• Print this page

Century of care


The Birth of our Nation

The first decade of the twentieth century was a time of great change. Already serving the disparate colonies for twenty one years, the Army knew many of the problems that would face our new Nation.

There at Federation, The Salvation Army used the world's first multiple camera unit to take moving pictures of the Federation ceremony in 1901. The Salvation Army Australasian leader, Commandant Herbert Booth (son of the Army Founder, William Booth) sent a message to the Honorable Edmund Barton, the new Australian Prime Minister, conveying salutations and the prayers of The Salvation Army, and placing at the disposal of the new Government, its officers for the benefit of the poor.

The Premier replied: "...I have always highly prized the work you have done for those in need of help, and I cordially appreciate your generous offer of assistance."

The new Nation was scattered and diverse with sixty percent of its people far from the cities. The first challenge was simply to reach them. One answer was the Cavalry Fort, the forerunners of today's Red Shield Emergency Services. These churches on wheels took the word of God, comfort and assistance to distant places.

Entertainment was considered a highly successful method of getting people together. The famous Salvation Army Bands travelled far and wide, playing a mix of popular music and Hymns.

By the end of the decade The Salvation Army had opened homes for girls in moral danger and for unmarried mothers. Homes for the aged had been established, and the famous People's Palaces were offering cheap, alcohol­free accommodation.

The foundations for a century of social and humanitarian work had been laid.

Top of page


Soldiers of the Cross

In April 1915, at a little known beach in Turkey, named Gallipoli, two legends were forged. The first was the courage of the Australian soldier: the second was the wartime service of The Salvation Army.

It was in the First World War that the image of The Salvation Army, Chaplain, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of the diggers wherever they were, was truly forged.

Already becoming widely identified as "Christianity with its sleeves rolled up", men like "Fighting Mac" McKenzie typified the image. The Chaplain went ashore with the troops and in one three clay period, conducted 647 funeral services.

His gallantry earned him the Military Cross, virtually, unheard of for a military chaplain.

At Le Havre, in France, the famous "Hop In" sign made its first appearance. A haven where the ordinary soldier could get a much needed cup of tea and encouragement.

Dozens of nurses from The Salvation Army homes volunteered and gave distinguished service in the Australian Army Nursing Service.

The work of The Salvation Army did not go unnoticed at the highest level, King George the Fifth said in a letter to General Bramwell Booth: "By its work of love and mercy, in both peace and war, The Salvation Army has become honoured and endeared in the hearts and nations of the world".

Gallipoli may have earned Australia's standing as a nation: it had also earned The Salvation Army a place in the hearts of millions of Australians.

Top of page


Men, Money & Markets

Australia emerged from the Great War with a new sense of identity" knowing that the world had changed forever.

The Bruce Government had been elected on a policy of "Men, Money, and Markets." This meant populating Australia, providing new settlers with financial help and finding new markets for what we produced.

During the 1920s, almost 300,000 British immigrants made a new start in Australia, many assisted by The Salvation Army who looked after them until they became financially independent.

But poverty and failure was rampant, thousands walked off the poor and drought-stricken land and made their way to the cities.

In the crowded cities, the poor and dispossessed faced a new threat, disease. A virulent form of influenza swept from Europe to Australia, bringing death to thousands.

The nurses and volunteers of The Salvation Army's home nursing service worked themselves to exhaustion.

The Salvation Army also shocked the establishment with its work with unfashionable causes, such as assisting released prisoners find their way back into society.

There were other challenges as well. Bitter strikes and lockouts caused by failing coal prices meant many were without an income and the workers turned to The Salvation Army for assistance.

The Salvos were there with both material and spiritual assistance.

Australia was on the edge of an economic abyss and the signs of disaster were evident.

Top of page


Hard Times

The 1930s began disastrously, and set the scene for a decade of hard times.

With the world's financial markets crumbling in 1929 it signalled the start of the Great Depression. In Australia both the public and private sectors were hit hard. The Federal Government of the day was divided and virtually paralysed.

Starved of capital, businesses went bankrupt by the thousand and by 1932, 28% of the working population was unemployed.

With no way to feed themselves or their families many, took to tile road. Never before or since had The Salvation Army"s resources been stretched so far. The business community, and the public, the major sources of the Army's funding, simply, could not afford to donate.

Still the Salvos soldiered on. Feeding the hungry was a full-time task. Thousands lined up at The Salvation Army soup-kitchens. For many school children, the hot meal provided by, the Salvos after classes was all they could count on.

Accommodation was in constant demand and most Salvation Army Officers opened their homes to an ever changing procession of non-paying guests for most of the decade.

By 1938, economic reforms saw the unemployment rate fall to a creditable 8%. By 1939, Australians were daring to hope the worst was over. The reality was to prove very different.

Top of page


The World at War

By the end of 1939, the world was again at war and The Salvation Army was it work again, at home and on the battlefield.

Salvation Army huts and canteens were set up wherever there was a need for thern. In training camps in Australia, in the deserts of North Africa, in the jungles of New Guinea - wherever an Australian soldier, sailor or airman served, so did The Salvation Army.

Of all the theatres of war that The Salvation Army served in, none was more challenging than the Kokodah Trail. At the Salvos own request, the Red Shield post was stationed where it was most needed, close behind the shifting front line.

At Milne Bay, there were no less than 14 Red Shield centres. At Wau, the Salvos were right in the thick of things - eight of them were wounded when the Japanese forced a retreat after twelve days of the hardest fighting of the entire Pacific War.

The Second World War officially came to an end on 15 August 1945. More than 20 million people had died during those six terrible years.

The Salvation Army's work created its own lasting heritage. The memory of the Salvationists' selfless service would stay with an entire generation of Australians for the rest of their lives.

