March, 2019

Sydney Kings, Cold Chisel, Elton John, then it’s curtains for Sydney Entertainment Centre

The Kingdome: Home of the Sydney Kings since 1990. Photo: Supplied Sydney Entertainment Centre, circa 1990. Photo: Fairfax Archive
Nanjing Night Net

Champ: Jeff Fenech wins a world championship at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, 7 March 1988. Photo: Fairfax Archives

In their  early negotiations with Sydney Entertainment Centre management, the Sydney Kings were told in no uncertain terms that, despite their offer to book in 14 dates per season, if a big musical act wanted the arena the basketballers would have to make way. After all, the argument went, one Elton John or Bruce Springsteen concert would generate more money than the Kings could all year.

By 1993, within three seasons of Kings owner Mike Wrublewski and coach Bob Turner risking everything by moving their club from the 4000-seat State Sports Centre at Homebush to the 10,000-seat Entertainment Centre in the CBD, seats were being set up in the foyer on game nights for those who couldn’t get a ticket.

“Elton John came for an eight-date tour and they had him play for five nights,” Turner recalls. “Then they bumped him out for the Saturday night, put down a basketball court, kept all the rigging on the ceiling and so on, we played and then they had him back on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It was a complete reversal.”

Turner says he and Wrublewski were branded as crazy by those who felt basketball could never fill a facility built for big concerts and shows. Yet, the Kings averaged 8000 per game in their first season there and sold out all but one match in their second.

“The secret was that a lot of the crowd weren’t basketball people,” Turner says. “We promoted the venue as being easy to get to, you could have dinner first, maybe at Chinatown, come to the basketball and then maybe go to a bar afterwards. It was a great night out.

“We promoted it like Madison Square Garden. It had a great atmosphere and it gave the sport so much more credibility. The corporates came, sponsors, and by the time I left in 1995 we were making a million dollars a year in profit.”

Much water has gone under the bridge for the Kings since those days, a lot of it murky. But there is no denying the integral role the Sydney Entertainment Centre – or the Kingdome, as fans referred to it – played in their story.

On Sunday the curtain will come down on the Kings’ quarter-century association with the arena when they play the Perth Wildcats in a double header with the Sydney Uni Flames WNBL side. From Tuesday Cold Chisel, who played their famous Last Stand gigs there just months after it opened in 1983, will play three shows and John Farnham one, before, perhaps fittingly, Elton John performs on Saturday. Assets will then be cleared out and the keys handed to construction company Lend Lease on New Year’s Eve. Hoarding will be erected, demolition will start in late January and continue for three months.

Kingdome: Home of the Sydney Kings since 1990. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Its replacement will be a new entertainment facility, featuring three theatres, of 9000, 2500 and 1000 capacity, respectively, situated closer to the new convention and exhibition centre, and linked by walkway. The structure will feature state-of-the-art technology for a new era, but it will take a long time before it can begin to match the legacy its predecessor forged over the past 32 years.

“I’ve got mixed emotions,” says general manager Steve Hevern, who began his association with the venue as a maintenance electrician the year the Kings moved there.

“It’s been a pioneer for the music industry and the indoor sport industry. Just this year alone we’ve done professional bull riding, the Sydney darts championships, the Harlem Globetrotters… It’s so diverse. I remember we did the sumo wrestling back in the ’90s. In my first year, we won the netball world championships here with that shot in the last second. It was awesome. Jeff Fenech, Kostya Tszyu, Anthony Mundine … it’s been an honour to work here.

“It will be missed, and rightly so. So many people have had good experiences in this place. It’s formed a place in history in both sport and live music and it’s done a great job serving the city.”

Inside the auditorium. 16 May 1983. Photo: Fairfax Archive

MUCH of the Sydney Entertainment Centre’s lifespan mirrored Australia’s coming of age. In 1983 and ’84, the nation was on a high. The charismatic Bob Hawke had become prime minister, Australian actors, musicians and artists were making a mark internationally and Paul Hogan was throwing shrimp on the barbie. The America’s Cup win and the Wallabies’ rugby union grand slam was a shot of sporting confidence and pride. There was business success, openness and optimism and the country’s biggest city needed top-class facilities to welcome the world.

