Decades of unspeakable acts exposed

The Salvation Army has a lot of questions to answer.

For almost three decades there were alleged rapes, floggings and punishments at their Dickensian boys' homes in NSW and Queensland.

The evidence has been exposed at the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

The stories are so horrific that some news operations have steered clear of publishing full details of the acts of some Salvation Army officers, in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

The Salvation Army is not challenging evidence by the string of witnesses - former residents of four homes being examined in detail by the commission.

It is not the first time Australians have heard these horror stories. In 1999 the Queensland Forde commission looked into the Indooroopilly home and the Riverview Training Farm in Queensland, both of which are on the commission's list.

The young residents of Bexley Boys Home knew how to tow the line.

In 2004 a Senate committee in its Forgotten Australians report also considered conditions in those Queensland homes, plus another two now being examined: the Bexley Boys Home in south Sydney and the Gill Memorial Home in Goulburn.

Up until now, the Christian charity has been very publicly contrite about what happened. But from Monday it will have to start answering questions before the commission.

What did they know and do about members against whom allegations were made? How much supervision did managers of homes have? Did the Army simply transfer abusers or dismiss them?

Is there something in Salvation Army culture that allowed such shocking inhumane behaviour towards children, some as young as four?

Or did William Booth's "Christian soldiers" take the biblical message "spare the rod, spoil the child" a little too much to heart?

The soldiers first "opened fire" (to quote their website) in Australia in 1880, having taken the title Salvation Army just two years earlier.

Since then, the Salvos have been a familiar and trusted feature on the national charity landscape, with their black uniforms and appeal boxes with the iconic red logo.

There may be arguments next week that what happened in those homes just reflected a general community attitude towards corporal punishment of children in those days.

There may be denials that the Salvation Army believed in or authorised corporal punishment.

But the commission will want to know why no action was taken when state welfare officials, as well as parents and boys, complained about management at the homes.

There is already evidence of a divisional commander in NSW writing to a field secretary in February 1970 reporting complaints about Lawrence Wilson - a man the commission has identified as one of the most prolific abusers.

Yet in August of that year Wilson was appointed manager of the Gill home.

Witnesses allege that Wilson, while at Gill, raped, brutally beat and terrorised the boys, who lived in fear of his sadistic outbursts.

From Gill, Wilson was transferred to Indooroopilly in 1973 where he continued his abusive behaviour.

Wilson died in 2008, the same year the Salvation Army contacted police with allegations against him.

There was no investigation.

He had been acquitted in 1997 when he was tried for buggery and indecent assault.

The commission has also heard that in 2003 the Salvation Army made ex gratia payments - ranging from $10,000 to $125,000 - to Wilson's victims.

Some witnesses who received payments have said they felt coerced into signing deeds of release.

Those claims had Salvation Army senior counsel Kate Eastman on her feet.

Ms Eastman wanted assurances the Salvation Army would be given the chance to respond to allegations.

She was assured they would. It comes next week. AAP

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