake which would otherwise have cracked open containers hiding Soviets ready to take over the country. He expelled two followers whom he accused of being aliens. He called himself John Ultimate. His house at 193 Clyde Road was declared centre of the universe.
Zap adherents ran several businesses, one of which was a chain of sandwich bars called the Sandwich Factory owned by Henderson. He blamed its failure on a bitter fight with the unions. ‘‘Our staff did not want to belong to a union. We weren’t about to force them,’’ he wrote in his 1999 tax saga, Be Very Afraid.
The fight, however, was with five young women employees who claimed Henderson had paid them under-award wages and deducted sums from their wages for misdemeanours. The Canterbury Hotel, Hospital, and Restaurant Workers Union took their cases to the Arbitration Court and won a $20,000 award.
There were also allegations of bizarre purification rituals, rigid financial controls on members, and members growing away from their families.
In 1985 MP Philip Burdon, in whose electorate the sect operated, called for a government inquiry which never eventuated for lack of hard evidence.
At its feisty peak the sect probably had no more than a few hundred recruits, and by 1990 the membership had thinned to a core group of about 20 to 30.
After 1990, the street activism took a back seat with adherents gathering at Dalhoff’s large home in Clyde Road on Sunday nights for a meal and wideranging discussions. Attendees would be encouraged to contribute to talkback on Radio Liberty, a libertarian radio station owned by Henderson, which folded in 1995 after seven months on air.
Dalhoff would participate in the gatherings but only by way of an intercom. He had become morbidly obese and seemed to have an aversion to meeting people face to face although he would telephone adherents. The meetings continued for 10 years, during which time attendees did not see him once.
The group has rules and principles and breaches received penalties such as a period of work on an organic farm run by the sect in Belfast called Natrodale Plus Organics. The operation is now a company directed by committed Zap member Susan Dawe, who also owned Farmer John’s burger bar in Colombo Street.
Other punishments included giving a speech in Cathedral Square and helping out at an old people’s home or the SPCA. Dalhoff was regarded as a harsh disciplinarian.
The personal growth courses continued in the ’90s although these were always run by Dalhoff’s wife, Joy, a petite, strikingly attractive woman. She now runs the courses from her suite in The Heritage, the former Government Building in Cathedral Square.
Dalhoff and her son, Jens, own one of the two luxury penthouse suites in the building with a company called Heritage Trustee Company Ltd owned by Auckland residents Anne and Douglas Somer-Edgar. The penthouse suite next door is owned by Principal Unit 60 Ltd, a company owned by Henderson’s wife, Kristina Buxton.
Joy Dalhoff continues to teach the eclectic mix of principles developed by John Dalhoff from a number of sources. Essentially, they centre on the 200 axioms of Scientology. The axioms were composed by founder Ron Hubbard and regarded as the distillation of all wisdom. Incomprehensible to the untrained, they posit that life is basically a static that has no mass, no motion, no wavelength, no location in space or in time. It has the ability to postulate and to perceive.
Dalhoff joined the Church of Scientology while studying at Massey University in the late ’60s and went to the UK to study at the Saint Hill Manor Scientology Centre in West Sussex, England. He returned in New Zealand as a full-time Scientology worker and in 1972 was expelled for failure to comply with the ethical codes of the church.
In August 1974 he declared he had reached the ‘‘ultimate’’ state and in September announced he was John Ultimate. He died in 2001.
It is impossible to know how much money Dalhoff made from his time in the sect and he invested for years in the US stockmarket. He was a generous donor to a large number of causes.
Joy Dalhoff has reportedly taken a softer line than her husband and readmitted members who were previously deregistered. Deregistered adherents were not allowed to talk to current members under John Dalhoff’s rules.
Her watered-down Zap has not deterred committed members and it looks set to carry on for many years to come.
Dave Henderson was asked about his involvement in Zap but refused to answer specific questions. He sent this response: ‘‘My response which I expect to be published in full is that these are very stupid questions and propositions and follow on from an extraordinary amount of bitterness extended from Martin Van Beynen to me. My experience with Martin is that he brings his personal fears, bitterness and hatreds to bear in his stories and that he quite happily omits important facts or relevant comment from a story in order to give that story its significance. Such approach precludes meaningful discussion on what are often serious matters.’’
An illustration from coverage in The Press of reaction to Zenith Applied Philosophy in 1980.