James Gino Salerno
By ABC court reporter Rebecca Opie
The inner workings of a cult once based in a sprawling mansion in the Adelaide Hills region have been revealed during a District Court trial against its founder.
The cult lived in the historic Arbury Park mansion in Aldgate from 2001 until 2008.
James Gino Salerno, 71, is on trial in the Adelaide District Court before Judge Paul Slattery — without a jury — after pleading not guilty to nine counts of unlawful sexual intercourse.
The cult is based around Salerno's desire to create what he described as the "ideal human environment".
The court heard no decision was made without running it past Salerno and that on one occasion he had ordered all of the men to strip and wrestle naked in front of the group, before ordering all of the women to do the same.
In his opening address, prosecutor Patrick Hill told the court Salerno — also known as 'Taipan' — was always the leader of the group and the other 30 or so members were ranked by what the accused called the individual's "emotional quotient".
He said the group would hold daily meetings to discuss various ideas around the notion of the "ideal human environment" and that it was common for them to say "praise Taipan".
Women taught how to be a 'personal server' to Salerno
The court heard women in the group were responsible for looking after children, cooking and cleaning as well as tending to Salerno.
"This included caring for his hands and feet by these manicures and pedicures, running him a bath, towel drying him afterwards, brushing his hair, doing his laundry and also by giving him hand and leg massages," Mr Hill said.
The court heard girls as young as 13 were taught by older women in the group how to be a "personal server" to their leader, which included testing the temperature of his bath water with a thermometer to make sure it was to his liking.
The cult lived in the historic Arbury Park mansion in Aldgate from 2001 until 2008 when they relocated to Beaudesert in south-east Queensland.
The 17-room stone mansion was built by Sir Alexander Downer in August, 1935, and was the childhood home of former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer.
The South Australian Government bought the property in 1964 and it was used by the Education Department as a training centre for teachers prior to being sold to the Salerno family.
The court heard Salerno had a large bedroom suite to himself on the second floor of the mansion and other group members lived in dormitory style accommodation called the "Barracks."
Cult members had to obey 'higher-ranking children'
Members were required to do exercises every morning before breakfast at 7:00am and then all of the children had to line up in a row.
Mr Hill said each child had a ranking and had to obey the higher-ranking children.
"A higher-ranked child would complain of disobedience on the part of a lower-ranked child who did not follow one of his or her orders and the lower-ranked child would then be administered punishment," he said.
The court heard punishment included being struck on the head with a metre-long stick that had a large wooden knot on the end.
It heard there were also punishments enforced for stepping outside the hierarchy of rules, including being treated like a slave, being made to sleep outside or not being allowed to eat.
It was flagged that the trial would hear evidence from a former member of the group that women were submissive to men and subservient to the accused.
Mr Hill said the woman once stood up to Salerno and as a result she was told that if she wanted to act like a man, she would be treated like one, and was sent to work on 12-hour days clearing farmland with the men.
Members donated all of their income to the group which was then centrally controlled and redistributed on an as-need basis.
While the group moved from South Australia to Queensland in 2008, they are now based on a large property at Kununurra in the Kimberley, in north-east Western Australia.
The trial against Salerno continues.