Indigenous veteran exhibition honours contribution, fight for justice continues
Two of the most celebrated families in the exhibition are from south west Victoria: the Saunders family and the Lovett family.
While Reg Saunders was, significantly, the first ever Indigenous Australian officer in the army, the Lovetts hold the distinction of having more family members serve their country in various wars than any other family in the Commonwealth.
Gunditjmara elder John Lovett says it’s very sobering to be surrounded by photos of Indigenous Australians who have contributed so much.
“It’s such an honour to be able to see, not only my father, but my relations, and other Aboriginal people from all over this country who never got the credit,” he says.
“Here is a display that verifies that Aboriginal people did serve in the armed forces of this country and were very protective of this country as well.”
Despite facing discrimination and racism in Australia and within the army, large numbers of Aboriginal people chose to serve in the armed forces to help protect the country.
“[My father] got a sense of equality whilst fighting the two world wars, but that was only while the two world wars lasted and then he was back to being black, after his dismissal from the armed services.”
Gunditjmara elder Keith Saunders – who greatly resembles his brother Reg – says Aboriginal people felt compelled to protect their land, as they always have.
“Aboriginal people have always been the traditional owners of our land, so it was very much automatic for our people to be soldiers. The Aboriginal people have always had a responsibility to their homelands, and it can never change.”
After serving in two world wars, John’s father Herbert applied for a parcel of land through the government’s Soldier Settlement Scheme. Despite his eligibility, he never even received a response to his letter.
For the last eight years, Mr Lovett has been fighting to right the wrongs of the past, by asking the Federal Government for compensation for his family.
In August last year, the ABC reported John Lovett was taking his fight to Canberra.
“I’m asking them for repatriation for my father, I gave them a bill for $5.3 million last year.”
He says a mathematician and accountant calculated the figure based on the value of land and lost earnings of Herbert Lovett due to the government’s denial.
Since the ABC last reported on John Lovett’s story, he says he’s met with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Warren Snowdon, twice. But he says there hasn’t been much development and he plans to head back to Canberra next week, in the leadup to Anzac Day.
Mr Lovett says he will try to meet with Mr Snowdon.
“Then I will carry my protest right to the very doorstep of Lovett Tower (a Department of Veterans’ Affairs building) and ask for the name to be removed from Lovett Tower,” he says.
“I will go as far as I can go, if I’ve got to go to the moon then we’ll have to start looking at a rocket.
“If I have to go to the UN, then that’s where I’m prepared to go.
“We’re talking about a moral issue here, and as we talk we look around the walls where we’re sitting now and there’s a display of soldiers of every battle that was ever fought in the country, and that gives me inspiration to take it to the moon.”
The ABC contacted the office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the office of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
While the office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs hasn’t yet commented, Minister Snowdon’s office says “the Commonwealth is unable to intervene retrospectively in this matter”.
“It appears that Mr Lovett’s father, Herbert Lovett, who would have been entitled to apply for the scheme after returning from the Second World War, did not effectively pursue his land claim.”