RAHAM Rundle was seven when he became a number, in the quiet outside a storeroom at a Salvation Army boys home in the Adelaide Hills.
44. It was the number he would carry for eight years.
The only witness was a Salvation Army sergeant, a man who, nearly 50 years later, would scream hysterically after a jury convicted him of violently raping four boys at the home, including the child known as 44.
Sergeant William Keith Ellis was 27 on Rundle’s first day at Eden Park boys home in 1960.
Rundle was a bewildered child taken to Eden Park by his father on the promise of a two or three week ‘‘holiday’’ with other children, after problems with his stepmother.
When his father left that day ‘‘he tapped me on the head, walked to his truck and started it up, and he didn’t look at me again’’.
‘‘I waved, but he was already around the side of the building. He was gone,’’ said Rundle.
The small boy cried. Ellis told him to stop it.
The life Rundle would have led ended there, in a dusty driveway outside a boys home that South Australian Supreme Court Justice Michael David would describe, while sentencing Ellis in 2009, as ‘‘an horrific place by any standards, let alone modern standards’’.
‘‘There was evidence of beatings, harshness and cruel incarceration by way of punishment of defenceless and vulnerable boys who were placed in the home, mainly because they were seen to come from dysfunctional backgrounds,’’ said the judge.
‘‘It makes it difficult to understand how all this took place for an extended period of time virtually under the noses of the community of this state. The very existence of the Eden Park boys home and how it was run was a disgrace.’’
Rundle has vivid, nightmare memories of becoming number 44. He remembers the children’s toys in the Eden Park storeroom, and boxes with numbers on them, and a few old suitcases. He remembers Ellis watching him as he stripped the clothes off his skinny frame and put on the clothes of a previous number 44.
‘‘They were too big, but he yelled at me to put them on,’’ said Rundle.
He remembers the smells in the dormitory.
The sour bite of stale urine he can identify, and the mouldy damp. But there were other ‘‘weird’’ smells that still manage to reach out to Rundle today, without warning, and haunt his nights. In 1960, for the little lost boy in oversized clothes who was promised a holiday, the smells were just one more shock, in a day of shocks that would stretch on for weeks, months and years.
It was another four decades before Rundle went to the Salvation Army about Sergeant Ellis, who raped boys during private Bible readings, or in his bedroom at his mother’s home while she slept in a nearby room after giving the boys milk and biscuits before bed, and wishing them good night.
Rundle told the Salvation Army in 2000 about how Ellis would beat him after raping him, saying it was the boy’s fault and ‘‘it was the devil in me that made me do it’’.
Rundle told them: ‘‘I can still hear the horrible sound of him grunting’’.
But it took until 2009 for Ellis to be convicted, and 2010 for the Salvation Army to stop fighting, and settle a substantial financial settlement.
‘‘They had no intention to do the right thing with me. They were made to do it. It’s as simple as that,’’ said Rundle.
It took a long, long time for the Salvation Army to accept that Graham Rundle, number 44, had won.
THE Salvation Army’s abuse of children in its care has shocked Australians.
The Catholic Church’s long history of protecting its paedophile priests, moving them from parish to parish after allegations, and failing to acknowledge ‘‘sins’’ as crimes that should be reported to police, was documented enough that its shock value gave way to resigned disgust and dismay years ago.
The Anglican Church came clean in 2009 with its Study of Reported Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Church, which analysed 191 reported abuse cases from 17 Australian dioceses and established, among other things, that an average 23 years passed before people who were sexually abused as children reported the abuse, and false allegations were rare.
But revelations about the Salvos were different. Despite a formal apology in Canberra in December 2010 to children in its care up to the 1990s, in which it acknowledged the ‘‘rigid, harsh and authoritarian’’ environment inside many of its homes, where ‘‘many children did not experience the gentleness of love that they needed’’, it was not until the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse, in 2012, that the Salvation Army’s horrific history of abuse became more generally known.
Salvation Army legal secretary Malcolm Roberts told the inquiry it had received 474 abuse claims since the late 1990s, with 470 arising from its children’s homes. About 50 Salvation Army officers had been named as child abusers.
It had already paid $15.5 million to victims, and had an annual budget of $4 million for abuse compensation.
‘‘We are ashamed and deeply regret what occurred all those years ago, and for those who were abused and whose lives have been so damaged, I sincerely apologise on behalf of the Salvation Army. We are deeply sorry,’’ Roberts told the inquiry.
