Image: “The Homies” Promo photo – the author is the boy in the top right hand corner of the picture (Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “Four Corners” 2003)
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its fifth “case study” today, into four Salvation Army Boys’ Homes – Riverview, Bexley, Gill, and Alkira. The witness list was only released minutes before the hearing was due to begin, contrary to previous practice.
The hearing is subject to several “Not to be Published” orders, and the web-cast is being shut down at times for what are described as “privacy reasons”. The author is not on the witness list (see previous postings).
The focus will be on five Salvation Army officers who abused the boys. These are Lawrence Wilson, Russell Walker, Victor Bennett, John McIver, and Donald Shultz. Wilson, who worked at all four Homes, is regarded, according to the commission, as the worst offender. The abuses were described as “being at the extreme end of the scale”. He died in 2008.
[First person comment: The author was abused by both Wilson and Bennett.]
Of the 13 victim witnesses listed to appear, all but two will be referred to by pseudonyms. One who is named is Wally McLeod which encourages the author (see previous posting: “Why Wally Should Be Heard”). Of these 13 men, only one who was in the author’s old Home, “Alkira”, otherwise known as the Indooroopilly Salvation Army Home for Boys, is listed to appear.
The enquiry today heard from Raymond Carlile, who was among Wilson’s victims at the Riverview Home. After months of being fed scraps of fruit and vegetables that were intended for farm animals, Raymond’s little brother started eating grass. He recalls that on other occasions: ”They kept a load of raw potatoes under the building and we used to go under there and steal them when we were hungry.”
He also said that children who had wet the bed were made to sleep on a veranda with just a lattice frame between them and the elements. His brother, who had a kidney removed before he was sent to the Home, endured the punishment.
Mr Carlile who gave evidence by webcast from Gympie, in Queensland State, broke down as he told how he was tied by his ankles and suspended down a well because officers at the home thought he was trying to escape – although he had just fallen asleep in the bush after playing with other boys.
Raymond also described events after he left the Home and was returned to his mother.
“I could never let my mother touch me or hug me or show me any affection. I didn’t know the difference between affection and abuse. When we got home, me mother said to us: ‘Didn’t you ever get any of them letters or Christmas cards or birthday cards we sent you?’ We said: ‘No, we never got anything at all. Nothing. Never seen nor heard anything’.”
“And she said: ‘You could have got one of the Salvation Army officers to read it to you or write a letter for you’. Of course, we were too young to write letters – and anyway, when we told her that we never got any at all she just walked in the room and shut the door. We knew she was crying.”
[First person comment: The pattern was that letters were never delivered to the boys. According to the Salvation Army officers at Alkira, when the author asked to send a letter to his mother, the policy was that only boys who had a private “trust account” to pay for stamps could send letters. The reality was that no one had such a fund anyway. At the government facility, the Diamantina Receiving Depot where the author was prior to being sent to Alkira, it was the practice every Sunday night to write a letter to my mother, be given a stamp and envelope, and the letter was posted to her at the psychiatric facility where she lived. She confirmed that she had received those letters.]
When describing Wilson, Raymond gave an account which the author has previously described in this blog as ‘sadistic arousal’.
Raymond said that: “Wilson seemed to enjoy inflicting pain. Wilson glorified in punishment. He would froth at the mouth … and he just had this look in his eye.” Not long after Raymond arrived at Riverview aged eight, Wilson allegedly dragged him from his bed at night and raped him. At other times, it is alleged he forced the boy to have sex with other boys while he watched and at times participated.
Afterwards, the boys were flogged and told not to tell anyone or the punishment would be more severe.
Wilson was summarily dismissed from the Salvation Army in 1961, just after the author left Alkira and went with his father to tell our local Member of Parliament about the abuses, but Wilson was accepted back in 1966 and went on to run homes in New South Wales State. Wilson also worked as a welfare officer in NSW, but left in 1965 following a severe reprimand for violence against a child.
The commission also revealed that Wilson had been sending boys to the homes of other adults to be sexually assaulted by them. Chief Commissioner, Peter McClellan, seemed to be finally getting the message when he stated that: ”What the commission is learning over and over again is that a sexual abuse very often occurs in the context of physical abuse and deprivation.’.
Counsel Assisting told the enquiry that in the 2003 Australian Broadcasting Commission’s TV “Four Corners” program, “The Homies”, Salvation Army media spokesman, John Dalziel, described the violence as being “tough love” and that it was “the best love that could be given because it allowed the boys to experience something consistent in their lives.”
(Both Wilson and Bennett were alive at the time the program was aired in Australia.)
Today, the Salvation Army admitted that hundreds of boys have been abused (yet the Commission is only covering 13 of them). Perhaps the most shocking thing revealed at today’s hearing is that one of the alleged offenders, John McIver, is still an officer with the Salvation Army.
[Postscript (first person comment): Several psychiatrists have told the author that, had they gone through his experiences, they would not have retained their sanity, or would have resorted to substance abuse or committed crimes against society. They always asked me what it was that kept me from this pathway in life. I think there are two possible reasons.
One was that, in bed, I would think I could send telepathic messages to my family, as an alternative to letters. The other one is the more likely one.
At the previous Home, the Diamantina Receiving Depot, and other Homes, the author used to listen to the radio and learned many songs. I was particularly fond of folk music, and my hero in the 1950s was Pete Seeger, an anti-war protest singer – who died today.
The songs I knew were ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’, ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’. I also knew a funny song, dating back to the Great Depression, called ‘Away, Away With Rum, by Gum, the Song of the Salvation Army’, which was a spoof of their extremist views.
This source of comfort was removed at Alkira, because the Salvation Army did not allow a radio there, since they believed it to be ‘evil’, as it played pop music.
In bed at night at Alkira, I could sing these songs in my head, however, until I fell asleep.
One of my greatest joys on getting out of the Home was having a guitar and singing folk songs, aloud, long after folk music went out of fashion. Some of them I still sing regularly, and they continue to give me comfort. So much better than the Salvos’ ‘Onwards Christian Soldiers’!]
Read more here:
- Audio: Emily Bourke discusses the inquiry (The World Today)
- Audio: Listen to the witnesses’ testimony (PM)
TOMORROW: Salvation Army abuse witnesses’ accounts
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)