Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Felan, Albert John (Bert) (1919–1968)

by Shirley J. White

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Albert John (Bert) Felan (1919-1968), public relations officer, was born on 3 October 1919 at Annandale, Sydney, elder son of native-born parents Albert Carlyle Felan, clerk, and his wife Irene Alma, née Wheeler. Raised at Queenscliff, Bert became a promising tennis player and competed in the New South Wales Lawn Tennis and Hardcourt Tennis associations' championships. He was then 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. Employed as a travelling salesman, he volunteered for the Militia on 1 August 1940. After postings to veterinary and heavy-transport units, he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lance sergeant in December 1942. Thereafter, he served with the Australian Army Postal Service at home, and in Papua, New Guinea and New Britain. Promoted warrant officer in March 1945, he was commissioned lieutenant on 15 August. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 27 August 1946.

While on leave, on 28 October 1944 at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, Felan had married Pearl Josephine Grogan, a receptionist. After the war they lived first at Roseberry and then at Ashfield. He worked for Lynam's Ice Cream, Ampol Petroleum Ltd and was a country sales representative for other firms. Travelling for A. Abrahams & Sons Pty Ltd, sack and (polythene) bag merchants, he was involved in a motorcar accident near Forbes in October 1960 which left him a paraplegic. He stayed with his estranged wife at Narrabri, confronted the reality that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and in 1962 entered Mount Wilga, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Centre at Hornsby.

Felan moved into his parents' home at Queenscliff and in September 1964 began working for the Wheelchair and Disabled Association of Australia. A foundation employee at the House With No Steps, Belrose, by June 1966 he was its director of public relations. His dynamic and witty personality, intense interest in people and events, boundless energy and resourcefulness equipped him well for the post which was both difficult and demanding. Felan initiated and planned functions and events to promote the organization, spoke in clubs, conducted tours of the House With No Steps, took charge of bazaars, fêtes and other community activities, and also prepared statements and articles for publication in the press. In 1967 he successfully worked with ATN-7 staff to present a television documentary entitled 'Seven Days' which showed the association's revolutionary approach to the needs of people with disabilities.

A courageous and determined man, Felan was respected for his ability to get on with people. His mind was keen and alert, his sense of humour always evident. Cheerful in spite of constant pain, he faced his disabilities with fortitude. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died of renal failure on 14 April 1968 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and was buried in Frenchs Forest cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Wheelchair and Disabled Association of Australia (Sydney), Progress, May 1967, p 8, and undated obituary for A. Felan from that magazine (held in ADB file)
  • Referee (Sydney), 30 June, 14 July 1938
  • private information.

Citation details

Shirley J. White, 'Felan, Albert John (Bert) (1919–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/felan-albert-john-bert-10162/text17951, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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