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Key Moments Throughout History

The Salvation Army, particularly in its early days, has been characterised by a pioneering spirit that has resulted in some major achievements and fascinating early ventures.

1880 Salvation Army work begins in Australia

“If there’s a man here who hasn’t had a square meal today, let him come home to tea with me.” With those words, The Salvation Army began its work in Australia on 5 September, 1880.

Two converts of The Salvation Army in London, Edward Saunders and John Gore, led the first Salvation Army meeting in Australia from the back of a green grocer’s cart in Adelaide Botanic Park. As well as offering an invitation to the hungry, the meeting began the Army’s work of “saving souls”, proclaiming the power of God to bring peace to individual lives. This two-fold mission of the Army has often been described as “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up.” 

1883 Prison ministry established

The Salvation Army’s world-wide prison ministry began during the 1880s when Major James Barker began conducting chapel services in the Melbourne gaol. The work quickly developed to include a ministry for ex-prisoners whereby Salvation Army officers – the ‘Prison Gate Brigade’ – would stand at the prison gate and invite men upon release to start a new life. The service aimed to keep people from returning to their old lives of crime.

Barker opened a prison-gate home in Carlton, Melbourne, in 1883, the first Salvation Army institution of its kind in the world. Other homes soon followed. The Salvation Army’s ministry to prisoners continues today and has been expanded to include court chaplaincy.

1885 Raised age of consent

The Salvation Army successfully campaigned to have the age of consent in the UK raised from 13 years of age to 16 years during 1885.

1885 Missing Persons work 

Missing Persons work was one of the earliest Salvation Army social programs to develop. Established in London in 1885 as the Inquiry Department, by the end of 1885 there were offices in a number of overseas countries including Australia (Melbourne and Sydney). The ‘hallelujah detectives’, as they were called, searched for missing persons with a view to reuniting families. They also helped young women who were pregnant and unmarried to track down reluctant fathers and encourage them to support their children.

Today, with branches across Australia, the Family Tracing Service registers over 2,000 new searches each year, and between 75-80% of those are successfully closed. Drawing on links in 103 countries, the Service works internationally, restoring relationships across the world.

1890 First Employment bureau

In 1890, Australia experienced the worst depression the country had known, with unemployment worsening each day. By winter 1890, the Army had decided to open a free labour bureau in Melbourne to help people find jobs, the first known employment bureau in Australia to be operating in a formal way. Soon there were also labour bureaux operating in Sydney and Adelaide. As well as acting as job-finding agencies, the bureaux served thousands of meals to people out of work.

After the labour exchanges closed, the Army continued trying to find people work informally through its various social centres. Since the mid 1980s The Salvation Army has been back in the business of helping people find work, more recently through The Salvation Army Employment Plus.

1890s Pioneer for Safety Matches

Red-tipped safety matches were introduced by The Salvation Army in England during the 1890s at a time when matches were still produced using poisonous yellow phosphorus, which caused the fatal disease ‘Phossy Jaw’ in poor factory workers. 

1900 World’s first feature film

Operating from 1897 to 1910, The Salvation Army Limelight Department was Australia’s first film production company. Among its many achievements, The Limelight Department is credited with producing the world’s first multi-media presentation using the moving picture film technology of the day.

The film, ‘Soldiers of the Cross’, was produced during 1900 and the Limelight Department also recorded the birth of the nation at Federation in 1901.

WWI ministry

It was during the First World War that The Salvation Army became recognised for the ministry of its chaplains, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of diggers wherever they were. One example was the chaplain to the First Infantry Brigade, “Fighting Mac” McKenzie, who went ashore with the troops at Gallipoli.

In one three-day period, Fighting Mac conducted 647 funerals and after one funeral service he found three bullet-holes in his hat. He was later awarded a Military Cross for his work, an honour virtually unheard of for a military chaplain.

The Salvation Army was involved supporting the troops in every theatre of that terrible conflict. At Le Havre, in France, the famous “Hop In” sign made its first appearance, accompanied by the Red Shield symbol of service. The Hop In centres offered soldiers a cup of tea and a bit of advice or encouragement if they needed it.

1920s Children’s holiday camps

Children living in the slums of Sydney during the 1920s rarely had the opportunity to experience life outside the slums. The Salvation Army decided to offer these children the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ at the Army’s Collaroy centre on Sydney’s beautiful northern beaches. During the Depression, mothers were invited too.

The Salvation Army continues to run Red Shield holiday camps for disadvantaged children at The Collaroy Centre at least twice a year, as well as holidays for single mothers and their children twice a year.

1923 Foster House opened in Sydney

During 1923 The Salvation Army opened Foster House in Sydney’s Surry Hills to provide accommodation for homeless men. Located in Foster Street, Foster House was a five-storey building with dormitory style accommodation that slept 220 men, the cots all lined up at attention.

Although useful in its time, by the 1990s rehabilitation methods had markedly changed. The emphasis today is on providing personal support to encourage men to lead more independent lives. To this end, In 1996, The Salvation Army opened a new, purpose-built facility near the original Foster House.

WWII ministry

As WWII commenced, The Salvation Army went to work, at home and on the battlefield offering home comforts, advice, support and spiritual assistance. The famous Salvation Army ‘Hop in’ tents and canteens were set up in training camps in Australia, in the deserts of North Africa and in the jungles of New Guinea. Where an Australian soldier, sailor or airman served, The Salvation Army endeavoured to be there too.

1964 Addiction treatment programs

The Salvation Army has worked with addicts since its beginnings in the East End of London in the 1860s. In Australia, a rehabilitation farm was set up at Collaroy in the early 1900s. However, The Salvation Army Bridge Program for rehabilitation began in earnest in August, 1964, when the Nithsdale clinic was opened behind Salvation Army headquarters in Sydney. 

