Rape, torture and climate of fear at Riverview boys' home

An archival photograph of the Salvation Army Riverview Training Home in Ipswich, Queensland taken in the 1940s.
An archival photograph of the Salvation Army Riverview Training Home in Ipswich, Queensland taken in the 1940s. Contributed
Riverview Farm entrance. The Salvation Army's treatment of children in its Ipswich homes has been called into question at a Royal Commission in Sydney. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Riverview Farm entrance. The Salvation Army's treatment of children in its Ipswich homes has been called into question at a Royal Commission in Sydney. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

COUNTLESS children at an Ipswich Queensland boys' home were raped, tortured and forced to live in filth under the watch of the Salvation Army and the State Government, the royal commission into child sexual abuse is expected to find.

A damning submission from counsel assisting the inquiry into four of the Army's boys' homes - Riverview near Ipswich, Alkira at Indooroopilly and two others in NSW - calls on the commission to find cultural problems within the Salvation Army structure allowed the systematic abuse of children to occur "on a wide scale and over a considerable period of time".

The inquiry had looked at five predators - Victor Bennett, Lawrence Wilson, Donald Schultz, John McIver and an officer known only as X17 - were allowed to move around all four homes despite allegations of child abuse.

Describing the failure as "a very dark period in the history of the Salvation Army", Simeon Beckett said victims, many of whom were already vulnerable and grieving the loss of their parents, were forced to live in homes where the "authoritarian nature ... widespread and excessive use of physical punishment created a climate of fear ... and provided officers and employees who wanted to sexually abuse children sufficient cover to escape detection".

He also submitted that based on the evidence, it was open to the commission to find that from at least 1970, the Queensland Government knew about the appalling conditions at Riverview but failed to act.

Harrowing accounts throughout the hearings painted a picture of just how miserable those conditions were.

The commission was told that Riverview was originally meant to be a "midway institution" for boys suffering abuse or neglect and that from 1960-1977 the home also took in young offenders who had been referred by the court for break-ins and, in some cases, sexual offences.

From the age of 14, boys were denied an education and worked like slaves in the piggery, shed, dairy and gardens as the home became known as the Endeavour Training Farm.

Battling tears, Gympie council worker Raymond Carlisle remembered watching Lieu Wilson "froth at the mouth" as he dealt out frenzied floggings and a time when he thought he was going to be hanged as he was tied up with a rope and dunked into a well by two officers. He said that when he was eventually pulled out, he was "in so much fear that I'd messed myself and then they just threw me on the ground and gave me a kick and a punch and said I was a filthy little beast".

The commission also heard of the brutal punishments runaways suffered when they fled their tormentors.

Another witness, who can only be referred to as EY, escaped Riverview and headed for Maryborough after Major Bennett failed to protect him from being repeatedly bashed and raped by older boys. He worked at the Rosewood Piggery at Tiaro for four months before he was recognised by a local police officer and returned to Riverview.

When he arrived, he was whipped with a leather razor strap.

Reports before the commission revealed that throughout the 70s, the Department of Children Services repeatedly noted that the conditions at Riverview were "shocking" - that the dilapidated buildings were a fire risk, the river was contaminated by effluent from the nearby meatworks and that there were reports of homosexual assault and "at least two or three known incidents of outright rape including a very bad incident two or three months ago".

It was noted at the time by one officer that "if the department was not in such urgent need of accommodation ... I would not hesitate in recommending that the licence (be cancelled)".

Mr Beckett asked the commission to find senior officers of the department were "well aware" of rape and sexual abuse at Riverview, the fact that the home was in a "deplorable, run-down and dangerous state and it was unsuitable for use as a facility to care for the boys".

He said the government had responded by "gradually restricting the number of boys placed there until the homes were eventually closed some years later".

The commission is expected to release its findings later this year.

Topics:  royal commission into child sexual abuse salvation army

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