THOUGHTS of lives thwarted and enduring impacts of trauma are likely to swirl through Jim Luthy’s mind next Tuesday.
That’s when he’ll stand in Old Parliament House and respond on behalf of 30,000 former orphans to the Salvation Army’s national apology. Commissioner Barry Swanson, the Army’s International Chief of the Staff is travelling from England to issue the apology to people who suffered neglect and abuse in the Army’s institutions over many decades.
Mr Luthy, a former orphan at Goulburn’s Gill Memorial Home from 1965-1968, has been campaigning for the apology for many years.
“It’s amazing,” he told the Post this week.
“It’s the very first time a senior ranking Salvation Army officer has ever issued an apology for the endemic and systemic abuses that occurred.”
Mr Luthy wrote to the Army’s international head, General Clifton Shaw, several years ago requesting the apology, never thinking that he would respond.
Instead, the General took up what Mr Luthy argued was a “moral imperative,” and agreed to apologise on his next trip to Australia. Openheart surgery has stopped him from doing so and he has sent his second in charge.
Mr Luthy will not know the content until Tuesday. But he intends to remind the Army of his and others’ experience. He came to Gill at age 13. His mother had died when he was four and a non-relative looked after him until he was placed in the home.
“There was no legality to it whatsoever,” Mr Luthy said.
“I was abused in every possible way - physically, emotionally and psychologically. I was not sexually abused but I know plenty of boys there who were.”
He recalls a regimented lifestyle of rising at 6am, being made to strip the bed, stand at the end and being thrown to the ground by officers if it wasn’t done.
His worst memory was of an officer wrapping a boy’s urine soaked sheets around his neck and swinging him down the stairs.
Boys known by numbers, not names, were marched everywhere, made to take cold showers whatever the time of year and eat substandard food, sometimes filled with weevils that made them vomit. Officers sat on a dais overlooking the boys, but didn’t eat the same food.
“People were bashed routinely,” Mr Luthy said.
“It was a case of when, not if you were going to be hit...One boy was hit so badly he couldn’t sit down.”
He describes Gill as a brutal institution that discouraged learning and left children traumatised and with no life skills. Mr Luthy left when he was 16 and managed to complete a chef’s apprenticeship, taking out a top award in the process.
He has numerous education qualifications to his name and is completing a doctorate on the 2004 Senate inquiry into Children in Institutional Care. It is titled ‘Why Good People do Bad Things,’ based on his own experience.
Over the years he has received several compensation payments from the Salvation Army.
“But for me it was always about the apology,” he said.
“Not only for me but for all the others kids who had to scrub floors with toothbrushes and for the ones who were bashed, often at officers’ instructions.”