John Lovatt’s battle to honour his Anzac father
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Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel last week again proudly took their place on another ANZAC Day.
Both serving and retired personnel turned out once more as did many descendants of Indigenous service personnel who took up arms in all of this country’s overseas conflicts during the last 115 years.
But there is a dark past to this service for many of the survivors and families of soldiers who made it back home.
Soldiers returning from the Second World War were entitled to land grants as compensation for war service under the War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act 1945 … unless, it appears, you were Aboriginal.
The Lovett family, Gunditjmara people of western Victoria are a case in point. Herbert Stahle Lovett, who was born in 1897, signed up for the First World War in 1917. Herbert Lovett survived that carnage as a machine-gunner in the trenches, one of the most dangerous jobs he could have had and he then backed up to serve his country again in the Second World War.
But in the Lovett family, Herbert was not out of the ordinary.
Herbert’s son, John Lovett said the Lovetts hold a Commonwealth record as the only family to have had four brothers serving at the same time in both world wars.
“Herbert and his three brothers are the only four men in the whole of the British Empire to serve as four brothers in two world wars,” John Lovett said.
And that service history has continued.
“Twenty one Lovetts have served in the military right up to 21 months ago in Afghanistan and they all came home,” Mr Lovett said.
At the end of the Second World War Herbert Lovett returned home and wrote off to get his land grant.
He wanted the land every soldier was supposed to get but his request was special to him because the parcel he wanted was a piece of his traditional lands at Lake Condah Mission in Victoria.
“My father wrote a letter from Tocumwal army camp requesting a soldier-settlement block from Lake Condah Mission that was being cut up at the time,” John Lovett said.
But despite the Commonwealth/State agreement, the Victorian Government denied the grant.
“The thing is, when he resigned from the army and wanted his country back, Lake Condah, as a soldier settlement plot, he was back as a black man and denied,” Mr Lovett said.
Mr Lovett has documentation that proves Victorian local shires and councils supported soldier-settler grants to Aborigines but were over-ruled by the State Government of the day.
“The government just ignored all advice to have the land turned over to returning Aboriginal soldiers. That advice came from the local shires and councils in Victoria,” he said.
And so for the last eight years John Lovett has been fighting to get justice for his father and his clan.
He has had unending correspondence with the Commonwealth Government and innumerable 1800km round trips to Canberra to lobby the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) but all to no avail.
The curious thing is the Federal Government has recognised the Lovett family’s unique place in Australia’s military history, the DVA offices in Canberra are named Lovett Tower but to John Lovett token efforts are always cheap. Real compensation for the injustices of the past take much more courage and commitment.
“There is a moral issue that needs to be addressed regarding my father and his efforts in two world wars as part of the Australian Imperial Forces,” John Lovett said.
John Lovett is proud the DVA offices are named after his father and uncles but believes unless the Federal Government addresses the injustices done to Indigenous service personnel who were all volunteers for a King and Country who did not count them as citizens, it remains tokenism, an easy out.
“I do and while this name is here it’s recognising Indigenous people in a broader sense and that may be true as well, but is there a genuine interest in Aboriginal people by that name being there or is it not just a token gesture to pacify Aboriginal people?” Mr Lovett asked.
Mr Lovett believes the matter can only rest when the Commonwealth makes restitution. He is seeking compensation from the government of $5.386 million for loss of land for the soldier settlement land Herbert Stahle Lovett and his family were denied and loss of wages that would have been generated from that land.
“Had he been able to run it as a farm it would have been a commercial enterprise,” John Lovett said.
The claim also includes, “the price of stock, sheep and cattle and fluctuation of the Australian dollar”. This is not a number Mr Lovett has plucked out of the air. He worked with an accountant and a mathematician to come to a precise and fair figure.
“I had it calculated by an accountant and a mathematician. It is a very calculated amount,” he said.
John Lovett did not get to meet the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs Warren Snowdon on his trip to Canberra last week. He did get to meet with one of the Minister’s advisers but that meeting really didn’t come to anything
Mr Lovett said the DVA’s position is soldier-settlement grants were a State responsibility but as his father fought for King and Country and not the State of Victoria, John Lovett believes it is the Commonwealth which has the moral obligation to make this right.
“That’s exactly right and my father was asked two questions when he signed up and when he was discharged. One was, are you a British subject and the other was are you a natural born British subject. Nothing to do with are you an Aboriginal. He answered yes to are you a natural born British subject and the other, are you a British subject, he answered no.
“I would have thought him answering yes to that question would have entitled him,” John Lovett said.
“At a time when Australia had an all-white policy, my father and other people volunteered, they weren’t conscripted.”