Few athletes of the era could better epitomise the concept of national awakening than boxer Jeff Fenech, who fought two of his most important bouts at the Entertainment Centre. Not long after Australia II had gone on display at the venue, Fenech defended his IBF World Bantamweight title in a 15-round unanimous decision against Jerome Coffee. A year later, in 1986, Fenech – who many felt had been robbed of a medal at the 1984 Olympics – beat the gold medallist, Steve McCrory, in a 14th-round TKO.

“I’ll never forget walking out to the roar, the atmosphere was great,” Fenech says. “It was one of those venues where every seat in the house was great. It was just amazing, I loved it.

“While you’re fighting you try not to listen but there were times in the McCrory fight when I was hurt a little, had an injury, and you could hear the crowd every time I threw a punch that landed, they were behind me and lifted me.

“I remember seeing Kerry Packer, Paul Hogan, the great rugby league players, Ron Coote, George Piggins, all those guys in the front row, watching this little kid from Marrickville, which made it even more special. I’d see some amazing people who I admired, people I only dreamt I could be as good as.”

Fenech has memories of his fight against Coffee in late 1985 outgrossing Bruce Springsteen at the box office.

“It was a pretty big deal for me, all the hype. It’s a pretty special place for me,” he says. “My daughters never saw me fight, but whenever I go past there I always point out ‘Dad filled that place up’.”

The year after Fenech filled the place for his fight with McCrory, Turner put on the venue’s first game of basketball when he somehow organised for the Soviet Union team to tour. He also convinced the owner of Perth Entertainment Centre, Kerry Stokes, to buy a portable court floor and fly it over to Sydney after the opening game in Perth.

“No one had played basketball there before and what we didn’t realise was that, at the time, there was an orchestra pit at one end that had boards over the top of it,” Turner says.

“We put the court down but the weight of the court and the baskets sunk the whole thing down straight into the orchestra pit. There was all sorts of messing around to prop it up so we could play the game.”

The tour was another gamble by the young entrepreneur and, although the dressing rooms were made for entertainers, not basketballers – for instance, the showers weren’t built for seven footers – the success of the building as a sporting venue was one of the key ingredients to making the venture work.

“I’ll never forget walking in just after the doors opened and there were two people sitting in the top row right at the end. I said to myself ‘That’s the only ticket they could buy’. It was a great feeling because we knew it was the first sold-out sports match at the venue. It was a great moment.

“We brought the Soviets back the next year and I knew Mike Wrublewski, who had started the Sydney Kings in 1988, was starting to really think about basing the Kings there. That tour opened a lot of people’s minds to what the game could become and how the Entertainment Centre could be used.”

Turner was there for the first basketball game and he’ll be at the last. No doubt throughout the night many memories will flood through his and other spectators’ minds.

“Back when mobile phones were the size of a stereo, I remember we were getting ready to play the first Kings game at the Entertainment Centre,” Turner says. “We were having a shoot around early on game day and a reporter called to ask what it was like.

“I said ‘What’s it like? I’m standing here in the middle of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, shooting baskets and our team’s going to play here tonight. It’s amazing’.”

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L’ennui of France’s regional voters boosting the far right

National Front eyes big gains in French regional electionsFar-right girl wonder takes National Front to new heights
Nanjing Night Net

Lyon: This city is the second-largest in the country. As Christmas approaches, the streets are only half as full as they should be. The Lights Festival, during which people cover the city with candles, has been cancelled. All out of fear of a terrorist attack.

But this is not what makes people vote for the far right.

“It’s been going on for years”, says a local, “each time more people vote for Le Pen out of disappointment – they say ‘we tried both left and right, so now we should try Front National’.”

