On weekends and during school holidays, Cliff was sent from the Salvation Army home in Queensland where he lived to stay with a young couple, Mr and Mrs Hodgkin, who had no children of their own. Cliff said he was terrified of the visits because on each occasion the Hodgkins both sexually abused him.
Cliff told the Commissioner that his parents were drug- and alcohol-dependent, and that his elder sister was left to look after her siblings. ‘By the time I’d got to about seven years of age, it came to the point where I was basically living by myself’, Cliff said. ‘The others had been fostered out and I was living by myself for weeks at a time.’
At 13, Cliff’s sister was ‘put into factory work’, and Cliff and his brother were placed by their mother in the Salvation Army home under the care of Captain Gallen. The boys had their heads scrubbed with kerosene and ‘that evening, within half an hour I’d been knocked to the ground and kicked fairly impressively’, Cliff said.
‘You weren’t a name, you were a number … Heads shaved. When you were working, you marched everywhere. Discipline was ferocious. Violence was just random. Food was extremely poor. There was a swimming pool mooted while I was there and it happened, I believe: I saw a photograph of kids jumping into that pool and you could count the ribs.’
Cliff’s first visit to the Hodgkins' house came in the early 1960s when he was eight, after the couple had visited the home and boys were paraded before them. ‘We stood rigidly to attention while pleasantries were exchanged. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
'After some conversation between the adults, the rest of the boys were dismissed and I was introduced formally. They were a youngish, clean-cut couple. They were very friendly. I was told I would be spending my holidays with them. I spent a number of holidays and weekends with them, actually.’
As soon as Cliff walked into the door of the Hodgkins' house, he was pressured by Hodgkin to touch his wife’s breast. The couple tried to reassure Cliff this was normal behaviour, and afterwards Hodgkin took Cliff to the basement and sexually assaulted him.
For four years, the couple coerced Cliff into sexual acts, Hodgkin acting either alone or with his wife, and Mrs Hodgkin generally only when her husband was present. They drank heavily and forcibly poured alcohol down Cliff’s throat. The abuse occurred in the couple’s home and car, and in the warehouse where Hodgkin worked. ‘I think he may have had an impotency issue as he had to get quite violent to get an erection’, Cliff said.
Cliff didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for fear of punishment. Gallen often set the boys against one another in boxing matches and Cliff had experienced one of the occasions where Gallen donned gloves himself and knocked boys to the ground. When Cliff had an ear infection, Gallen had poured hydrogen peroxide into his ear canal, burning the eardrum and permanently damaging his hearing.
One day Cliff told his older brother about the abuse he was experiencing from the Hodgkins. His brother went to see Gallen, a prospect that filled Cliff with fear. Nothing was said afterwards but he was never again sent to the couple’s home. Looking back, Cliff thought that Gallen was running a ‘supply service for pederasts’, and that he’d been selected because he was a compliant child.
Shortly after his disclosure, Cliff was sent to a farm run by a Presbyterian couple, Mr and Mrs Dwyer. He said by then he’d turned into a ‘savage little bastard’ as a way of surviving. One day he attacked the boy he shared a room with. When Mrs Dwyer came into the room, Cliff thought it was to give him ‘a flogging’, but she cuddled him instead. ‘I didn’t know how to handle that’, he said.
In 2008, Cliff went to a reunion at the Salvation Army Home, but found the experience distressing. The visit brought back painful memories and he had a panic attack. While he was there, he found out about the Salvation Army redress scheme, made a claim and reached a settlement. His claim referred largely to his physical abuse in the home because he was embarrassed to include more than one brief sentence about the Hodgkins’ sexual abuse.
In addition to his hearing loss, Cliff told the Commissioner he continued to feel the effects of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced as a child. He’d married and stayed home to care for his three children, but had only recently told his wife about the sexual abuse. His disclosure came after he’d seen officers defending the Salvation Army at the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the organisation.
‘I think they’re still in denial, total denial’, Cliff said. ‘They still aren’t offering to step up to the plate, say yes, do a mea culpa, let’s find a way, let’s join with the Commission to find a way that we can make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
'Some sort of probity system [needs to be] set up, but I don’t think they’ll ever want that. It’s just anathema to a structure like that. They’re a militaristic – well, it sounds like I’m going over the top, but it's almost like a cult the way they handle things.
'I’ve been told – it’s hearsay, but I’ve been told – that if you join the Salvation Army and you don’t rock the boat, you’re there for good. Your education for yourself and your children is covered; your clothing, your accommodation, your health care, everything’s covered.
‘They are a highly efficient organisation when it comes to their Red Shield Appeal; an NGO that attracts serious amounts of money from the public purse, but they aren’t accountable to the public purse. I believe there’s a lot of politicians who find it very convenient to chum up to them. No one’s really game to take them on, head on. They need to be taken on, and it’s only the legal fraternity that can do that. I can’t see the politicians doing it.’