Image: Convict flogging c.1800 Australia
The hearings of the Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has entered its second day, covering the Salvation Army Boys’ Homes of Bexley, Gill, Riverview, and Alkira. Some “Not Directions Not to Publish” orders have been announced so that this report will be incomplete.
This blog had previously called for Wally McLeod to be heard. Wally had appeared in the 2003 Australian Broadcasting Commission’s investigative television program, ‘Four Corners’, entitled ‘The Homies’. Today, he was heard by the commission, under his own name. He was Boy 36 at Riverview and Boy 13 at Alkira.
He told the commission that he had been sent to the notorious Salvation Army Riverview Training Farm in Queensland in the 1960s after his mother died in a car accident and his father was murdered.
“I was told I was going to the home for psychiatric care … I don’t remember needing any and I certainly didn’t receive any. I went there with a small bag of clothes and a money box … Both were taken from me and I never saw them again. I was told I wasn’t allowed any personal possessions.”
Though he did not witness the sexual abuse that the commission has heard was rife at Riverview, Wally said he both saw and experienced multiple physical assaults in which Salvation Army officers used stock whips, saddle straps, split canes and belts on their victims.
One popular form of punishment, Wally said, was public floggings conducted in front of the officers and other boys (as in the convict days): “You’d be told, ‘There’ll be a parade tonight in the recreation room.’ The boys would be called out and made to drop their trousers and underpants, bend down and touch their toes and then they’d get flogged. I was in one several times. I can remember seeing blood rolling down a boy’s backside.”
He said that, at one stage during his time at Riverview, he became aware that four boys had complained to officers from the Queensland welfare department about one of the alleged perpetrators, referred to as ‘Captain Cowling’. He said no action was taken by the officers and that: “when Captain Cowling found out he had them flogged.”
Wally, who was a resident at Indooroopilly Boys Home (Alkira) and Riverview from 1960 to 1966, said he saw one officer, Captain Victor Bennett, grab children as young as four and punch them and would use a cane with a split end to whip boys, several witness have said. This was when Bennett was at Alkira.
Wally said the children “cried and screamed” when Bennett grabbed them by their shirts and struck them on the head and shoulders. Boys were told there was going to be a parade in the recreation room and were made to remove their pants and underpants and be called up for a flogging, with either a strap or cane.
When he arrived at Alkira, all his remaining possessions were taken away. This was normal practice. Wally said that: “I remember the day I was first placed in Indooroopilly. I went there with a bag full of clothes, and a small money box which was nearly full. The bag and the money box were both taken from me on that day and I never saw them again. My grandfather had given me a fountain pen and pencil set that I really cherished, and that was taken from me while I was at school. I never saw that again.”
[First person post: The author was at Alkira at that time, but was denied permission by the chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, to give evidence. However, I can support Wally’s statements, here, concerning Alkira.]
Wally said that he eventually received a $20,000 compensation payment for the abuse he allegedly suffered – a payment that he allegedly accepted “under duress.” It included signing a form that released the Salvation Army from further liability. These agreements should be torn up (see previous postings).
One witness from Riverview, known only as ES, referred to a small cell with iron bars built into the floor – known as ‘the cage’ or ‘the lock-up’ which was a place of dread. Some of the boys who broke the rules were placed in this dark space by the Salvation Army officers charged with their ‘care’, and kept there for days and even weeks, ES told the enquiry.
”One day me and two other guys did something wrong – I forget what it was – and we were put in the holding cell, ‘It was a room like – it looked like it had a door and iron bars on the front, just like your normal cell. The boys were forced to sleep on the floor of the tiny room without a pillow or even a blanket. We went to the toilet in a bucket. After time in the cage I was raped by Bennett.”
Referring to Captain Bennett, ES said that: ”I felt like he had a hatred for me as soon as I got to Riverview. He took a disliking for some reason and the fact I just wouldn’t do what they told me to do. He tried to break me.”
ES told the enquiry that: “Me and another fella ran away. When [the police] caught us I told them what was happening to us, but all they did was call Captain Bennett and say, ‘Is this happening?’ and he said, ‘No,’ and they sent me straight back.” The commission is hearing many instances where the policy and welfare authorities failed in their duty of care to protect the boys.
[First person post: The author recalls another Riverview old boy saying that it was the practice to go with a Salvation Army officer to the city fruit and vegetable markets to collect unsold, rotten food which they had told the stall-holders was for pig food. One day, the truck was stopped for a traffic infringement, and the boys took the opportunity to plead with the police to listen to their complaints about the Home. All they got for their trouble was a flogging back at the Home. And, of course, the food was to feed them, not pigs.]