The far-right National Front (FN), led first by Jean-Marie Le Pen, and since 2011 by his daughter, Marine Le Pen, has been slowly growing for decades yet it has never managed to seriously challenge France’s over-centralised institutions. In first round regional elections earlier this month, the National Front won six regions from 13, with the party’s highest vote ever at 28 per cent. The second round of voting on Sunday could see the party increase its vote even further.

“I voted for Hollande against Sarkozy”, says another Lyon resident, “now I want to vote against Hollande but still not for Sarkozy, so who’s left?”

Both Socialist French President Francois Hollande and his predecessor, the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, were granted a five-year term with almost absolute power. There are no mid-term elections in France. The regional vote is the only opportunity French people get to voice their discontent, even if it has nothing to do with local politics.

In 2010, Mr Sarkozy saw every region but one falling into the hands of his Socialist opponents. This year, it is the turn of the left to feel a landslide against them.

But why should presidents care? No one in France has been able to exactly tell me what regions are about. They purportedly manage roads and high schools – but they cannot plan a new highway or change the educational program; they merely take care of maintenance.

Even if one of the Le Pen women – Marine and her niece Marion – managed to take over a region, it would give them very little power. “In any other country,” says an entrepreneur from Lyon, Marc, “such a high vote for the far right would have resulted in a sizeable portion of MPs, or a strong local far-right fiefdom, forcing moderate parties to act. But in France, centralism and presidentialism allows them not to care, so the Front National still grows.”

After his 2010 defeat, Mr Sarkozy declared he would not be making any changes to his policies. Both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy  have gone through their presidencies with the same disregard for reality checks. They and their parties can cynically bet that even if the FN made it to the second round of a presidential poll, there would still be a majority of voters against them.

This certainty has allowed the French political class to fossilise inside its ivory tower, which in turn only feeds the FN’s anti-establishment platform. A teacher from Brittany, Loic Pasco, told me: “Sarkozy was already a major cabinet member in the mid-’90s, when Obama was an obscure lawyer. Our major leftist politicians were already ministers before the end of the USSR. Only in a cheesy movie would you imagine Gorbachev, John Major and Bill Clinton succeeding Putin, Cameron and Obama, but in France it is just normal.”

In 2002, the first round of the presidential election saw a majority of votes for the many leftist candidates. But because only the two biggest scores make it to the run-off vote, the second round pitted the conservative Jacques Chirac against FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and predecessor. Two weeks later, Mr Chirac was elected – mostly by people who had voted against him in the first round.

And still, with such a tenuous mandate, he was given the keys to the country for the next five years.

The French system of supreme presidential power was originally tempered by a shorter mandate for the parliament. Since 2002, however, the parliament is elected one month after the president and for the same duration, guaranteeing its docility for the whole presidency amd making the French republic a fixed-term tyranny.

“You don’t understand”, a student in Paris tells me. “We have an American-style presidential system”.

I remind her that the White House has to cope with a mid-term Congressional election, and that the loss of a state governorship would be seen as a massive blow.

Everyone in France hates Paris. The foreign vision of their capital as a romantic city would seem completely weird to many French people, who see the city as an overpriced, overpopulated, polluted and globalised hellhole. In southern France, the word “Parisian” is the worst insult you can utter.

In the south, I meet a couple made up of one local and one Parisian.

“They are insufferable”, says the southerner, Octave, “foreigners hate French people because they see Paris first.”

His Parisian boyfriend, Jean-Paul, answers: “People here [in the south] are just loud and don’t do anything! It’s no surprise that [the south] has the highest rate of far-rightists in the country.”

This election is the first after regions were merged to reduce their number from 22 to 13 – a process undertaken without any local debate, except over what kind of hyphenated name the new regions should wear.

Another Lyon resident complains: “Why can’t we decide our own local borders ourselves?” He does not even know the name of his regional candidates.

The only local power that bears significance to French people are city councils. In a small town bordering Normandy, a radical-left majority has maintained itself in the city hall for decades, even though its townspeople vote very differently in other elections: last weekend, the FN topped the ballot there.

