Arnold Bloch Leibler is providing pro bono legal advice to Indigenous elder, John Lovett, as they seek compensation of soldier settlement land after the world wars.
Lovett is calling for just terms compensation as the next of kin of his late father, Herbert Stahle Lovett, a war veteran of both World Wars, who was denied soldier settlement land in effect because he was Aboriginal. As an Aboriginal returned serviceman in Victoria in 1945, Lovett belonged to a class of ex- servicemen the lawyers claim were deemed too difficult to assist
Arnold Bloch Leibler public interest law partner, Peter Seidel, is providing pro bono legal support to John Lovett and his family as they seek just terms compensation. He is preparing a submission to that effect to the Commonwealth Minister for Veterans Affairs, and to the respective Commonwealth and State Ministers for Indigenous Affairs in an effort to argue the moral case on behalf of Lovett, to avoid if at all a litigated outcome.
Seidel comments: “Herbert Lovett was deemed fit for entry into the Australian Imperial Force in 1917 because he had white ancestry, yet when he came back — after serving not just in one, but two World Wars — he was denied soldier settlement land because he was an Aboriginal person. This was offensive then and remains so today.
“The injustice to John and his family is obvious. It is utterly repugnant to today’s moral standards. And it was in its day too. We know from the records that in the years that followed WWII, the local RSL and Council made pleas on behalf of a ‘grateful country’ for justice to be accorded to the Lovett family, but they all similarly fell on deaf ears.
“Until this wrong is righted, this failure to accommodate Herbert’s request will continue to remain as a gross denial of natural justice, the effect of which continues to haunt John Lovett today.”
Herbert Lovett was an Indigenous man of Gunditjmara descent, who entered the armed forces voluntarily at a time when the Australian Government did not recognise him, or his family as citizens. He was allowed to fight in WWI only because the Australian Imperial Force recruiting office decided and documented that Herbert’s parents were “not pure blooded blacks; [there are] white people on both parents sides.”
Herbert left his traditional lands at Lake Condah to fight in World War I, serving on the Western Front in France with the Fifth Machine Gun Battalion. When he returned to his homeland many of the Aboriginal families had been forcibly removed from the Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission and arbitrarily transported to Lake Tyers Station in Gippsland.
In 1940, Herbert again volunteered to fight in World War II. In August 1945, the War Service Land Settlement Agreement was reached between Commonwealth and State Governments. The Agreement established the foundations of a settlement scheme for soldiers returning from the war, whereby they were offered blocks of land on which to settle and make an independent living for their families. In Victoria, the scheme was subsequently enacted under The Soldier Settlement Act 1945.
The Condah land — the traditional lands of Herbert and his family — was subsequently converted to Crown land and subdivided for use as soldier settlement scheme farms for returning white soldiers.
After returning from service in September 1945, Lovett applied for a soldier settlement block on his traditional lands at Lake Condah but was never considered. In fact, according to Lovett, Herbert never received a reply to his application. The land instead was granted to non-Indigenous discharged soldiers.