An Indigenous musician has vowed to keep pursuing a multimillion dollar land compensation claim after his father was left empty-handed for his service in World War I and II.
Uncle Johnny Lovett told Victoria’s Yoorrook Justice Commission on Thursday his father and three uncles served the British Empire in both world wars.
The country and western singer-songwriter’s father, Herbert, was a machine gunner on the Western Front in World War I and re-enlisted 20 years later, along with his three brothers and their youngest brother.
Under a government scheme, an Aboriginal mission at Lake Condah in the state’s northwest was divided into five blocks and given to returned soldiers.
As a veteran from the area, Herbert wrote a letter to formally apply for a parcel of the land but never got a reply.
Counsel assisting Fiona McLeod SC said about 37,000 returned soldiers were given settlement blocks, but none were set aside for Mr Lovett’s father and uncles.
An article from the Argus newspaper in 1956 noted returned Aboriginal servicemen felt “deep resentment that their ancestral land should have been given to others”.
Uncle Johnny said his father walked or rode past the blocks on his way to work and likely would have harboured his own resentment, although he eventually received land at Sunday Creek, outside Haywood, from a local church group.
Despite Herbert not being an Australian citizen when he died, the Last Post was played at his funeral and an Australian flag draped over his coffin.
“When I look at it today, it was a little bit of a farce that he be buried that way,” Uncle Johnny told the commission, just days after Anzac Day.
“Yet there was nothing for him. When he came back it was back to being black and so was every other Aboriginal.”
While Herbert and his brothers have been added to the Indigenous honour roll and had a Canberra tower named after them, Uncle Johnny is still seeking compensation for the withheld land.
He sent a $5 million claim to former Labor MP Warren Snowdon when he was veteran affairs minister from 2010 to 2013, but said it didn’t go anywhere.
“I haven’t finished the fight,” the Gunditjmara/Boandik elder said.
Uncle Johnny believes the claim would be worth even more now, based on the current land value of $12,000 an acre in Hamilton.
The Yoorrook Justice Commission is establishing an official public record of Indigenous experiences since the start of colonisation.
It will recommend reform and redress by June 2024, with the findings to guide Victoria’s Treaty negotiations.
- Story by Callum Godde, AAP