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Percy Victor Feltham (1902–1986)

by B. J. Costar

This article was published:

Percy Victor Feltham (1902-1986), solicitor and politician, was born on 24 May 1902 at Footscray, Melbourne, youngest of six children of Victorian-born parents Charles Edward Feltham, iron moulder, and his wife Annie, née Clarke. Both parents died before Percy was 14. Raised by an aunt, he was edu­cated at the local Geelong Road State and Melbourne High schools before attending the University of Melbourne (LL B, 1923; LL M, 1938), where he graduated with the Supreme Court prize and shared a final honours exhibition. He was admitted as a solicitor on 1 May 1925 and became an associate to Justice (Sir) Hayden Starke of the High Court of Australia. On 16 November 1929 at St Paul’s Church of England, Ascot Vale, he married Sylvia Josephine Box.

Feltham then joined, and later bought, a solicitor’s practice at Shepparton, and became prominent in a wide range of professional and community organisations. He was a director (1938-39) of the Shepparton Fruit Preserving Co. Ltd, a board-member of the Mooroopna and District Hospital, and founding president of the Shepparton Rotary Club and the Goulburn Valley Law Society. On 7 September 1940 he was commissioned in the Militia but, wishing to serve overseas, transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force in April 1941. Employed as an intelligence officer in RAAF Command, he became probably the Allies’ leading authority on the Japanese air order of battle. In 1943-45 he attended conferences in London and Washington and worked for periods at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters. He was appointed MBE (1944) and demobilised in October 1945 as an acting wing commander.

Returning to his practice, Feltham joined the Country Party, serving (1947-58) on its central council and as the McDonald government’s nominee as a director (1950-53) of the Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria. In 1955 he was elected to the Legislative Council for Northern Province and, as a dutiful backbencher, impressed colleagues with his keen mind, `puckish’ character and wry sense of humour. He was a member (1959-67) of the council of Monash University.

In September 1965 the premier, (Sir) Henry Bolte, offered Feltham the presidency of the Legislative Council, promising a pairing arrangement to protect the balance of power held by the CP. Feltham put the proposal to his colleagues, who rejected it. The CP leader, George Moss, issued a statement which Feltham interpreted as an accusation of disloyalty. Stating angrily, `I refuse to sit under a man I cannot trust’, he resigned from the party, thereby gaining the balance of power himself.

For the next two years Feltham voted as an Independent, typically not revealing his intentions until late in his speeches. Liberal-minded, he sponsored a progressive indecent publications bill in October 1965, and in November supported a move to abolish the death penalty. He campaigned for the 1967 election with the slogan `better the devil you know’, but he was soundly defeated by the CP’s Stuart McDonald.

A vigorous man although slight, with `a countryman’s ruddy skin’, Feltham continued to practise and to work on a farm he acquired at Wyuna, before retiring to Point Lonsdale. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter (both of whom had distinguished legal careers), he died there on 24 October 1986 and was buried in the local cemetery. A tribute from E. H. Walker, the minister for agriculture and rural affairs, described him as `a true Independent’.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 28 Oct 1986, p 683
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1965, p 1
  • Canberra Times, 29 Sept 1965, p 4
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1965, p 1, 22 Apr 1967, p7
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 30 Sept 1965, p 13.

Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Feltham, Percy Victor (1902–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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