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Early role: A young Mel Gibson, who used to sit on the front steps of the Randwick Literary Institute during breaks in rehearsal. Photo: Gerrit Fokkema

The Randwick Literary Institute, a sprawling, multiroomed and eccentric home for the community, unites some of the best elements of Sydney. Now its supporters say its future is in doubt.

In 1913, the residents of Randwick and Clovelly decided to make sure they had a means of self-education, recreation and support.

The institute evolved into a community gathering place where little girls become ballerinas, budding martial artists practise karate chops, citizens prepare their life stories for publication and a small group of ukulele players make music together.

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Rally together: Supporters of the Randwick Literary Institute met on Sunday to voice their concerns about the centre's future. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

A young Mel Gibson would take breaks from rehearsal and sprawl out on its front steps in his carpet slippers. Eccentric Bea Miles, bellowing Shakespearean sonnets, held court under its roof. Artist Arthur Streeton, of the Heidelberg School, led classes for the masses.

On Sunday, protesters raised concerns that the institute, which was handed over to the NSW government for $1 in 2002, would be lost to them.

One of the rally organisers, Brent Clough, said a shadow of authority was darkening the future of the institute. He said the landlord, Crown Lands, refused to guarantee the contract of long-standing manager Marian McIntosh and ordered a review into its operations.

''Marian McIntosh has been there for 11 years,'' Mr Clough said. ''She's been sacked, without explanation, by the NSW government - who are meant to administer the RLI on the community's behalf.''

He said Friends of the Randwick Literary Institute believed the institute had been running at a profit.

''The institute represents the interests of all demographics and age ranges and many of its 70-plus user groups couldn't afford other publicly available meeting spaces in the area,'' he said.

''With Marian's sacking comes a threat to continued affordable community use of the RLI.''

A spokesman for Crown Lands said Ms McIntosh was told in January that her job was ''being reviewed''. He said an administrator, real estate agent Albert Talarico, had been appointed for the site. There were no suggestions the institute was in financial arrears.