Archive number: 2532
Date interviewed: 08 July, 2000
You are listening to the interview audio
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2007.
Talking to young kids who are considering careers in the defence force, just providing them with another option, so yeah, it’s great.
Ok, I suppose we better start just by saying your family seem to be one of the great untold stories of Australians at war, how many Lovett families have fought?
I believe I am the nineteenth member to see active service, I have just come back from East Timor, meself and yeah it’s just a, as you said, an untold story that I am certainly proud to know of now, yeah it’s fantastic.
The first Lovetts to serve were in World War I?
Yeah, that’s right, it was my grandfather, Frederick Lovett and his four brothers went off to World War I, they all seen action in Gallipoli, Palestine and the Middle East
and they all returned home safely, okay. So, yeah that’s great, great news.
Do you know much about what they did over there?
I have read the history books, I have never met my grandfather, so I can only go off the books I have read and that and certainly, I guess, he was like any other young Australian at the time, just wanted a sense of adventure and being from a tight knit family group, he had four brothers there that wanted to go off with him and
yeah. I dare say with Gallipoli, we all know the story of Gallipoli and how the hardships of the soldiers over there and the game of the Middle East and Palestine. They would have been hard times and I dare say they would have seen their fair share of those hard times as well.
And they were luckier than most, they came back as well?
Yes, yes as I said there was a lot of death and injury in World War I and as I said, to have the five brothers come home must have been a great relief to
Granny Lovett, she must have been very happy to see the five sons come home.
And then four enlisted again for World War II?
Yeah, I believe in looking in Granddad’s records, he enlisted in World War II, he served down in Broadmeadows, he never went overseas, he was a little bit older than the average soldier that was joining up in World War II, but yeah they done home service in World War II.
What about after World War II, can you tell us about other members’ involvement in
war since then?
Yeah, well there’s a great book out called Forgotten Heros, it’s about all Koories [Aboriginals] that went over to join the defence force and we’ve traced family back. They’ve seen Korea, we’ve had grandsons of Granny Lovett to go over to see Korea, sorry to fight in Korea. Also Vietnam and as I said, I have just returned back from East Timor meself, so yeah it’s a long list there, yeah.
And it was men and women in the Lovett family?
That’s right, yeah, Aunty Alice, she was in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force], the Women’s Air Force in World War II. She was based in Victoria and up at Nihill, she spent a lot of time up there and yeah, she spent three years during World War II with WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] as well.
And as the nineteenth Lovett to serve for your country, can you tell us about Timor, about when you went there
and what you actually did over there?
Yeah, my trade is a plumber and gas fitter. I was called, up on at recruiting unit over in Perth and on the Friday I was working behind the keyboards of a computer and the following week I was sitting up in Darwin ready to go over to East Timor. So yeah my thoughts were everywhere at that time and when we got into country, into East Timor, Dili, we had a job ahead of us, we had to provide infrastructure, get all the water and sewerage for the
forces. So that we had potable water for the troops of the INTERFET [International Force East Timor] forces and yeah, just roofs over buildings that were broken and burnt out from the incidents that were happening over there and just providing mobility for our forces.
And it was still early days over there, wasn’t it?
Yeah, we got in country about three weeks after the main force got in there so
it was still quiet in the streets of Dili however, there were a lot more of the East Timorese starting to come back into Dili when they knew that the INTERFET forces were in place and we were greeted with open arms, which was great.
Did you think when you were going over there that, I mean you were the latest in a long line of Lovetts?
No, it’s funny I just… I was just going off to do me job, my job sorry, I never thought of
it being in the long line of family tradition to go off to active service and it’s not until I got back and all this started taking momentum that it was a great honour. Yeah it’s been a great honour, to find there is not many families out there that can boast that honour, I guess.
Did it give you a bit of an insight, by going to Timor, into what they might have gone through as well?
