Karl's story

Before Karl arrived in a Salvation Army home in Queensland at the age of 14, he’d already been in two other orphanages. One had been run by Legacy and he remembered it as a place where children were well fed, wore clean clothes and slept safely in their beds. He’d encountered some difficulties in the other home, but they were nothing compared to the culture of physical, psychological and sexual abuse he found with Salvation Army officers.

Early on, Karl linked up with Jack, a fellow-resident his age, and the two agreed to protect each other and Karl’s younger brother, Billy, as well as other boys as best they could. There were numerous predatory staff who’d fondle boys’ genitals while they slept and take them from their beds to private quarters to sexually abuse them.

Karl woke many times to find one of the Salvation Army officers’ hands under the bedcovers. Where they could, Karl and Jack would position boys between their beds to protect them.

One day when Karl found another older boy – one of the officers’ favourites – sexually abusing Billy, he jumped in to stop the assault. The older boy then reported Karl and he was strapped for disobeying orders to leave the dormitory.

Karl told the Commissioner he didn’t know how many times he’d been beaten while in the home. He and Jack came in for more than daily strappings because of their standing with other boys and for speaking up against bullies.

‘We were publicly flogged and the most degrading thing was, we were supposed to be the protectors so we couldn’t show any pain. Afterwards yeah. Go away, by yourself. But we couldn’t show it then and there. An unspoken pact: never show weakness, 'cause if you show weakness the other kids’d probably think, they’re supposed to be our protectors and they’re getting hurt. So we didn’t show any.

'But now and again, if you were a mover they’d strapped your arms together. But we weren’t movers, but sometimes you couldn’t help yourself because it’d hurt. And you know what the most degrading thing was? Just standing there in front of the other kids naked, stripped you know, and going through puberty it was degrading you know what I mean?’

The orphanage had a dairy and piggery where Karl worked for the year he was there. ‘We never had shoes and socks. Four o’clock in the morning and we’d stand in the cow dung to keep our feet warm. When I first went there they said, “You won’t be going to school. You’re here to work”, and I worked from four in the morning till six at night.’

In the 1960s, soon after his arrival, Karl was at the dairy one morning when he was trapped by Envoy Pearce, one of the Salvation Army officers. When Karl tried to escape, he was pushed and hit his head on the ground, temporarily rendering him unconscious. When he came to, he had no clothes on and Pearce was anally raping him. When he again tried to escape, Pearce kicked him with force enough to break his arm.

Hospital staff couldn’t put the greenstick fracture in a cast so Karl’s arm was put in a sling. At the hospital he went to see Billy who was an inpatient for treatment to a chronic knee infection. When Karl returned to the home, he was beaten for having visited his brother.

‘The captain flogged the shit out of me. The same day I got molested in the morning, midday I went to hospital, and about four o’clock the captain took me to the change room and produced a belt.’

After a year in the home, Karl ran away but was caught and brought back by local police to yet another beating. He’d told the police officers about the terrible conditions at the home, but didn’t mention the sexual abuse because he was too embarrassed. Months after returning he ran away again and this time when caught, was sent to a government-run boys’ reformatory. Here he was sexually abused by the superintendent as well as another staff member.

Karl and Jack remained firm friends. ‘We never talk about the homes, the floggings, but we know ourselves. If he says, “I’ve had a bad day”, I think, “Oh no”, because we’ve had some bad days in the past.’

In the 2000s, Karl disclosed the abuse to a Queensland government inquiry and received an ex-gratia payment of $21,000 because he’d been a ward of the state while in care. He and Jack are pursuing civil damages against the Salvation Army. ‘No amount of money would help, but it really hurt us so we’re going to hurt them. The only way we can hurt them is money.’

‘Whatever comes out of this they should do all they can to make sure this never ever happens again. Never …

‘What [the Royal Commission] is doing is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I really thought no one’d find out about it and we’d die with the secret. And now we see what you’re doing is bringing it out in the open and people will start ducking for cover. As long as it helps one kid, I’ve done my job.’

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