The battle for recognition not yet won

Local aboriginal elder Robert Lowe with Peter Bakker, a local history teacher and military researcher.
Local aboriginal elder Robert Lowe with Peter Bakker, a local history teacher and military researcher.
Private Reg Rawlings, MM - a Framlingham soldier who distibguished himself during World War 1.

Private Reg Rawlings, MM - a Framlingham soldier who distibguished himself during World War 1.

THERE was no such thing as land rights or equal opportunity when at least 28 Aborigines from south-west Victoria enlisted with the Australian forces in World War I.It was the largest regional contribution to the war from the Victorian Aboriginal community and included five of the Lovett brothers from Condah district.Yet despite their desire to serve king and country, and their bravery, they were almost forgotten after their return and many later found their home districts carved up by government agencies to make farming blocks for white soldiers.Now, a Warrnambool history teacher and military researcher wants the contributions to be officially recognised.Peter Bakker will soon approach Warrnambool City Council asking councillors to consider ways the community can recognise and honour the war services by local Aborigines from World War I through to modern conflicts."It is extraordinary that the outstanding contributions made by Aborigines of the south-west to Australia's overall military history has not been officially recognised and honoured locally in Warrnambool," he said."At least 28 Aborigines born in the south-west volunteered in World War I."His recent research revealed a higher than previously known contribution by Victorian Aborigines to war service and a higher casualty rate than the general population.He said of the 65-plus Aboriginal volunteers for the World War I, 17 died, a death rate of about one-in-four - double that of the general population of servicemen."Aborigines also found it harder to volunteer for military service as they were not recognised as Australian citizens, and sadly, on their return from war they were the least honoured and compensated," he said."No memorials or ceremonies of appreciation were given. They were denied soldier resettlement grants."In fact, they found their reserves broken up to provide for 'white' settlement blocks."Mr Bakker cited Captain Reginald Saunders, born in Framlingham, who was a highly-distinguished soldier in the World War II and Australia's first Aborigine to be commissioned as an officer. His father Chris Saunders and uncle, William Rawlings, had served in the First World War with the AIF. Private Rawlings was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in heavy fighting at Morlancourt Ridge in France in 1918, only to be killed in action a month later.Mr Bakker said he found that not only were government and RSL branches unaware of the extent of the contributions and sacrifices, the local Aboriginal communities themselves were surprised."All Aborigines I spoke to about the research were excited by the findings and were keen for their people, especially the younger generation, to be made aware and proud of their heritage," he said.Warrnambool elder Robert Lowe snr, who has been providing contacts for the research, said he too was surprised to learn how many local Aboriginal soldiers there were."He believes there are many more, it's just a matter of finding the records," Mr Lowe said."It's a small stepping stone to get official understanding and recognition that our people did go to war for their country. This is well and truly overdue.''Mr Bakker said the Lovett family was unique worldwide for providing more volunteers for military service than any other known family in the British Commonwealth.In all, 20 members of the clan served Australia in war and peacekeeping as recent as the East Timor drama and all survived the conflicts.Nigel Steel of the Imperial War Museum told ABC Radio he knew of no service record in the Commonwealth to match it. Five of Hannah Lovett's 12 children, Alfred, Leonard, Edward, Frederick and Herbert served in World War I and four of these re-enlisted for the next world war.Ricky Lovett, grandson of Frederick who served in both world wars, was with peacekeeping troops in East Timor recently.Two Lovett women, Alice and Pearl, joined the WAAF in 1941.Records show that after the Second World War Herbert Lovett applied for a soldier settlement block around the Lake Condah mission once occupied by his Gundtijmara people, but his application was refused and the land went to white returned soldiers.