[Note: typos corrected.]
Like a phoenix from the ashes, the Church of Scientology is back in Victoria.
Fifteen years ago some Scientology practices were banned. The cult was called a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially.
But Scientology came back. As a cult it was outlawed, but it returned as a recognised denomination.
That was in 1972. Now the church is flourishing to the extent that it has bought an $800,000 city building for its Victorian headquarters.
The new home puts Scientology back in the religious mainstream.
Spokesman for the church, the Reverend Robert Allsop, said yesterday the new Russell Street headquarters was very much a phoenix from the ashes affair. The church's old headquarters in Caulfield was destroyed by fire last March.
The Russell Street building was financed by the Religious Research Foundation - an organisation set up in America by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to provide funds for new churches around the world.
Mr Allsop said the money for the Russell Street building was simply a loan which would be repaid by the Melbourne church.
The acquisition of the building was a far cry from the days when some cult practices were outlawed under the Victorian Psychological Practices Act in 1965 after a 159-day inquiry which cost $75,000 and condemned Scientology as an evil pseudo-science.
"Melbourne had one of the biggest churches of Scientology in the world before 1965," Mr Allsop said.
"There were maybe 8000 people. But one by one they left."
Dark days followed. Scientologists saw parallels with the early dark days of Christianity in the Roman Empire. But by 1968 Scientology was back on its feet in Victoria. Members met in suburban homes.
"The inquiry made people afraid to admit they were Scientologists," Mr Allsop said. "But soon they started to come out of the woodwork."
When the church "came into the open" about 1971 it had four members only on staff.
Mr Allsop said the membership had grown to 5000 plus this year. And more were coming. There are now about 100 on staff. "The future is all ours," he said.
Scientology was founded on the principles set out by Mr Hubbard in a book "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health". That was published in the early 1950s and since then the sect has grown to a worldwide membership of about 5.5 million.
It has met opposition nearly everywhere - there are law suits now going on in the United States and the church is still not welcome in the United Kingdom. Scientologists see the opposition as the establishment, primarily the psychiatric establishment, resisting change.
"Ron Hubbard provides something for a multitude of people in a $5 book," Mr Allsop said. Mr Allsop said the Melbourne church's operations were financed by donations received from counselling and courses designed to help people realise their potential.
Church membership costs money. And the higher a person goes in the church the more it costs.
Mr Allsop said the top level course offered in Melbourne would cost recipients about $1500.
Members in business were not expected to contribute funds to the church.
Coming "on staff" is the Scientologist equivalent of taking up a ministry.
Mr Allsop said this was to protect the church's investment.
"It is simply a safeguard," he said. "A minister cannot just up and leave his parishioners in the lurch and our staff are put on contracts for the same sort of reason."
The Church of Scientology also supports a number of groups involved in community affairs that use Mr Hubbard's "technology". These include the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights - which campaigns for civil rights for mental patients - and the Society for the Protection of the Privacy of the Individual which, in Australia, is primarily concerned with hectoring the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
Other groups on drug dependence and education are not directly supported by the Church of Scientology but they use Hubbard precepts in their work.
While Scientologists see the church flourishing in Victoria, members see the continued existence of the State's Psychological Practices Act as a grave slur on their church.
[photo: man with Scientology cross around neck] Robert Allsop at his Malvern home. It is also a makeshift office for Melbourne's Scientologists
Membership of a religious order usually requires a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, but the requirements to join the Church of Scientology's "Sea Organisation" are something else.
Hopefuls have to fill out a 13-point application form before becoming eligible to sign a contract as a fully fledged member of the "Sea Organisation". 'The Age' obtained a copy of the application form yesterday.
Questions applicants are asked include:
DO YOU have any institutional history of psychosis?
DO YOU have a history of electric, insulin or other shock treatment or, psychiatric brain operation?
HAVE YOU ever sued a Church of Scientology or a Scientology principal?
HAVE YOU ever blown (left without authorisation) from a Church of Scientology?
DO YOU have a parent or guardian who is antagonistic to Scientology or your involvement with it?
ARE YOU joining with the intention of obtaining news stories or generally disrupting the organisation?
DO YOU have any large personal debts which would require leaving the organisation to handle?
Applicants are to answer "yes" or "no" to questions. They are asked to give full details if they answer "yes".
The "Sea Organisation" was set up by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to research earlier civilisations and provide senior management courses for church members. The latter activity predominates in Australia.
Members accepted into the "Sea Organisation" take vows of service - including signing "symbolic" billion year contracts - and adopt a community lifestyle traditional to religious orders.