[Note: This article was an accompaniment to the Australian reprinting of Scientology: the children of Apollo take over by John Barnes for the Sunday Times (UK).]
According to Mark Hanna, missionaries are sometimes sent to Australia from the American Church of Scientology to look over operations and advise on improvements. The advice seems to be effective. Hanna says the Church has about 30,000 Australian members and is in the midst of an "unprecedented boom".
During the day, the four floors of its Sydney headquarters at 201 Castlereagh St are occupied by about 60 Scientologists liaising with church offices in other states and training recruits.
Off the foyer an office is left symbolically vacant on the remote possibility that L. Ron Hubbard might wing into Sydney. Four pens are spread on the blotter of his desk.
On the third floor are the Sea Orgs or church administrators, controlled by a small woman known as the Captain and assisted by executive officers. There are about 30 Sea Orgs on this floor, all decked out in naval rig.
Hanna, the national spokesman for Scientology, speaks with pride of the church's progress. Seven years ago he was a third-year law student at Sydney University who was interviewed on the street by a man with a clipboard. He says: "Through Scientology I developed a greater confidence in myself. I was able to do what I wanted to do. I was actually able to be more myself."
Scientology has turned him into a rock of faith. Attacks on L. Ron Hubbard and the church in the United States only strengthen his beliefs.
He also believes moves in the South Australian Parliament to probe Scientology represent minority community views. But, according to South Australian Liberal parliamentarian John Burdett, there is adequate evidence for an inquiry.
Mr Burdett says that in the last month he has received numerous complaints about the church. A few people claim they have paid large amounts of money to the organisation for "auditing".
When I first telephoned Mark Hanna and told him I wanted to do a story, his response was guarded. He wanted to know what research I had done and who I had spoken to. He knew about The Sunday Times article by John Barnes and referred to it disparagingly as "that Barnes thing".
Hanna: "No one who is critical of Scientology is happy. Barnes just interviewed criminals - that can be proved.
"If you read that Barnes article you don't get a very good view of LRH. But have a look at this. This shows what all of these mayors in the US have said about him. All of these people have written to Ron."
He produced a glossy magazine with a picture of Hubbard on the cover, and pages of citations inside. The former science-fiction writer cum prophet seems to have quite a following.
Hubbard, apparently, spent 10 days in Melbourne in 1959. Audrey Devlin, the church director of official affairs, met him: "He came out to see how we were going, and to bring out some new technology he had been researching. He was a big, friendly fellow; very dynamic."
Devlin is one of the church's longest-serving members in Australia. "In 1957 I was working in a doctor's surgery and there was an ad in the local paper about how you could improve your ability. I just thought: 'If I can improve my ability I can get another job.' I found the ad was for a course of Scientology lectures."
Australian Scientology began in Victoria and was originally called the Hubbard Association of Scientologists (HASI). An inquiry by Kevin Anderson QC, in 1963, led to the banning of many of Scientology's activities in that state (Hanna says "Holy Joe" Anderson began a vendetta after receiving just one complaint).
Following the inquiry, the Victorian Government passed a Psychological Practices Act, but it was repealed in 1982. Similar legislation was enacted in South Australia but repealed in 1974.
The church has had a number of notable victories since then, and last year won a High Court battle to be regarded as a religious institution.
At the time of the Anderson inquiry, the church is alleged to have said: "HASI is non-religious - it does not demand belief or faith, nor is it in conflict with faith. People of all faiths use Scientology."
But Mark Hanna says: "That was the silly official who represented us (at the inquiry). What we actually said was we are religious - and scientific - and if you read the report you will find that."
The gist is, that in each human there is an immortal spirit known as a "thetan". This spirit is capable of living through multiple lives, although the body and mind are not. Scientology aims to purify or "clear" this thetan by removing painful images called "engrams" which block it. The tool for this clarification is the E-meter.
During my conversation with Hanna, an E-meter was brought in by a Scientologist called Kevin who set it up on the coffee table. It was hard to believe this device (two cans attached by wires to a galvometer) was banned in two states during the 1960s: certainly no electric shocks from this machine.
The subject being "audited" holds the two cans in his hands, and is asked to think up some engrams. The galvometer helps to read the resistance created by these mental blocks. The problem with being "on the cans" is that sometimes no engrams appear. A little worried at this, I gave the cans a squeeze and the needle jumped.
Mark Hanna said it took years of study to become an advanced Scientologist able to properly operate the E-meter. While touring the building he pointed out a corridor with about 10 confessional booths where the E-meter is used in private auditing. Hanna denies these confessionals give great power over its members: "There is no great threat in confessions - show me one case where this has been done wrongly."
According to Hanna, when Hubbard began he found he was immediately under attack by the American Medical Association and many psychiatrists.
"Dianetics makes a person himself, right. The word that was coined is 'clear'. When we got attacked we asked ourselves, what would attack something that attempts to free mankind? It would be those who seek to enslave someone."
Psychiatrists are their main antagonists. When Scientologists talk about them, the engrams are almost palpable. The battle is not just social or political, but theological. Psychiatrists, according to them, entrap the thetan through drugs and shock therapy.
Scientologist Jan Eastgate said: "Ron went into seclusion (around 1981) not long after John Lennon was killed, and there was the attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Both attempts were made by psychiatric patients."
Does Scientology have a future? Hanna certainly believes so: "Ask the Christians in 100 AD what they were doing. They were out there preaching on the street corners. These days the smaller religions offer results. A lot of major religious leaders are seeing that."