Top of page


The Boom Years

At the end of the Second World War, a new Federal department was formed to administer a new national concept. This was the Department of Immigration, and the concept was "populate or perish."

In Europe there were thousands of homeless "displaced persons" eking out an existence in makeshift camps.

By the beginning of the 1950s, half a million new settlers had made the long journey to their adopted homeland. Most began their new lives in camps not very different to those they had known in Europe.

The Salvation Army found itself facing a new range of needs from these apprehensive newcomers hoping for a better life.

They needed assistance with language, most had nothing but a suitcase of old clothes and almost all were spiritually drained.

Makeshift churches in the camps were packed every week.

Five thousand of the newcomers went to work on one of the symbols of Australia's recovery, the ambitious Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

Better times were on their way with a world ravaged by war demanding new supplies.

Australia was becoming urbanised to an unprecedented degree. Home ownership became the cornerstone of the Australian dream. Vast new tracts of land were earmarked for housing.

These were Australia's golden years.

Top of page


New Challenges

By, the beginning of the 1960s, Australia was one of the most urbanised countries in the world. Four out of five Australians lived in the big cities. The "Baby Boom" of post war years had boosted the country's population, and cities were expanding rapidly.

This urbanisation brought it's own problems. The population in cities like Melbourne and Sydney was growing more quickly than the facilities to handle them. The suburbs offered little entertainment and children were growing up bored and unfulfilled.

The Vietnam War created social dissent on a scale never witnessed in this country before.

And, for the first time, The Salvation Army was faced with what would become the greatest problem of the last half of the century the culture of addiction.

Alcohol had always been a source of concern for Salvation Army workers. A new approach was needed by the start of the decade and The Salvation Army Bridge Programme was created, offering structured recovery with full time residential care to those unable to deal with their problem.

As the decade continued, the Salvos were forced to confront a growing range of addictions: alcohol, drugs and gambling.

This decade spelt the beginning of the end of the protectiveness and security that had cushioned Australia for so long.

Top of page


A Decade of Disaster

One of the important areas of work of The Salvation Army has always been in disaster relief and chaplaincy. The 1970s brought this vital work into focus as never before.

Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern capital of Darwin with The Salvation Army quick to provide emergency relief on a scale seldom seen anywhere in the world. Thirty six thousand people were homeless. Almost every service had been destroyed. Hundreds of Salvo volunteers moved in providing food, clothing and comfort.

The Army also helped evacuate and find temporary accommodation then followed up with relief assistance and family reunions.

Two mining disasters claimed more lives. Melbourne's Westgate Bridge collapse claimed a further 22 lives. The Salvos were there.

The Granville rail disaster was yet another challenge with The Salvation Army workers providing food and comfort.

As Australia's needs have changed, so too have the services provided by The Salvation Army. Hand in hand with the work of emergency relief teams went the services of The Salvation Army's chaplains. Wherever disaster struck the chaplains were there to help bear the burden for both victims and emergency workers.

This decade helped refine the disaster response mechanism that would be thoroughly tested in the years to come.

Top of page


Boom and Bust

Australia entered the 1980s with the divide between rich and poor even more evident than before. The general standard of living for most Australians was higher than ever, yet one Australian in nine was living below the poverty line. Business thrived in the face of a deteriorating national economy.

At the end of 1987, on "Black Friday", the New York stock exchange suffered its worst reverse since 1929. Within 24 hours, the world financial economy was in turmoil.

Businesses went bankrupt, many shed staff and hundreds of thousands of people who had never even considered being out of work were unemployed.

The Salvos adapted to these new challenges. New services were created to meet new needs. One of these was the Moneycare service; staffed by professional financial advisers it helped families understand and manage their often diminished finances.

Employment 2000 was created, with government help, to assist with a new start in the workforce.

Training in new skills, such as computer operation, was complemented with life skills to provide confidence as well as competence. As a measure of success of the Salvos job skills programmes, more than half those who passed through Employment 2000 were able to find fulfiling jobs - an incredible statistic in such a bleak employment environment.

Top of page


Legacies of Change

As with every decade before it, the 1990s brought its own unique problems and challenges.

Many of these problems were the legacy of the past, in particular the uncertainties of the economics and restructuring of the 1980s.

An unsettling trend became evident. With families under more stress than ever before, the failure of the family unit increased. Separation and divorce, physical and mental abuse became frequent problems.

Women and children walked out rather than suffer the abuse, men walked out leaving families to fend for themselves.

Drugs became increasingly easy to obtain, especially by children and the "street kids" generation demanded its own special response.

Outreach workers contacted, counselled and offered an alternative to these teenagers.

The Bridge Programme was stretched to its limits looking after young and old, and temporary accommodation resources were again hard pressed to meet demands.

The new millennium saw a nation crying out for compassion as never before.

Top of page


Preparing for the future

"Christianity with its sleeves rolled up" is a pretty good description of today's practical, caring and dedicated Salvation Army worker.

Today, we need more than just our sleeves rolled up. Only by improving our ability to professionally educate our people, will we meet the challenges of our our rapidly changing social, economic and technological society with greater commitment, dedication and professionalism. just as Australia's future is in its youth, so too is the future of the Salvation Army. Our young people need training. But like everything else, training costs.

Aged care will continue to grow in importance as our "Baby Boomers" mature. A programme for long term support for older Housing Commission tenants is just one area where The Salvation Army is assisting State Government. Already, care needs have been isolated such as: improved access to health services, an increased involvement in the community, safety fears as well as significant personal care requirements.

For The Salvation Army, the demand for assistance has never been greater. But, with the practical assistance of those more fortunate, these demands will be met.

As The Salvation Army enters its second century of care, it does so as part of the Australian community, working with and for the community, and ready for the challenges and the opportunities.