Image: Australian Head of the Salvation Army (Eastern Territory) “commissioner” James Condom
The Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse is due in a couple of weeks to hold hearings involving four Salvation Army Boys’ Homes, under the control of the organization’s Eastern Territory. Dozens of other Homes will not be mentioned, so they have been covered in this blog (see previous postings). Today, there are a few more.
The Salvation Army, unlike the author, will appear before the hearings, and enter a submission. It is likely that minor officials of the Salvation Army will appear (as happened at the Victorian State Parliamentary enquiry last year), but not its head, James Condon (pictured above). Cardinal George Pell did not appear at the last commission hearings, on the Catholic Church’s “Towards Healing” process (see previous postings).
Only the local New South Wales State head of the YMCA appeared at the YMCA hearings, and similarly for the Scouts Australia hearing. Not having the heads of organisations appear is becoming a bit of a pattern. The underlings are made to take the heat, while the bosses remain well away from the battle.
Over the past 25 years, the author has heard many, many accounts of abuses at Salvation Army Boys’ Homes and Girls’ Homes, but the Salvation Army will be off the hook for several since the only type of abuse the royal commission will consider is sexual abuse – and even then only what may be considered sexual assault, rather than more indirect sexual abuses, such as voyeurism.
The royal commission will not even consider sexual abuse (as assault) in the Salvation Army’s Southern Territory, which includes Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia states and the Northern Territory.
The Tasmanian Ombudsman’s report into the Homes in Tasmania identified three Salvation Army Homes with serious problems. These were the Barrington Boys’ Home (50 claimants), Maylands Girls’ Home (23 claimants), and Elim Maternity Home (2 claimants).
The Tasmanian report, in 2004, was entitled “The Listen to the Children Report” and stated that: “During the 1960s and early 1970s, claimants placed at Maylands described a regime of rigid rules and a harsh punishment routine. They allege that they were neglected in their general care and were deprived of decent food, clothes and medical attention.”
“For the older girls, lack of privacy included having to bathe with other girls. According to one claimant they only bathed once a week, two girls in the bath at the same time, with the water usually changed after seven pairs of girls had used it. There were no concessions to privacy or when a girl was menstruating. This claimant claimed that she made numerous complaints to schoolteachers about mistreatment and was always told not to tell tales’.’
Unlike the royal commission, former Children’s Homes residents had no restrictions on entering submissions, or giving oral evidence, at all previous enquiries, including the Tasmanian enquiry.
One woman’s submission on Maylands is recorded as saying that “She listed a number of severe punishments for wetting the bed, taking food without permission, and running away, including slaps on the face and a beating with a large strap. The former resident also remembers having to scrub a long verandah. If it was not done well enough, she had to do it again. After meals, the girls had to wash up the dishes. This made them late getting to school, especially after lunch, which meant a caning when they got there. There was no privacy at bath time.”
The report noted that another woman’s gave evidence that she “was fed liver for her first evening meal at Maylands and refused to eat it. The staff continued to serve her the liver until it became mouldy. They did not give her anything else to eat.”
Boys were housed at Maylands until the age of six, when they were transferred to the near-by Barrington Boys’ Home. Many of the Maylands girls had brothers at Barrington. Barrington Boys’ Home, which also was run by the Salvation Army, and had opened in New Town in 1946. Some of the boys had committed an offence. The rest were either wards of state or admitted by their relatives. The Home closed in 1981. Abuses of all types are recorded from Barrington.
An article from the “Hobart Mercury” newspaper from 1953 gives some insights into how the children at the three Homes were used. A concert to raise funds was held at the Hobart town hall, with all tickets being sold by the children. This is not far removed from begging.
Another notorious Home was the William Booth Girls’ Home (also known as the East Camberwell Girls’ Home), which operated from 1912 until 1972 and held girls from the age of four to 14. When it closed, the girls were transferred to the Salvation Army’s Catherine Booth Girls’ Home (also known as the East Kew Girls’ Home).
If the Camberwell girls thought they were going to be treated any better at the East Kew Home, they were sadly mistaken.
A common complaint from women who were in Salvation Army Children’s Homes was the damage done to their knees from having to scrub floors on their hands and knees, (even when pregnant at one of the maternity Homes). Medical treatment was non-existent, and there are many accounts of life-long problems with knees, for which they have never been compensated by the Salvation Army.