By 1969, the program had developed into the long-term residential program it is today, featuring three main phases of rehabilitation including time spent at a rural farm or industrial centre. Today the Bridge Program includes 12 facilities throughout NSW and Qld.

1965 Outback flying service

In January 1965, The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory purchased a four-seater Auster Autocar aircraft to be based in Longreach and used for outreach over the vast Queensland outback. Lieutenants Alf and Noela Dawkins were appointed to pioneer the flying padre service.

During six years in the job, Alf covered an incredible amount of miles, ministering to many people on isolated homesteads, including conducting weddings, baptisms and funerals. Since the Dawkins' time in Longreach, there have been five "flying padres". The base was moved to Mount Isa in 2000 when the name changed to the Outback Flying Service.

Today the service covers around two million square kilometres of central and north Queensland and supports more than 130 families on remote properties.

Australia is the only country in The Salvation Army world that operates flying padre services.

1974 Cyclone Tracy relief effort

When Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, The Salvation Army was among the first to fly into Darwin on Boxing Day, 1974. The disaster called for an emergency relief program on a scale seldom seen anywhere in the world. The Salvation Army moved in hundreds of volunteers and provided food, clothing and comfort to the thousands who needed it.

Salvationists also assisted with the evacuation of 30,000 residents and helped them find temporary accommodation in the south. They then followed up for many weeks with relief assistance and family reunions.

1977 Granville rail disaster

When a crowded, peak-hour train was derailed at Granville, NSW, in January 1977, The Salvation Army arrived even before ambulances or emergency services. Auxiliary-Captain Frank Wilson of The Salvation Army’s social services centre at Mount Druitt was at the scene immediately, giving out drinks from his emergency services unit to shocked survivors.

Salvation Army officers from all around Sydney were then brought in to assist, and by midday 5,000 meals had been served. Emotional support was provided for families bereaved by the tragedy in an ongoing way.

1983 Salvo Care Line

In late 1983, The Salvation Army established a 24-hour telephone counselling service as a pilot project managed by Salvationist, Alan Staines. Alan had worked on the streets of Sydney’s Kings Cross and could see the need for such a service to meet the needs of people in crisis at any hour of the day or night.

The service was staffed largely by volunteers and initially operated in at the Staines’ house. Today, the volunteer counsellors at Salvo Care Line answer more than 55,000 calls every year.

1992 Oasis Youth Support Network

In June 1992, The Salvation Army opened Sydney’s first 24-hour crisis centre for homeless youth, the Oasis Youth Care Centre in Surry Hills. It was a joint project between the Advertising Federation of Australia and The Salvation Army.

Since that time thousands of homeless young people have been helped to rebuild their shattered lives/ 

In 1997, the Oasis Youth Care Centre amalgamated with the other Salvation Army youth services in inner city Sydney, and the decision was made to name the new network after the original Oasis - thus becoming the Oasis Youth Support Network.

1994 “Moneycare” financial counselling service

In order to better address the underlying factors contributing to financial hardship, The Salvation Army introduced its Moneycare financial counselling service in 1994. A free service offering a mixture of counselling and financial advice, Moneycare aims to break the cycle of dependence upon welfare assistance.

From one small office in 1994, the service now operates in 12 locations throughout NSW, ACT and Qld and assists more than 5,000 people each year.

1995 Rural chaplaincy created

The Salvation Army’s involvement in the Farm Hand appeal of 1994 highlighted the need for ongoing pastoral care in rural Australia. As a result, in 1995 The Salvation Army created the position of Rural Chaplain for NSW, to which Envoy Bill Sweeting was appointed.

With the ravages of drought continuing into the early 21st century, The Salvation Army expanded the Rural Chaplaincy, which now includes seven chaplains working in various parts of NSW and Qld. The chaplains travel thousands of kilometres across vast areas each year, bringing spiritual care, practical assistance and friendship to farmers and their families.

1996 Port Arthur shooting tragedy

The Port Arthur shooting tragedy of 1996 shocked the nation. A Salvation Army trauma management team, headed up by veteran Salvation Army chaplain Lieut-Colonel Don Woodland, travelled to Tasmania in response, providing counselling and ongoing support to the deeply traumatised victims.

1997 Thredbo landslide

When a landslide claimed 17 lives in the NSW ski village of Thredbo during 1997, The Salvation Army was there to assist in the rescue effort and to help rescue-workers, volunteers and families of victims by providing a basic catering service, counselling, and chaplaincy support.

Over a period of eight days, 16,000 meals and refreshments were provided. Salvation Army chaplain, Lieut-Colonel Don Woodland also assisted landslide survivor, Stuart Diver and his family, and they developed a close friendship.

2002 Bali

Salvation Army chaplains helped at hospitals and airports around Australia following the terrorist attacks in Bali which affected hundreds of Australians during 2002. Chaplains provided comfort and counsel to victims and their families, traumatised tourists, airport/ airline staff and emergency services personnel.

2004 Australia’s first Problem Gambling Centre

During November 2004 The Salvation Army announced plans to commence the Sydney Problem Gambling Centre, the first of its kind in Australia, in the city’s south-west.

The Problem Gambling Centre will work in cooperation with The Salvation Army Bridge Program for rehabilitation and its principles of abstinence, but will be a dedicated place for problem gamblers to seek help.

2004-2005 Tsunami disaster, South-East Asia

The South Asia tsunami disaster presented The Salvation Army internationally with the biggest-ever program of relief and reconstruction in its 135-year history, involving 5,000 Salvation Army personnel on the ground.

Because The Salvation Army had existing churches and programs in affected areas, local Salvationists were able to respond immediately after the disaster with relief and support. Reconstruction work and the rebuilding of lives will continue for years to come.

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