The Salvation Army Cairns Celebrates 130 Years


Cover Story

The Salvation Army Cairns Celebrates 130 Years

By Danae Jones
Photo by Blueclick Photography

Whether it’s grueling war times, natural disasters or global pandemics, or supporting those less fortunate through their very personal plights of homelessness, domestic violence or addiction – the Salvos are there giving hope where it’s needed most.

This year marks 130 years of continued service for the Salvation Army in the Cairns community. It is a time when the Salvation Army are extending their deepest of thanks to the community for supporting their work throughout this time. But the thanks really ought to be given to the Salvos themselves, for being the constant force of care and support in our local community.

The Salvation Army Cairns Corps consists of an army of men and women who have shown up each and every day no matter the circumstance to walk beside our people in their darkest of hours. From very humble beginnings in 1892 with just a couple of officers servicing Cairns to Cooktown, the Salvation Army now supports a geographical area in Far North Queensland from PNG to Normanton, Mornington Island to Innisfail and every little suburb and township in between and out to the west on the Tablelands. They are made up of predominantly volunteers that we have all become accustomed to having around in tough times to guide us through. Their community development projects and much needed goods, services, emergency support, local partnerships and social enterprise models is what has sustained so many people who have found themselves falling on hard times across generations the world over.

“It is a privilege to be Corps Officer of the Cairns Corps. For 130 years we, as The Salvation Army, have served and ministered to countless thousands. We stand on the shoulders of so many heroes of the faith who have paved the way, setting a wonderful foundation for all the work that we do today. Our reputation and support base within the community is incredible because of the faithfulness of our people throughout the decades. People know who we are, what we stand for, and most importantly who we stand for,” said Major Ben Johnson.

For Alison Geno, an Intercultural Ministry Worker at the Salvation Army, she has never known anything other than being in amongst a sea of red and white, with both of her parents now retired Salvation Army Officers. Alison and her siblings have been lending a helping hand to the needy for as long as she can remember.

“Pretty much from when I was born I have been a Salvationist. The Salvation Army send their officers to different places all over the country to serve and so that was our childhood, we went wherever our parents needed to go to do their work and help people. And to be one of the lucky ones to be here 130 years on to celebrate this milestone and acknowledge where it all started and the hardships that were faced by our predecessors, it is a great feeling to honour them and the great work they did to get us to where we are today,” Mrs Geno said.

In the Salvation Army’s very early days the organisation grew rapidly across the world. And while the primary role of the officers was to help the needy, it was also to spread the good word about the gospel and Jesus.

“But we have always taught this philosophy, that people can’t hear a message when their stomachs are rumbling and they’re living in poverty. And they can’t make a decision about their future without those essential needs being addressed,” said Major Johnson.

Empathy, compassion and maintaining people’s dignity is always front and centre with the Salvos’ approach to dealing with people.

It is through this approach that the Cairns Corps now offers a full time drug and alcohol program, delivers full time youth programs to build resilience in our young people and offers daily financial counselling and street chaplaincy services.

Each and every month they support at least 160 families with emergency assistance in Cairns alone and that number continues to climb as the cost of living increases and the city’s housing crisis deepens.

“Particularly with rental prices being as high as what they are the need for our services has risen quite dramatically and that’s not something that we can fix quickly. It’s a long-term solution that is needed. But our response to that is we are pouring more resources into assisting people in these situations and with our Cairns Supported Accommodation Service we are doing a lot more outreach work than we used to, so it’s not just catering for those people staying within our facility, but we’ve got almost the same case load out in the community as well.

“We have a policy within our organisation that no one ever leaves empty handed. And when people are going through crisis, they need a solution within that moment. But there’s usually other circumstances around that experience that need addressing that are causing them to have addiction issues for example, such as trauma from abuse. So it’s not just about fixing that immediate need, it’s about saying why have they got to this point, what issues are they identifying with that they want to address at that point and working with them from there,” said Major Johnson.

It was in 1913 that the first Salvation Army quarters opened its doors in Cairns through its first physical building. In 1981 they then opened the first Soup Kitchen and established Centennial Lodge, a crisis homelessness shelter still in existence today but recently renamed The Cairns Supported Accommodation Service. The crisis accommodation service alone has now expanded to not only offer a roof over people’s heads and a warm bed to sleep in at night, but a dedicated case management program to transition the most vulnerable into employment along with permanent accommodation in the community so that people can get their lives back on track once and for all.

Major Ben Johnson says it is that long term journey they embark on with people that achieves such positive long-term outcomes, and what holds the organisation in such high esteem.

The money raised each year from the annual Red Shield Appeal through the Business Launch and Doorknock Appeal directly funds services such as The Cairns Supported Accommodation Service. In May this year the FNQ community raised close to $130,000 through the Red Shield Appeal to financially support services carried out by the Salvos. Sadly, while this was a fantastic result by all for raising the funds and beating the target set of $100,000, it doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what is actually required to meet the need we currently face as a community to support our most vulnerable.

Mrs Geno takes great pride in the work she and her colleagues do, and while not glamorous work at times, she says it is deeply rewarding.

“The Salvation Army will go into places where there is a need. Maybe into places where most other people may not want to go. The Salvation Army was originally founded in London in the poorest areas of town and that’s where we really began and we are mandated to be in those places even today. It’s the most amazing and humbling thing to be a part of people’s journeys and while not all things end well with everyone, when they do, and you see someone’s life change for the better at the end of their journey, it does make you want to keep going. And so that’s why as an adult I choose to do this role now as I am so passionate about what we do for people and what great outcomes we can achieve together,” Mrs Geno said.

The Salvation Army are not alone doing the remarkable work that they do and they know all too well how important it is to collaborate with other agencies to ensure the needs of the people are met.

“In any community these days you need to partner with other agencies. People like Djarragun College, Centacare, St Vinnies and Anglicare, we always try to work alongside them as well. We try and mesh in, rather than duplicate, because we all need to stretch our resources as far as we can,” said Major Johnson.

And while donating to the Salvation Army is something that assists them in doing their work and is always welcomed, all officers will agree that people being willing to volunteer is just as needed.

“We are often doing things in the community that require a lot of manpower, so while people may not have the capacity to donate money to our cause, time is just as valuable to us. People offering their time is an incredible gift that we can always do with more of,” Mrs Geno said.

One thing is for sure, the Salvation Army community is stronger than ever in Cairns today, the recent attendance to their 130 year celebrations at the Cairns Corps with people from all walks of life flooding into their facilities, is a very real example of that. And while they are taking a moment to reflect and celebrate their great work in the region to date, they also have their sights firmly set on expanding their reach and servicing those less fortunate for many more generations to come.

Care & Support
160 families are given crisis support every month in Cairns

Each year 5,800 women and children at risk of experiencing domestic and family violence are assisted nationally
1,889,000 sessions of care were provided nationally across all social programs last year

887,500 crisis beds provided to people who experienced homelessness last year nationally

National Emergency Flood Relief
42,647 meals and refreshments served
at evacuation centres
$5,327,889 distributed in financial assistance
25,359 recovery grants issued
26,184 households assisted