“City councils are very close to people”, says a young city councillor, Denis Boure, “but the government wants to deprive us of most of our powers to give them to a new structure that would gather several towns.”

This reform of city councils will again be decided by Paris, with no input from the cities themselves. “As if this country needed more centralism! They do not realise how far they are from people – it is no surprise that [Marine] Le Pen is so successful.”

But the real challenge will be the presidential race next year. “What if this time the second round sees Le Pen opposed to a leftist candidate?” I hear in Lyon. “What if rightist voters vote for her anyway?”

It would take that much of a ruction to break the hold of France’s centralist trance.

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GST rise would add $900m to the cost of Christmas: Labor

Dampener: Christmas shopping will lose some of its pleasure next year if the GST is raised. Photo: Glenn Hunt Opposition Leader Bill Shorten visits the Sydney Markets to discuss the GST, on Friday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Nanjing Night Net

You’d better watch out: Christmas could cost Australians an extra $900 million if the Turnbull government jacks up the GST.

The average Australian would be charged about $56 more – regardless of whether they’ve been naughty or nice – for festive season spending on gifts, travel, food and Boxing Day sales if the government brings in a broadened 15 per cent GST.

Labor has made the calculations based on Commonwealth Bank festive spending analysis from last year, which estimated Australians spent close to $1100 each on Christmas-related things  each between December 1 and early January.

Consumers in NSW spend the most on Christmas, dropping about $1340 extra – meaning they would be whacked about $70 in added GST.

Consumers in Victoria were roughly in line with the national average.

Overall, Australians spent an estimated $18 billion on Christmas last season – $7.5 billion in NSW and $4.4 billion in Victoria. Gifts accounted for more than $7 billion of the national total.

Labor has also applied a GST increase on a modest family lunch, predicting a $30 jump in costs.

A lunch that includes a leg of lamb, some turkey and prawns, coleslaw, salad, pudding and custard – along with a slab of VB, a couple of bottles of wine and some soft drink – would go from $266 to $297 based on the prices contained in a recent Coles catalogue.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a GST increase would make it much harder for Australians already struggling to make ends meet to bring some Christmas cheer to their families.

“It means higher costs of gifts for loved ones and travel to see friends and family. And 15 per cent more on the cost of ham, pudding and the turkey with all the trimmings,” he said.

“Australians shouldn’t have to sit at Christmas lunch this year worrying about how much more expensive next year’s Christmas will be because of a government full of GST Grinches.”

A GST increase is still on the table after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison met their state and territory counterparts for COAG talks on Friday.

The government maintains people would be compensated for any rise in the GST, possibly through income tax cuts. But it insists it hasn’t made any tax reform decisions.

The Parliamentary Budget Office released modelling last week showing the government could raise between $4.8 billion and $49.3 billion in extra revenue a year depending on which GST scenario it decided to pursue.

But recent Labor polling has again highlighted the difficulty of selling a GST increase to the public.

It found 48 per cent of voters thought they would be much worse off or somewhat worse off with a GST rise, even if it was coupled with income tax cuts. Just 15 per cent of people thought they would be better off.

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Why The Dressmaker’s Jocelyn Moorhouse took 18 years to make a movie

Film director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker is getting rave reviews. Photo: Pat Scala Judy Davis, Sarah Snook and Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker.
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Jocelyn Moorhouse: ”I never stopped wanting to make movies.” Photo: Pat Scala

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It’s been 18 years since Jocelyn Moorhouse directed a movie, and 24 since she burst onto the scene with her first feature, Proof, but The Dressmaker has quickly proved to be the sort of comeback most people can only dream of.

In seven weeks, Australians have bought almost $17 million of tickets to see The Dressmaker. It has enjoyed rave reviews and great word of mouth. And it won four of the 12 awards for which it was nominated at Australia’s Oscars, the AACTAs – plus the People’s Choice Award. .

