‘I don’t remember much about my childhood. I remember being a happy about six or seven-year-old, running around the paddocks … we were poor, father was an alcoholic. I remember Mum dying.’
In the early 1950s, when their dad couldn’t cope as a single parent, Felton and his siblings were made wards of the state. While the older children were sent to live with relatives, Felton and two of his brothers went into a Salvation Army boys’ home east of Melbourne.
‘I never seen my family, not even my elder brother that was in the home with us, never ever saw him. Not until we got out of the home when I was 15.’
More than 60 years later, Felton still becomes very upset when he talks about the boys’ home. ‘It was a sad place. The way it’s affected me … horrific.
‘I was a very skinny, weak kid. I remember that. And I wet the bed constantly, every day I suppose. And punishment, that was severe.’
Carrying his wet bedclothes and pyjamas Felton would be marched to the laundry past all the other boys, then put under a cold shower, even in winter.
‘And then you were given six of the best across the backside while you were cold and wet. Then you were made to walk back up the dormitory naked, and get your clothes on, then go to breakfast. And this happened to me for … I mean, I wet the bed till I was 30 year old.’
Felton spoke of doing manual labour at the houses of Salvation Army officers, being forced to eat rancid food, and ‘constant’ physical abuse. On one occasion the major in charge of the home hit Felton so hard with a broom handle, it broke in half.
But his worst memories involve Arnold Turley, the dormitory supervisor. From the age of 10, Felton was sexually abused by Turley many times. Sometimes the man would take him into his room, other times he’d get into Felton’s bed after lights out. Felton recalled being punished for wetting his bed when the stains on the sheets were actually Turley’s semen.
He knew he wasn’t the only one being abused, but there was no one the boys could tell. ‘I don’t ever remember anyone saying … ever reporting any officer, when I was there. No one ever spoke about it, even when we went to school. I know Mr Turley used to get into bed with other boys. You’d see it, at night, and you’d cringe in your bed hoping to Christ he didn’t get in with you …
‘And it wasn’t only the officers, it was some of the monitors or whatever they call them. The boys they put in charge. Older boys.’
One of these boys physically and sexually abused him numerous times until Felton was transferred to work in another part of the home.
In his early teens Felton said he became ‘one of the lucky ones’ who was sent to an outside school. The sexual abuse stopped, and his older siblings began making regular visits.
‘When I was 15 my sister and brother got out us out of the home, found a job and a place for us to live, and we all lived together then … as a family again.’
As he got older Felton never thought about reporting the abuse. ‘I didn’t think about it. It was there, you know, every time you’d see something on TV or something you’d think, “Yeah, but just put it out of your mind and keep going” …
‘I was ashamed. I just hardened myself, you know? I worked hard, I worked long. I’m not well educated but I learnt to work with my hands …
‘I didn’t want anyone to know.’
But no matter how much he tried to bury the abuse, the impact was always with him. Felton said he became a very hard man who’d ‘fight at the drop of a hat’. He got married in the mid-1960s but his heavy drinking and inability to express affection meant it didn’t last. When he spoke to the Commissioner, Felton said the only people he trusts are his family.
He remarried in the 70s and continued to throw himself into his work, only stopping when his body couldn’t take it anymore.
In the early 2000s, when Felton became seriously ill, he spoke about the abuse for the first time to his wife. As his health improved he joined the Care Leavers Australia Network, and got some counselling.
A few years later he read a book by some of the boys’ home’s former residents, which mentioned the name of their solicitor. Felton and his wife got in touch with the solicitor, who helped them start legal action against the Salvation Army.
After two years of trying to wear him down and make him give up, they finally offered a settlement.
Felton said he came to the Royal Commission to hopefully make life better for kids in care.
‘Like, when I was there no one ever come and talk to us and say, “What’s happening to you?” Like a private session like now, “What is happening to you? What happened to you today? Did you get punished today? Have you been beaten? Has anything happened?” Doesn’t have to happen every day but just every now and then like random.
‘If you’re telling someone that’s there, not an officer, not a mate, some independent person … I think I would have [spoken up] to a stranger, to someone that just come in and said, “Look, this is between us. Have you been punished today for anything?” Just a simple thing like that. And I probably would’ve said, “Yes, I’ve been given the strap for wetting the bed”.
‘Just a simple thing like that, you know. It probably would’ve helped way back then.’