Kate Ceberano and lapsed member James Packer aside, Scientology has never boasted many high profile Australians among its flock. And so when we hear about the religion these days, it’s generally in the context of its American operations and star-studded membership.
But in decades past, Scientology caused quite a stir locally – although it’s nothing the church would want to boast about. As you prepare to watch Emmy Award-winning documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief on SBS this week, here’s a primer on the religion’s colourful history in Australia.
1950: Dianetics is published
Following its release in 1950, Dianetics: The Modern Sciene of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard gained a following locally, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. The practice of the techniques described in the book, such as auditing, were carried out initially on a fairly informal basis before professional exponents of Dianetics started to establish themselves locally.
1959: L Ron Hubbard visits Australia
By the end of the decade, Hubbard had rebranded his movement as Scientology and Melbourne boasted one of the largest Scientologist communities (per capita) in the world. The founder came to Australia, which he claimed was going to be the first “clear” continent…
Early 1960s: Rupert Murdoch takes on Scientology
… but not if Rupert Murdoch had anything to do with it. He used the Truth newspaper to regularly attack Scientology. Truth routinely referred to it as “Bunkumology” and sought to expose its more apparently suspect practices.
1963-65: The Anderson Report
Partly as a result of Murdoch’s negative coverage, the state of Victoria commenced an official inquiry into Scientology in late 1963. For 14 months from February 1964, the Board of Inquiry into Scientology (which was effectively just Kevin Anderson QC) heard evidence. Representatives for Scientology participated in the proceedings until they withdrew in November 1964, alleging bias by Anderson. His eventual report didn’t hold back, stating, “Scientology is evil, its techniques evil, its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially, and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.” Hubbard branded the proceedings a “kangaroo court” and attempted to sue Anderson, who was granted immunity from the legal action.
1965-68: Scientology banned
Due to the findings of the Inquiry, three states, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, passed legislation that restricted – to one extent or another – the practice of Scientology. All three bans were lifted in the early ’70s. At the same time, Hubbard reportedly solidified the practice of “fair game”, which amounted to the taking of all-out revenge by any means necessary against people who attack Scientology.
1969: Aussie journalist reveals Hubbard’s occult past
In a story for The Sunday Times, Australian investigative journalist Alex Mitchell delivered a major bombshell about Hubbard’s pre-Dianetics involvement with the cult headed by notorious occultist Aleister Crowley.
1979: Deep Sleep Therapy discontinued
Between 1962 and 1979, Dr Harry Bailey had practised a highly controversial – and deadly – process called Deep Sleep Therapy at Chelmsford Private Hospital. The Church of Scientology would prove instrumental in the practice being exposed, using evidence they received from a nurse working at the hospital to push for an official inquiry.
1983: Scientology given religion status
In a unanimous decision, the High Court of Australia found that Scientology (which was then operating as the Church of the New Faith) was a religion and could receive the tax breaks afforded to all religions.
2002: James Packer recruited
According to Steve Cannane, the author of Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia, it was the number one priority of the Church of Scientology to gain James Packer as a member (and hopefully Lachlan Murdoch by association). With a little help from Tom Cruise, the first part of the mission was successful, as Packer became involved with the church following the collapse of One.tel but ended his association a few years later.
2009: Nick Xenophon calls Scientology a “criminal organisation”
After being contacted by ex-Scientologist Aaron Saxton about his experience in the church and gathering statements from other former members, Senator Nick Xenophon made a speech in parliament denouncing the organisation. He called for an official inquiry into the church, but his motion was overwhelmingly voted against.
Watch Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief on Sunday 20 August at 8:30pm on SBS.