With all that, Jocelyn Moorhouse could be excused a little George Costanza moment – a fist-pumping “I’m back, baby, I’m back”. But that’s not her way. Rather, as we sit down to lunch at what used to be Gill’s Diner but is now Trattoria Emilia (in honour of the gorgeous food of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy), she comes across as bashful, a little surprised and, above all, grateful.

“This has been really healing for me,” Moorhouse, 55, says. “People seemed to be really happy that I was directing a movie again; they said this to me every day. I felt very loved. Now that I’ve had an incredibly beautiful experience, I think I could handle making movies anywhere.”

Moorhouse lives in Sydney with her husband PJ Hogan, director of Muriel’s Wedding, and their children (they have four). She has made movies in Melbourne – where she was born and raised – and Los Angeles, where she was taken under Steven Spielberg’s wing after he saw Proof. There she directed How to Make an American Quilt (1995), and was embraced by its cast of “grand divas”, including Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn. “The grandest of them all was [the poet] Maya Angelou,” she says. “Very tall, very formidable, an intellectual giant – and here I am getting her to vacuum!”

She was teased constantly by these grand women, “but I felt very encouraged and very loved. It really was a Hollywood dream. Every mountaineer dreams of Everest, and for me that was Everest. I was terrified but I was thrilled.”

Her second Hollywood movie, A Thousand Acres, was more of a challenge, with the tyro director trying to marshal the combined star power and demands of her leads, Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer. “They were amazing, scary women,” she says. “I think the two of them were very much in character most of the time – intense, angry sisters.”

When they went to Hollywood, Moorhouse and Hogan had one child; he is now studying filmmaking and well on his way to joining what she calls “the family business”. On Quilt, Anne Bancroft took her aside and offered some motherly advice. “She said to me, ‘Don’t stop at one child. I stopped at one and I felt he was lonely. So have another child Jocelyn’. So I thought, ‘I must do what Anne Bancroft says’. I’m very obedient. And that’s how Lily came to be.”

Aged 2, Lily was diagnosed with autism. “I just didn’t believe it at first,” says Moorhouse, who had suspected her daughter’s lack of speech was due to deafness. “It was so shocking I tried to think of anything else she might have. I thought it’s my fault because I’m not a traditional mother, so I bought her all these pots and pans, kitchen sets, but she didn’t want to play with any of them.”

The therapist told Moorhouse she was the only person her daughter would respond to, and if she wanted to help her she would have to give up work.

“I said, ‘Fine, I’m prepared to do that’. And she said, ‘No, I mean for a very long time’.”

And that’s when Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Hollywood dream came to an end.

What followed at times felt more like a nightmare; Moorhouse cheerfully admits that the small country town to which Kate Winslet’s Tilly Dunnage returns in The Dressmaker is for her a stand-in for LA, where she spent 15 years.

Hugo Weaving and Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker.

“I can’t go there without remembering the pain,” she says. “I associate it with my darkest times. The streets are haunted for me – you’d think by film experiences, but they’re nothing compared with cold-hearted neurologists. Until I found the help I needed, it was a very isolating place.”

Moorhouse and Hogan did find help for Lily, but it was all-consuming – six hours of therapy, six days a week. Though Hogan was working and doing well – Muriel’s Wedding (on which Moorhouse was a producer and second unit director) was followed by My Best Friend’s Wedding and Peter Pan – everything they earned was gobbled up by Lily’s therapy.

“People think we must be loaded but we’re not,” she says, and there’s mirth rather than resentment in her voice. “But it was worth it because our children are so much better than they would have been without the intervention.”

That’s right. She said children. Their third child, Jack, also has autism.

When that diagnosis came, it was too much. “I went into a deep depression,” Moorhouse says. “I couldn’t get out of bed, I was crying. It was the loss of hope. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling.”

PJ saw the warning signs and got her to a doctor; she was prescribed anti-depressants, which “reset my brain again”, and she saw a counsellor who helped her find a way out of the darkness. “He said, ‘This is a major life trauma for you. Yes, you have reason to be sad but you don’t need to let it destroy and defeat you’.”

