Tales of heroism and military service run through many generations of the south-west’s famed Lovett family, but they’ve always regarded themselves as “toilers”, not warriors, as EVERARD HIMMELREICH discovered.
THE south-west’s Lovett family holds the impressive position as one of the largest volunteer family groups to serve in Australia’s military since the outbreak of World War I.
Family members have served in Australia’s wars and peacekeeping missions from the Western Front in the First World War to Afghanistan.
The Lovetts’ record of armed service has been lauded by the Australian War Memorial and the home of the Veterans Affairs department in Canberra has been named Lovett Tower in its honour.
Media reports have said Ricky Morris, who served in Afghanistan, was believed to the 21st family member in the Australian armed services.
However, Portland family member Stewart Lovett, 70, believes more than 50 direct and indirect Lovett family descendants have served in Australia’s defence forces.
Nigel Steel, from the Imperial War Museum in London, said he knew of no service record in the Commonwealth to match the Lovetts and John Connor, a senior historian at the Australian War Memorial, said it appeared the Lovetts occupied a unique place in Australian military history.
The family are indigenous people from the “fighting Gunditjmara” clans in the south-west and much has been made of the fact the first Lovetts to fight for Australia did so only 70 years or so after the Gunditjmara had been defeated by white settlers.
Gunditjmara people were slaughtered in the decades-long Eumeralla War in the early 1800s around the Eumeralla River that flows into the sea at Yambuk.
The first group of Lovetts to fight for Australia were five brothers from the Lake Condah Aboriginal mission, near Macarthur, who fought in the First World War,
However, Mr Lovett said the family did not regard itself a warrior clan and was “pretty casual” about the unique place it held in Australia’s military history.
He said the Lovetts had fought because the armed services offered an opportunity to work and gain equal pay in a society when many other opportunities were closed to indigenous people.
That motivation might be less glorious than fighting for ‘king and country’, but the equality they experienced in the armed services empowered many in the Lovett clan to take on racism in Australian society and achieve a better life.
Two grandsons of Frederick Lovett, one of the five brothers who enlisted in the First World War, are presently chief executive officers in Aboriginal corporations at Heywood, south-west of the Lake Condah mission where their grandfather lived.
Mr Lovett, himself a former union representative at the meatworks and building sites where he once worked, said the family were “toilers” rather than warriors.
They had worked in a variety of rural occupations from horsebreaking to shearing and as shearers’ cooks to make a living before some climbed the rungs to higher professions.
Mr Lovett’s late brother Murray was an example of using the army to gain skills that helped him gain employment after his discharge.
Murray had to wait until the end of the Second World War before he was old enough to enlist and worked in signals with the occupation forces in Japan.
After his discharge he worked with the OTC telecommunications company in Melbourne.
Stewart’s sister Aunty June Gill, a Gunditjmara elder, said the five Lovett brothers enlisted in the First World War because they were not paid fairly at the timber mill near Condah.
Aunty June, 85, said the five brothers were from a family of 12 children and went to war “to get some money for their families”.
Upon their return, the five were not only refused land under the soldier settlement scheme because they were Aboriginal, they were refused a drink at the Greenhills hotel at Condah while dressed in their army uniforms
In protest, the five locked the barman out and shot up the shelves. “Granny was not happy,” Aunty June said of her grandmother’s reaction to their actions.
Aunty June, who was born and grew up on Lake Condah mission, said life there was tough. The manager did not want the Aboriginal residents to take paid work.
Her father Samuel Lovett was a younger brother of the five WWI Diggers but had been too young to fight in that war.
But he did in the Second World War, fighting in Syria and New Guinea.
In New Guinea he fell seriously ill after mistakenly swallowing a jug of insect repellant left by his hospital bed while he was convalescing after an appendix operation.
He recovered to return to the front lines, where he was a runner between the Australian lines, carrying the messages in his head so, if captured, the enemy could not get a written copy. He also carried a pistol and a poison pill to kill himself should he be caught.
Stewart said his father was sometimes so close to the Japanese he “could have tapped them on the shoulder”.
Apart from their remarkable service over the past century, the Lovetts are also extraordinary in that they all survived their time in conflict zones, despite many being on the front lines and some close encounters with death.
Stewart said Alfred Lovett, the eldest of five WWI brothers, was gassed on the Western Front.
Alfred fought with the 26th and 12th Battalions on the Somme in 1916, including the battles at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm.
Frederick served with the 4th Light Horse in Palestine.
Leonard was with the infantry of the 39th Battalion which fought around Passchendaele in 1917 and in the crucial struggle around Amiens in 1918.
Edward served with the 4th, then the 13th Light Horse, which patrolled on the Western Front.
Herbert was with the 5th Division, his machine-gun company fighting in the successful attack on the Hindenburg Line in 1918.
“We know how to fight but joining up was really an opportunity to get ahead in life,” Stewart said.
He said the family was not greatly worried there were no Lovetts in the armed services since Ricky Morris was discharged following his service in Afghanistan.
But with so many descendants from the original five from Condah, there’s a good chance a Lovett will again serve in Australia’s defence forces.