Image: Salvation Army Bexley Boys’ Home
Image: Bexley renovated as Salvos officer training center and museum
Bexley Salvation Army Boys’ Home will be one of the institutions examined at the next hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, due to commence on 28th January. One of its former residents, Kevin Marshall, was interviewed for the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation Television’s “Four Corners” investigative journalism program in 2003 (see link below). Two other former residents of that Home were also interviewed, but not named, and were filmed in “shadows”.
Bexley commenced as a Probationary Home for Boys in 1915, taking boys referred from the courts. It became a boys’ home in 1931. It was renamed Kolling Memorial Boys’ Home in 1967 and closed in 1979. When Bexley Boys’ Home was closed, the remaining boys were transferred to the Marrickville Children’s Residence. It is now renovated and used as the Salvation Army’s officer training facility and museum.
The enquiry will find certain things common to all Salvation Army Boys’ Homes. It will find that boys were given a number and not a name. [The author was no.32]. Extreme violence, for trivial transgressions, such as talking at the dinner table, not standing straight enough in line etc., was the norm.
Being put down psychologically also was routine, such as “we pulled you out of the gutter” or “your mother was a prostitute.” For boys with English as a second language, speaking in their native language was severely punished. This was in an era when there had been large scale European migration to Australia for the first time, and the official government policy was “assimilation”. That meant, in practice, become British. Now it is “multiculturalism.” A large proportion of inmates were there because, as children of migrants, there was usually no close relatives to care for them when their own parents were unable to do so.
Pseudo-military lifestyle was also the norm. Lining up was enforced for everything, from showers, to toilets etc. Whistles were blown to signify commencement of events, e.g., waking up, meal time, work times etc. Boys marched in double file, with an officer in front and the rear, to and from school. Boys practiced marching drills, did calisthenics, stood at attention in quadrangles to hear sermons etc.
Everything was so regimented, that an early tendency identified in the psychiatric literature was “institutionalization”. Consequently, many joined the military, entered prison or wound up in psychiatric institutions.
Most notably, when sexual abuse occurred, it was in a violent setting. The Salvos in places like Bexley were not just paedophiles, they were sadistic paedophiles. It is this aspect of the Salvation Army Children’s Home which will most shock the general public.
Here are some comments from a few of the Bexley old boys.
William Campbell was boy No. 114. He entered the Home at age 2 ½, during World War 2 while his father was serving overseas in the Army (the real one). His mother had bipolar disorder, which in those days was untreated and those afflicted were institutionalized. He remained in the Home after the war, because his parents’ marriage failed, and neither parent was capable of looking after him. His father most likely had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or “shell shock” as it was then known as.
“At 23, my doctor told me at the time that I was the youngest alcoholic he had ever seen,” he says. Now in his seventies, he has been tee-total for decades. He and his wife run a school-help service for disadvantaged youth. His organization’s web address is www.wcfoundation.org.au. Volunteers and financial assistance would be welcomed.
Martin says: “I have a positive attitude. I prefer to concentrate on the good stuff that happened. Like music and education and the families I met along the way.” He entered Bexley at age five, and left at fifteen. Martin was put in a dormitory of 40 boys and given a number to which he would answer for the next 10 years.
“Everything was a routine. So even today, I like things to be in place. We marched everywhere – including to the toilet. Even in the showers we had to march completely naked, line by line, one arm length apart.”
A whistle woke the boys daily at 6. Half an hour of work followed. After breakfast, the boys were marched next door to the public school and, after school, sat in a circle polishing their school shoes.
Depending on the mood of Salvo officers, they played before dinner. Misbehaviour was punished with six cuts of the cane. “They used to belt the shit out of us,” says Martin. Two outside families took an interest in him.
“They were both absolutely brilliant. I was part of the family. The family at Beverly Hills would always introduce me to people as their son Martin. It felt good. They taught me how to read music and play the drums. I then got involved with the junior band and senior band at the Hurstville Corps. I loved it. It became my escape.”
In 1974, when Martin was 15, Bexley Boys Home management changed. The new broom argued the boys had been spoilt. If so, they were spoilt no more. When Martin’s outside family complained about the proposed cancellation of some programs, Martin was forbidden from seeing them again.
KEVIN MARSHALL: “The showers were, now I think back, I think, extremely bizarre. You’d basically line up in front of your locker, on command, you would strip down to completely naked and then you would file out into the bathroom. Basically you’d line up naked under the gaze of one or two Salvation Army personnel and go through a footbath, and then stand in line and go through a shower with seven other boys.”
“They were violent. Yes, they were. Um…again, looking at it as an adult, I suppose it’s probably the quickest way of dealing with boys who don’t respond to words, but… Yeah, they were. You were bashed, you were hit, and at an early age. I remember being hit about the head, bashed on the arms and the face as well when I was six. “
“When I was younger, some of the people that’d come in would either try to target you or get you into a room between the two dormitories or in the laundry. They tried to sodomise me. Tried to make me perform oral sex on them, fondle my genitals, have me fondle their genitals. There were also places where, if you were out of the home – a camp or somewhere – people there would try doing things.”
First man in the shadows: “We were each allocated a number from the day we went in, and every article of clothing or anything that we owned was put…that number was put on. My number was 68. I had a reputation of having a very fiery tongue, and ‘captain’ Wilson didn’t like people being called names, so he asked one of the other boys who the main name-caller was, and he told him it was me. And at that stage I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was called up to the office and I was thrashed from head to toe with a cane, only because this boy had said I was the main name-caller.”
Second man in the shadows: “The second night I was there, I was bashed by one of the officers there. And, um, yeah, welcome to the real world. I was in the dining room and I laughed, and he told me to stop laughing and I couldn’t. And then, um, eventually he come up and just punched me right in the side of the head. I fell to the ground. Then he dragged me, kicked me and punched me all the way to his office, caned me about 18, 20 times, threw me out in the corridor and told me to go.”
At the enquiry, two names will likely be raised specifically. They are “captains” Bennett and Wilson. Undoubtedly, the enquiry will hear from other witnesses who bore the brunt of these, allegedly, sadistic paedophiles’ perversion. Be prepared to learn of things that will make you never want to admire the Salvation Army ever, ever again.
[Postscript: As with so many other former Children’s Homes, the site is now prime real estate. It should be sold and the proceeds distributed between the surviving former residents.]
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Previous postings on the Salvation Army:
TOMORROW: Gill Memorial Boys’ Home
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)