They took a less-intensive approach to Jack’s therapy because, she says, “we couldn’t as a family go through it again, being a lab for five years”.

Moorhouse talks about all this with the same mix of high drama and dark comedy that infuses her movies (and, it must be said, those of her husband). But there’s a coda that takes things into a realm some might consider just plain insane: despite the fact they had produced two children with severe autism, they went there again.

“Yeah, well that was a happy accident,” she explains of child No. 4, Maddy. “When we found out at the grand age of 45 – when I thought I was starting menopause but I wasn’t, I was actually pregnant, which shocked the hell out of both of us – we saw it as a gift.

“Yes, we were terrified but by that point, we loved our two autistic kids so much we thought, ‘Eh, if we get another one, we know what to do’.”

As it turns out, Maddy wasn’t born with autism.

“What if we’d said no, let’s not do it? She’s been the greatest gift to our family. She’s one of the most loving kids you could ever meet and she loves all her siblings, but especially her special ones.”

By this stage of the conversation we’ve picked our way through half a dozen dishes served as part of a shared antipasto platter (all very good, but the grilled polenta with gorgonzola is the standout) and are about to set about the mains – a wonderfully light lasagne with asparagus, speck and scamorza cheese for her (a dish I’ve eaten and loved here before) and a cheese and spinach ravioli topped with duck ragu for me (unbelievably rich, utterly delicious).

Between mouthfuls I ask her if she’s ever been tempted to mine this material for her work.

The lasagne with asparagus, speck and scamorza cheese at Emilia Romagna.

“I have actually,” she says. “I tried to write a script a few years ago but the children were too young. I didn’t know how it was going to end. I still don’t know how it’s going to end – but I know they won’t be cured, and I’ve come to terms with that.

“I realised I had to change,” she continues. “My expectation of them was unfair. It’s better not to have real expectations of any child. Just watch them grow and guide them. I want them to be happy, safe, not to be lonely, to be loved and to feel like they belong somewhere. As long as I can do my best to create that sort of world for them when I’m not here to protect them any more – that’s my goal.”

She is thinking about writing a book about all this, a guide for parents of autistic children. “I didn’t have that when I was starting out, and I felt very isolated and terrified. It would have been nice to read a book that said, ‘There is hope, it’s going to be OK, it gets better’. All I was reading was, ‘It’s so hard’ – which it is – and ‘I nearly killed myself’.”

In truth, even in the darkest years Jocelyn Moorhouse was never quite as far from our screens as it seemed. She and Hogan collaborated – “We do everything together”, she says – and he directed a movie she had written for herself, Unconditional Love (it starred Kathy Bates and Rupert Everett, it had a dwarf, a gay pop star and a serial killer and was, she says, just too much for the distributor, which sent it straight to DVD). In 2005, she came within a whisker of filming an adaptation of Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus; the collapse of that project – and the role of her former good friend Russell Crowe in it – is a topic still a little too raw to dwell on.

Throughout the fallow years, she says, “I never stopped wanting to make movies”. She did, however, wonder if she would ever get the chance. Did you ever lose your nerve?

“No, I always knew I could direct,” she says. “I was losing hope.”

The call from producer Sue Maslin offering her The Dressmaker – because she remembered and loved Proof – still seems “slightly miraculous”, Moorhouse says, but now she’s back she is bursting with ideas for what comes next.

Moorhouse, left, with producer Sue Maslin.

First up is a romantic triangle featuring the 19th-century composers Clara Schumann, her husband Robert Schumann and their mutual love interest Johannes Brahms. “I do like the idea of unusual relationships,” she says, “and I do like triangles”.

She’s also open to the idea of trying to resuscitate Eucalyptus, though Bail is more interested in her looking at his latest book. She’s fascinated with the idea of bringing a fresh eye to the period of early white settlement, too.

Like PJ, she is drawn to stories of outsiders, because “that’s the story of our lives – trying to find acceptance for outsiders”.

Above all, she says, “I’m really drawn to the kind of storytelling that shows life can be hilarious and dark and incredibly sad all at the same time.”