Here is one account from Heather Templeman (see photo below): “It was our day to wash and polish the dining room floor. It was really quite big. We had already been on our hands and knees from washing the floor. After the floor had dried, we had to get down on our hands and knees again and rub the polish on.”
“So our knees were sore so we thought well, we’ll go and get some rags and put them on our feet and run up and down and polish the floor that way and have some fun. We got a hiding for it but we had fun. Matron gave us the hiding, but it wasn’t as bad as what her other ones were.”
Another Salvation Army Girls’ Home where similar things happened, but which is not being investigated by the royal commission hearings, is James Horton Memorial Home for Girls, which opened in 1942 and closed in 1985. It was located at 2 Curtis Street, The Range, Toowoomba in Queensland (see photo below).
In one of its own documents, published only last year, the Salvation Army stated that “only recently have we become aware of the plight of children in institutions which were established to care for them. Today, we see many common practices as harsh, uncaring, regimented and dehumanizing. We need to be cautious about condemning past practices on the basis of present understandings.”
This, in a nut shell, will form the main thrust of the Salvation Army’s lawyers’ defence at the up-coming hearings.
In relation to the two Queensland State Boys’ Homes to be covered at the hearings later this month, Riverview Training Farm” and “Alkira”, it should be noted that a State law, dating back to 1936, specifically limited corporal punishment to three strokes of the cane on each hand, at a maximum, for severe misbehaviour. Evidence will shown this law was always broken.
Even the World Head of the Salvation Army, Bramwell Booth, a century ago issued edicts on how the children should be treated. As reported before, one of these edicts was that children were to be known by their names, and not by numbers. Another edict was that corporal punishment was only to be meted out by the head of the Home. Evidence will show that both of Booth’s edicts were always ignored.
At both Riverview and Alkira, misdemeanours were routinely physically punished, and this was known by Queensland State government officials. It contravened Regulation 24 of the State Children Act, but the government took no action to stop such punishments.
There is archival evidence of “longstanding contention between the Riverview administration with the Department as to what punishment was acceptable. There were similar problems at Alkira. However, despite what it saw as breaches of the Children’s Services Regulations, the State did not take action to address the situation.”
At one stage, State social workers threatened a strike over the issue.
On many occasions, local councils were critical of substandard buildings used for Salvation Army Children’s Homes. In particular, with relevance to the next royal commission hearings, the Ipswich City Council found the Riverview Home to “be old, dilapidated and run down….. unhygienic and primitive.”
The Salvation Army is not “into” education. Most of its officers have only a high school education, if that. “major” Bennett (who will be the subject of claims at the hearings) was reported, in 1973, as saying that “We dare not emphasize education here. Most of the boys will eventually be employed in labouring jobs.” [The author was similarly frequently told at Alkira that he would be lucky even to get a labouring job.]
A common feature of former residents of Salvation Army Children’s Homes is what is termed “low expectations.”
It may be useful here to repeat the comments made by former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, when she established the royal commission: “To those survivors of child sexual abuse, today we are able to say we want your voice to be heard…It’s time now to tell your story…. I hope that, in and of itself, brings some healing.”
At a meeting with Jewish community members, Chief Commissioner, Peter McClellan, informed them that “private hearings could be held for people with information who did NOT want to give evidence at a public hearing, and that such information would NOT be used as evidence or the foundation for any finding.” (Emphasis added).
Pro-church advocate and lawyer, John Muscat, reported in his journal, Quadrant, that “In his own media statement, Justice Peter McClellan wisely avoided any hint of victim advocacy, focusing on technical aspects of the commission’s operations.”
Muscat further said that royal commissions “are powerful fact-finding machines, not platforms for the ‘voices’ of some participants.” This is precisely where the author ran into problems eventuating in being refused permission to be heard.
[Postscript: The Chief Commissioner of the Royal Commission, Peter McClellan, continues to refuse permission for the author to give evidence, or present a submission, at the up-coming hearings on the Salvation Army’s Indooroopilly Boys’ Home (“Alkira”) where the author once lived. The Salvation Army has been given such permission.]
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Image: The Toowoomba Salvation Army Girls’ Home
Image: Catherine Booth Salvation Army Girls’ Home
Image: Maylands Salvation Army Girls’ Home
Image: Barrington Salvation Army Boys’ Home
Image: Heather Templeton (right) with rags on her feet about to polish the floors (photo taken by the gardener)
TOMORROW: A first look at the Salvation Army’s employment practices
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)