The final blows came during public hearings at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this year. In January the royal commission considered the Salvation Army’s response to child sexual abuse at boys homes in Indooroopilly and Riverview in Queensland, and Bexley and Goulburn in NSW. In March it looked at the handling of claims of child sexual abuse between 1993 and 2014 by the Salvation Army’s eastern territory.
It hasn’t yet considered Salvation Army children’s homes in South Australia.
The Salvos’ fall from grace was reflected in Red Shield Appeal weekend donations, which dropped from nearly $7 million in 2011, to $6.6 million in 2012, $6.17 million in 2013, and $4.97 million in May this year, in the wake of damning evidence at the royal commission.
Graham Rundle knows about the Salvos’ fall from grace. His fight with them from 2000 helped precipitate it.
‘‘People used to say to me, ‘I can’t believe that happened. Not the Salvos’. That’s part of the reason I kept going. They were getting away with payments of $20,000 or $25,000 to people whose lives had been destroyed, and they could only do that because no one believed the Salvos could do what they did.
‘‘No one believed you. I had one bloke say to me, ‘What, someone touched you on the dick?’, and I said to him, ‘What if your boy was raped more than 100 times, because Ellis did it to me more than 100 times. So you’d be ok if that happened to your boy?’ He shut up after that.’’
RUNDLE started the book about his eight years at Eden Park, 44: A Tale of Survival, at 5.20pm on Thursday, May 3, 2007, with the words: ‘‘It was a great day because my Nana was coming to visit me.’’
He finished one month later, at 10.15pm on Wednesday, June 6, by writing ‘‘The end.’’
He wrote in bursts of seven to eight hours, in longhand, despite the terrors that reduced his sleep to three hours a night at most.
‘‘It started to shock me, the detail I remembered and how much was coming out, but I couldn’t stop it. There were so many tears writing it but I didn’t have control. Because I’d spend all friggin’ day and half the night thinking about it, everything came flooding back,’’ he said.
He wrote about the rapes – not only those involving Ellis, but brutal sexual attacks by older boys. He wrote about the floggings and beatings; the random, senseless, violent acts of adults who talked about God and read from the Bible, but reminded boys like Rundle that ‘‘I was here at Eden Park because nobody wanted to look after me, they didn’t want to look after me either, but it was their job to do it’’.
He remembered the lockup – a black, freezing, windowless hole the size of an outdoor toilet – where Salvation Army men told boys they would be sent so their spirits were broken. Rundle wrote about the terror of nights in the lockup, but also of the little lizard that appeared in the light under the door and ‘‘wandered in and out, looking for dead bugs’’. He fed his ‘‘little friend’’ pieces of cockroach he killed in the dark.
He wrote about his nana, Merle (Myrtle) Rose Rundle, who raised him from the age of 18 months after his mother left home to live with another man, until he was five when his father re-married. Years later he discovered his nana tried to gain custody of him while he was at Eden Park. For the first two years she did not know where he was.
His nana was family and home.
On Christmas Day when he was nine, the boy known as number 44 wept for his nana.
‘‘I didn’t remember much of what happened before I came to Eden Park, except that my nana was always nice to me and hugged me,’’ he wrote in his book.
‘‘What made me cry now was that I realised I couldn’t remember what nana looked like. I was starting to forget the face of the only person I cared about.’’
MERLE Rundle died in May, 1998, when Graham Rundle was 46.
Three decades earlier he had run away from Eden Park for good, been reunited with his grandmother, and joined Ashton Circus.
Twice, when he was 18 and 22, he attempted suicide. The first attempt involved a shotgun.
‘‘I was two to three weeks into living in this old hut and the nightmares came back and I thought there wasn’t much point going on,’’ he said.
‘‘So I stuck it up to my head and it went click, but it didn’t go off. I was so pissed off I threw it on the ground and it went off. Boom. That made me even angrier because I couldn’t even kill myself.’’
The second time Rundle tried to commit suicide was about four years later. He took the jagged lid of a tin can and hacked at his wrist.
‘‘I tried and tried but it wouldn’t happen,’’ he said.
‘‘I drove to Gosford Hospital saying to myself, ‘You’re a f...ing idiot’, and I made up a story to explain the hack marks while they sewed me back up, but that was it. I knew I’d never, ever do it again.’’
For 30 years after he left Eden Park he was a circus hand, Pizza Hut cook, kitchenhand, dish pig, hospital cleaner, builder and plumber.
He bought a bush block on an isolated ridge along the road to Wollombi in 1979, started building a house there and married wife, Sharon. They had two children, Paul and Erin.