Opinion

From torture to reunion: The story of the Riverview Old Boys

HOUSE OF HORROR: An archival photograph of the Salvation Army Riverview Training Home in Ipswich taken in the 1940s.
HOUSE OF HORROR: An archival photograph of the Salvation Army Riverview Training Home in Ipswich taken in the 1940s. Contributed
Robert Toreaux stands in the dining room of Riverview Training Farm where he lived as a child.
Robert Toreaux stands in the dining room of Riverview Training Farm where he lived as a child. Claudia Baxter

ROBERT Toreaux knows what it's liked to be tortured; to spend each day in fear of being attacked and humiliated without being able to escape.

He's also knows how child abuse can lead to long-term, chronic health problems for survivors.

The 66-year-old spent a good portion of his childhood living and working at the Riverview Training Farm for Boys.

The Salvation Army-run facility has proved to have a long and grim history as a place of abuse, where children were routinely physically and sexually assaulted by staff.

Mr Toreaux arrived at the training farm in 1960 when he was 10-years-old and resided there for four years.

"My mother died in 1956," he said. "She was killed in a car accident when her vehicle collided with a drunk driver.

"After that, my father took off and left my brothers and sisters to fend for ourselves.

"I was separated from my seven siblings and spent a number of years bounced around 27 orphanages."

His final stop was the training farm, where he and about 40 other youngsters who lived there were forced to work like slaves in miserable conditions.

"Before I was sent there, the state child's department asked me what I was interested in," Mr Toreaux said.

"My parents had been farmers out in Laidley, so I said I would like to do that kind of work.

"After I arrived at the training farm, I worked seven days a week, from 4am-8pm, hauling hay from the house to the shed, among other farm jobs."

The Pine Mountain resident said during his stay, there was widespread physical, mental and sexual abuse perpetrated by many officers and employees.

He said the boys were forced to eat food scraps from the pigs trough, were constantly flogged and even made to fight each other for the entertainment of staff.

"The officers didn't need a reason to give you a hiding, they saw us all as 'bad boys' and wanted to try and break our spirit," he said.

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"A lot of kids would cry at night... if you tried to pacify them you had to do it stealthily because if you got caught comforting them, you got flogged.

"I remember one kid in particular was hung upside-down in a well as punishment."

Mr Toreaux said he was relieved when he was finally allowed to leave.

"My sister Carol had tracked me down and was appalled at the living conditions I was in," he said.

"She had also found our father and insisted he did something to get me out of there.

"As a ward of the state, I could only leave if I had a permanent working position, so my father arranged for me to work in the merchant navy, where I remained for 37 years."

Riverview Training Farm opened in 1893 and hundreds of boys passed through its doors before it was closed by the Salvation Army in the aftermath of the 1974 floods.

It's almost been 50 years since Mr Toreaux left the farm, but the grandfather of three said he - and many others who resided there - were still haunted by the past.

Robert Toreaux and many of the boys suffered mistreatment by the officers who ran the boys home.
Robert Toreaux and many of the boys suffered mistreatment by the officers who ran the boys home. Claudia Baxter

But he said the men had also forged a close bond due to their shared experience.

Mr Toreaux is now the coordinator of the Riverview Old Boys Group, which was established so that the former residents could reconnect and support one another.

Each year, the group holds a Riverview Reunion barbecue at the old training farm; once a place of dread but now a place of bittersweet celebration.

Mr Toreaux said the gatherings were good for the men, as it gave them an opportunity to talk about experiences, both good and bad, they had at the boys' home.

The reunion, now in its seventh year, sees former residents travel from all across Australia to attend - from as far as Weipa and Cooktown.

"I'm here for all the boys and I do as much as I can now to help them along," Mr Toreaux said.

"Some need financial help and for others just talking is enough. We can all relate to what each other might be going through because we've all lived the life.

"The current workers of The Salvation Army are a big help too and do whatever they can to help us.

"All the problems stem from the forbearers of The Salvation Army, not the people working there today."

Mr Toreaux said he had never missed a reunion and would keep organising them for as long as he was standing.

"The former officers at The Salvation Army didn't break our spirit back then and they can't break our spirit now," he said.

The Riverview Old Boys reunion will be held at the farm house on Endeavour Rd on August 3, from 10.30am. The event will include live music and morning tea and a host of guest speakers, including mayor Paul Pisasale, Salvation Army commissioner Major James Condon and founder of Kelso Lawyers, Peter Kelso. For more information, phone Robert Toreaux on 0411 418 931.

The former Riverview Training Farm was part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The old boys’ reunion will be held on August 3.
The former Riverview Training Farm was part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The old boys’ reunion will be held on August 3. Claudia Baxter

Topics:  child abuse, editors picks, qt big read, riverview boy's home, salvation army



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