Judging by Australia’s response to The Dressmaker, the feeling is mutual. Welcome home, Jocelyn Moorhouse. We’re so glad you could make it.

Karl Quinn is on Facebook and on twitter @karlkwin

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MLC: Parents at principal’s former school speak out

MLC School at Burwood. The school has lost four heads of its junior, middle and senior schools in the past two years, and this week a further 30 staff left the school. Photo: Dallas KilponenMLC: private Sydney girls school in turmoilMLC: School council working on stability
Nanjing Night Net

Parents of students at a former school run by MLC principal Denice Scala​ have told Fairfax Media they had concerns over her management style in the late 2000s.

Ms Scala, who has faced an ongoing campaign against her leadership following allegations of questionable workplace practices, low morale, and teachers being forced to leave, was formerly the principal of the St Andrew’s School in Adelaide and the head of St Catherine’s junior school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

This year 30 staff left the 129-year-old school in Sydney’s inner west. In the last two years it has lost four heads of its middle, junior and senior schools and key members of its world-renowned music department.

A parent at St Andrew’s School said the situation was “absolutely identical,” to what occurred at the school in Walkerville, one of Adelaide’s most affluent suburbs, after Ms Scala joined the school in 2007.

“It was really frightening,” said Vicki Moore, who had three children at the school. “It started with the music department and then moved through. We had the most beautiful school, within a year 30 families had left.”

Another former parent at the school, Judith Lukas, said the 160-year-old school moved rapidly from a family-friendly environment to a corporate workplace, as key services such as after-school care were outsourced and fees rose by 20 per cent in one year.

“The lack of consultation was disturbing,” she said. “There was a fair amount of evidence early on that Denice had very strong ideas. If you weren’t going with her you were gone.”

The Adelaide school, established in 1850, charges primary school students up to $19,000 a year.

Before her tenure at St Andrew’s, Ms Scala was the head of the junior school at St Catherine’s for more than a decade.

St Catherine’s headmistress Julie Townsend said she could not comment on past events.

“We’ve got a united junior and senior school and a very committed staff, that’s all I can say.”

Ms Scala has denied Fairfax Media’s repeated requests for comment.

Paul Stanhope, the former director of composition at MLC, told Fairfax Media in 2013 that the school had gone from a place of innovation to a feeling of suspicion and micro-management.

“It takes 20 years to build up a [music] department like that and it takes less than a year to completely destroy it.”

On Thursday, Bob Connolly, a former parent at the Uniting Church school and the director of Mrs Carey’s Concert, a documentary about the school’s music program, told Fairfax Media he had raised concerns about the direction of the school with the board two years ago.

“Citing documented examples of questionable workplace practices, low morale and excellent teachers being forced to leave, we warned Ms [Pauline] Johnston [the chairwoman of the school council] that unless something was done, the situation would eventually blow up in her face.”

“Judging by the teacher exodus that has so many parents now tearing their hair, and by the ferociously critical comments by parents and former students now appearing on various education websites, it’s beginning to seem as though our warnings have come to fruition.”

Former MLC teacher James Humberstone, who now lectures at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said that the process of airing complaints to the school council was flawed.

“They wouldn’t let any staff speak to the school council without the principal being present.”

Fairfax Media has seen documents showing teachers’ complaints to the school council have to be passed on to the principal under school protocols.

Internal documents show the school maintained that this was in the interests of natural justice.

The Uniting Church has been at pains to distance itself from the controversy at the school despite two of its chaplains leaving this year. On social media parents have called on the synod to intervene.

“The Uniting Church remains confident that MLC School [is] continuing to practise Uniting Church values and ethos, and offer strong pastoral support for students in their care,” a spokeswoman said.

On Thursday the MLC school council emailed parents stating that they were aware of concerns within the community and were working on stability.

“The recent turnover has certainly been higher than the principal and the council would have liked, and we see it as an important priority that it quickly returns to more normal levels,” the statement said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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