Just a short 15-minute drive out of the city, where suburban bicycles meet tram cars, you’ll now find Melbourne’s new Scientology Headquarters. It’s hard to miss. The church stands on a 19th century estate, bought from the Catholic Church for $7 million in 2005 and has been renovated at an estimated cost of $20 million. Inside the massive compound, sits a large chapel, a public auditorium, course rooms and a multimedia public information centre. It’s a state of the art product.
Former planning minister Justin Madden was there for the opening: ” it’s as Melbourne as Melbourne gets,” he said. It’s drawn criticism from Victoria’s premier Ted Baillieu when he stressed, “I, like many Australians have concerns about the role Scientology has played in the past.” When Mayor Robert Doyle said “In no way was this any affirmation or support for the religion or the church,” after he attended the opening and cut the ribbon, one might suspect the new property has left an imprint of mixed emotions amongst Melburnians, after its grand opening recently.
If you happen to shun its existence, here’s the bad news: the Church of Scientology is here to stay in Melbourne.
Ron Hubbard was no stranger to Australia.
The founder of Scientology was stationed in Australia for a stint as a naval intelligence officer during World War II, when Darwin was being bombed by Japan. He later returned in 1959 to roll out a series of 38 lectures to Scientologists in Melbourne.
Within months of the release of his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in 1950, the first Dianetics group was formed here. By 1955, the first Scientology Church in Australia opened in Melbourne. It gained momentum when Australian Scientologists gathered and spoke to a crowd of more than 70 followers. It was the first large scale organised meeting of its kind; but it was only the start. From these early victories, up sprung Scientology offices like honey mushrooms – Sydney and Perth – and has continued to grow.
But why Australia?
A Scientologist sent a letter to Hubbard in 1959 and it said: “Perhaps the difference in Australia is there is a lot of hope and many possibilities of succeeding in the game down here than elsewhere.”
Hubbard’s thinking was perhaps Australia, being a relatively young country and a country that doesn’t get bogged down in old traditions was a country to plant the seeds of Scientology and its philosophies. Perhaps he saw Australia as a country that would embrace it, rather than shun it. And, with the new multimillion dollar estate firmly planted a stone throw away from the city’s heartbeat, Scientology is here to stay.
The first Church of Scientology was formed in the United States in 1954 and has today expanded to more than 9,000 Churches, Missions and affiliated groups, with millions of members in 165 countries.