ES also told the enquiry that: “Another time I ran away from there, and because I soiled my trousers running along, you know, I was so scared and when I got back to there, he laid me on the ground and got a hose and turned it on full bore and stuck it in me backside and filled me up with water and all this water come rushing out and all the boys were standing around there laughing their heads off. You know, and he was encouraging them to laugh, you know.”
A previous posting has noted the anti-education attitude common to all Salvation Army Children’s Homes. As prominent ABC radio reporter, Emily Bourke, noted: “ES has told the inquiry he received no schooling at Riverview, and to this day, he can’t read or write.”
Another former resident recalled the staff would force the boys to fight each other for their own entertainment: ”They just used to think, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get the boys over and have them beat the crap out of each other. They were cruel bastards. If you didn’t want to fight they’d make the other boy hit you until you got mad and started to fight for real.”’ This is yet another example of what the author has termed, in previous postings, as ‘sadistic arousal’, common to those Salvation Army officers.
He told of punishments like being made to crawl around naked holding up a dead chook and naked boys being made to run around a maypole.
Witness ‘FP’ informed the commission that: “After the lights went out ’round seven o’clock every night, Lieutenant Spratt would come out of the room in the dark so no one would see what he was doing. Whenever I heard his door open, I thought to myself, ‘I hope he’s not coming to my bed.’ When I heard him go into someone else’s bed I felt relieved that he had left me alone for the night.”
“I tried to explain to the new boys, when the Salvation Army officers were not watching me, to let them do what they wanted to do to you, because if you don’t you’re going to have to cop something that you don’t want.” When asked if he ever told any of the Salvation Army officers at Riverview about abuses, he replied: “You’d have to be kidding wouldn’t you? Tell them officers? No way in the bloody wide world! I’d get flogged for telling lies.”
Witness ‘EE’ referred to his brother, who was tethered to a brick thrown in a pool: “My brother would tell me Bennett used to push his head under the water. Well, he said he was tied to a brick, he was thrown in…Well, Bennett threw him into the pool. Every time he got up he was pushed under water again.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, several witness statements were read. A man identified as ‘GK’ wrote of the profound hate and anger he felt and could not shake off from the time spent at Riverview. He told of psychological, sexual and physical abuse when he was 12.
“I feel sorry for the people who have tried to help me at times and have been hurt by my hate against society,” he said.
He had been told by a Salvation Army officer his parents did not want him and later found out letters sent to him by his parents and brothers were kept from him. He applied to get the letters, held by the Queensland Children’s Department, under Freedom of Information. In 2006 he told the Salvation Army officials: “We will be getting letters from the dead. God help me when I get them …”
Another statement from ‘FP’ read that residents at Riverview lived in constant fear. They were beaten for talking or laughing. When asked if he had told state welfare officers who regularly visited the farm of floggings and sexual abuse by officers and older boys, ‘FP’ said he had not because of: “fear of what was going to happen to you if you opened your mouth.”
Both ‘FP’ and another witness, ‘EY’, told of being sexually assaulted by older boys. ‘EY’ ran away when he was 16. Police picked him up four months later, sent him back, and he was severely flogged with a razor strap.
‘FP’ told the commission that one of the officers at Riverview, Lieutenant Spratt, approached him and other boys while they were naked in the showers.
“He touched my backside and I moved away because of what other boys told me about him. I saw him touch other boys too. I saw him touch a boy’s penis in the shower for about a minute or two. It wasn’t a brush, he was fondling him. You had to let the Salvation Army officers do what they wanted, if you didn’t you would cop something you didn’t want.”
[First person post: This occurred at Alkira as well].
As reported in a previous posting, the local Ipswich City Council had raised concerns about poor hygiene and treatment of children in 1972. In 1973, the Queensland State government’s Department of Children’s Services, was concerned there were: “real worries and real dangers about sending any boys there (due to) the lack of adequate and suitable staff…the danger of rape and other homosexual assaults and the shambles that this whole place looks causes obvious problems.” Indeed, at the time social worker staff threatened a strike over the issue concerning Riverview and Alkira.
[First person post: The author has met and spoken in the past with one of those staff members].
As reported yesterday, one Salvation Army officer, John McIver, who is the subject of allegations, remains an officer in good standing with the Salvation Army. Later in the enquiry, the commissioners will hear from Cliff and Marina Randall, who had been employed as house parents, and were dismissed by the Salvation Army, after making a complaint against McIver.
Meanwhile, the Australian taxpayers still give this organization over $300 million per year to ‘care’ for the destitute, underprivileged children and those addicted to drugs and alcohol.
[Postscript: The head of the Australian Catholic University, Peter Cosgrove, has formally been named as Australia’s Governor-General (Head of State) by Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.]
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Image: Riverview main building
Image: Another Riverview building in its final days of operation as a Boys’ Home (Source: Daily Telegraph)
TOMORROW: Salvation Army hearings continue
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)