Inside Gloriavale: A community a world apart

At the end of a rural West Coast road and off the beaten track, Gloriavale reveals itself from the wilderness.

It's just an hour's drive from Greymouth but the residents there live a completely different life.

Employment Court Chief Judge Christina Inglis was invited to visit the reclusive Christian community as part of an ongoing hearing.

Lawyers, court staff and security guards plus leavers Anna Courage, Virginia Courage and Pearl Valor travelled with her.

Five journalists were also granted extraordinary permission to visit with strict conditions including not being allowed to film or take photos inside.

What we saw

The visit was highly planned, 22 stops within the main building, accommodation block, school and outdoor area.

The laundry was where Chief Judge Inglis saw women working for the first time.

They were cleaning and drying the community's washing in industrial-sized machines before items were ironed at stations like clockwork.

Purity and Samuel Valor lead Chief Judge Christina Inglis and lawyer Brian Henry through the community.
Purity and Samuel Valor lead Chief Judge Christina Inglis and lawyer Brian Henry through the community. Photo credit: Newshub

The kitchen is similar with its industrial-sized output to feed nearly 600 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A young girl stood on a stool stirring a large vat of macaroni and cheese with a paddle almost as tall as her.

"It's a little nerve-racking with a whole lot of people," she giggled to Chief Judge Inglis as she stopped to observe.

Other young women were hand-washing fruit and slicing loaves of bread and two girls were in the dairy room tediously milling cheese.

The dining hall, surrounded by props and decorations from shows in the past, has a table for each family. A community notice board displays printouts of selected news from the outside world, including articles criticising their way of life. We can't be sure if they were only printed off for our tour.

The playground of Gloriavale’s School.
The playground of Gloriavale’s School. Photo credit: Newshub

Children's laughter and screams filled the schoolyard as the visiting party moved through the school.

In a separate room young children no older than 10 years old were learning to bake muffins.

Our stop at the community library reveals what kind of control the leaders have over the community.

Movies and TV shows are heavily edited with nudity and swearing taken out to bring R18 and R16 content down to PG13.

Nearly 600 residents live at Gloriavale.
Nearly 600 residents live at Gloriavale. Photo credit: Newshub

The accommodation blocks house the nearly 600 residents.

Chief Judge Inglis was shown a typical family room with a double-bed, bunk-bed and a small bathroom with a toilet, hand-basin and shower.

A group of preschool-age kids learning nearby greeted the judge and wanted to shake her hand.

They are fascinated by the other outsiders too and pulled faces to get our attention. I poked my tongue out in response prompting a giggle from the kids.

Other than customary hello and goodbyes, court rules dictated we were not allowed to "converse or engage in any exchange with any person".

Samuel Valor leads the party to the green house.
Samuel Valor leads the party to the green house. Photo credit: Newshub

Down the road, trucks, forklifts and greenhouses amplify Gloriavale's show of self-sufficiency.

After a two-hour visit the Chief Judge has been able to see for herself how the reclusive Christian community lives. Almost school camp-like but on a larger scale.

Notably, she saw very few men and virtually no women outside.

The Employment Court hearing will resume in Christchurch on Monday when Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple gives his evidence over three days.