THE Salvation Army reacted with disbelief and suspected people were money grabbing when they began receiving complaints about abuse in their homes for children.
Major Marina Randall, who with her husband Major Clifford Randall blew the whistle on extreme abuse by two Salvation Army managers at a Queensland home for boys, said there was a naivety in 1999 about the handling of abuse allegations.
She was giving evidence at a royal commission hearing into how the Salvation Army Eastern Territory responded to allegations of child abuse at two homes in Queensland and two in NSW.
Mrs Randall and her husband were house parents at Alkira Home for Boys in Indooroopilly in Queensland from 1973 to 1975.
At the time, the young couple were shocked at what they saw - a regime under Captain Lawrence Wilson and then Captain John McIver in which children were brutalised.
Both said they decided to leave when a boy had his arm dislocated during a beating by Mr McIver. They reported the assault to Queensland Children's Department social worker, Jan Doyle, who visited the home regularly.
After that, Mr McIver gave the couple 48 hours to leave and banned them from talking to the boys.
Mrs Randall said she and her husband stayed clear of the Salvation Army for years.
The decision to return was "actually quite a long journey that we had to go through within ourselves . . . because we were really, really very badly hurt by the Salvation Army."
Both witnesses said their complaints were ignored by high-ranking officers.
In 1999, Mrs Randall took part-time work in the organisation's social service section and then went on to work in the council that dealt with complaints of historical abuse.
"I think that there was this feeling that was expressed more by a sigh or a look or maybe even a side word that these complaints couldn't have been real, they were just attempts at money grabbing," she said.
Mrs Randall, who is part of the army's royal commission liaison group, said that attitude had changed and now the whole process was "geared towards trying to find a way to help people".
She said no processes and procedures were in place in the 1970s.
"We did not know it was as bad as it was and probably most Salvationists would be in shock, even today, to know that it's as bad as it was," she said.
The commission has been told that Mr McIver was moved on from Indooroopilly after the complaints to the Queensland government. AAP