Part A: Open the Citizenship Files

Case 1: Herbert Lovett

Up until the 1967 referendum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not have the Citizenship rights granted to other Australians.  This had an impact on many aspects of their lives, with state governments controlling where and how Aboriginal people lived.  This inequality was highlighted during times of war, when some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joined the armed services to fight for their country.  Read the following source material related to the treatment of Aboriginal soldier Herbert Lovett.

Source A: Newspaper article, Portland Guardian, 10 October 1917

A striking example to eligible white men has been furnished by a half caste family at Heywood, named Lovett, five sons having enlisted for active service.  Alfred Lovett has been wounded in France, and is in hospital in England.  Leo Lovett, and Edward Lovett are still in France with their battalions, and Herbert Lovett is in camp at Broadmeadows.  The fifth and last son, Amos Lovett was accepted last week at the Town Hall Depot.  He has been most eager to join his brothers in arms but has been rejected on account of his height.  The new regulations lowering the standard, however, has permitted him to join the colors at last.  All the brothers were born in Victoria.  Half-casts may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces provided that the examining medical officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin.

Source B: While government policies restricted Aboriginal people from joining the armed services, some Aboriginal people, considered to be 'half-caste', were able to enlist.  The following note was written by the recruiting officer on Herbert Lovett's military files when he enlisted during World War One, dated 30 April 1917.

This recruit has two other brothers with the A.I.F. and his parents are not pure blooded blacks.  White people on both parents side.

Ref: National Archives of Australia, B884, V5180

Source C: Herbert Lovett also enlisted during World War Two.  The Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, was one group that raised the issue of equal rights for Aboriginal soldiers with the Government.  The following excerpt is from a letter the Minister for the Army (P. C. Spender) sent to the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia on 9 November 1940.

My Colleague the Rt. Honorable W. M. Hughes, M. P., P. C., has forwarded to me your letter addressed to him requesting information on the matter of the grant of full citizen rights to Aborigine members of the [Australian Imperial Force].

I desire to inform you that this matter has already been given careful consideration.  All Aborigines accepted for the A.I.F. are entitled to the same rights and privileges, within the Army, as other members of that Force. No action is at present being taken to grant full citizen rights to them.

Ref: National Archives of Australia, 275/750/1310 MP508

Source D: Without Citizenship rights, Aboriginal veterans were not entitled to the same benefits as others who had fought for Australia in times of conflict.  Herbert Lovett's son, John Lovett, talked about his father's experience on the Message Stick program, A Will to Fight, 27 April 2008.

My father was Herbert Staley Lovett and he served in two World Wars, along with three of his brothers.  They actually are the only four brothers, black or white, that can be found that fought together in the First and Second World War...

Disappointing part of it was that after the Second World War, he applied for soldiers' settlement blocks of Lake Condah Mission, which they were cutting up at the time and was refused a site settlement block.  And yet, now we know, that him and his three brothers created some sort of a record in the British Empire, in the British Army, serving King George III.  And yet when they were finished, they were back to being black.  And that's the really hard part of accepting what's happened to him as a man.

Ref: "A Will to Fight" is reproduced by permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation © (2008) ABC.  All rights reserved.

  1. Summarise the facts and events relating to the Herbert Lovett case.

  2. What are your thoughts and feelings relating to the Herbert Lovett case?