Certainly in… we can put man on the moon at the moment and
we were still doing the hard yards over there so it can only take me hat off to all the old diggers that went off to war. We were lucky over in Timor, we never had any casualties as such and certainly we were in that danger also but to understand that World War I and World War II were major conflicts and as we said before, to have family come home from that was fantastic.
And also with
your grandfather, Frederick Lovett, you joined the same unit that he belonged to, is that right?
Yeah, that is another cornerstone, I guess. I joined the 4/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse. They’re an army reserve unit in Victoria and we were at a family reunion back in the early ‘80s and we were just sitting around the fire talking. Having a yarn and Mum always remembered Granddad having his slouch hat with his plumes hanging out of it and
his colour patch and I mentioned, “What was the colours?” And she said, “Blue on blue.” And my mind starting ticking, so I was back at the unit, my colour patch happened to be blue on blue as well, so I looked in our Roll of Honour book and sure enough there was me grandfather’s name with the 4th Light Horse of World War I. So yes seventy-five years later, I am in the same unit as my grandfather, it was unbeknownst to me at the time.
Did you hear many of those stories from….?
It was just something that was, I guess, never talked about, as I said, we’ve never made a fanfare of the traditions, it’s just, I guess, something that Granddad and all my great uncles went off and done and certainly their children went off and done their bit for their country, I guess. And it was never talked about as such a big thing. We lost a lot of memorabilia, family history, in a fire at home in Greenvale and yeah, I guess it was just something that was never talked about and all of a sudden I’ve done a little bit of research meself and
you know there is something to talk about, yeah it’s great.
And now that the DVA [the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] and ATSIC [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission] headquarters has been renamed Lovett House, what went through your mind when you heard about that?
I didn’t realise how big it was going to be until I’d seen the actual video of the day, it was an honour to have one of the tallest buildings, the tallest building in Canberra named after your family and this to have the Governor-General talk about the Lovett family and the
involvement of indigenous men and women in the services was fantastic. And as I said, Lovett Towers is named after my family however, it’s for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that fought and died for this country, yeah, it’s fantastic.
And it’s an honour that took awhile in coming too, is that something that’s common as well with indigenous Australians, that they are often overlooked?
Yeah, I guess things like that, as I said before,
twenty, sorry nineteen members of the one family to see active service for their country is a big achievement and to have that recognised is fantastic. As I said, it’s not just our family that went overseas and that recognition to come forward now, I guess, takes away a lot of the negative publicity Aboriginal people see, non-Aboriginal people do see of Aboriginal people and
the involvements in those sort of major historical events of Australia actually brought forward.
I mean your family members went overseas in World War II and when they came back after the war, if you can you tell us the story, it seemed like they had to fight again back at home for their land which they lost as a result of the war in a way?
Yeah, that’s, the issue of soldier resettlement, that certainly happened
in our land, where the Gunditjmara people of the western districts of Victoria and Lake Condah mission was our family lands around that area and a lot of that land was sub-divided up for soldier resettlement and there is a letter that my great Uncle Herbert did write asking for a bit of that land for soldier resettlement purposes. However, many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people were put back
on missions or asked to live in reserves when they did return from service overseas.
So, that was actually land that was theirs, that was taken away and then they couldn’t get it back?
Yeah, it was through the politics of the time, was divided up for soldier resettlement. I can’t speak of the politics of the time, the agendas of the time however, that is what was happening and yeah
our families had to ask for land or write letters to ask for land.
To ask for their own land?
For their own land, yeah, in the historical nature of the area, the Gunditjmara people had been there for however many years and certainly in the early 1800s they were having battles with European settlers around the region. So I dare say the Lovett family goes back to that era as well.
But you did
get the land back, can you tell us about that?
Yeah, back in 1984, Lake Condah mission was handed back to the Gunditjmara people, as I said, that’s not only the Lovett family, who were on the mission or that land. There was the Saunders, the McDonalds and a lot of other families that are involved in that time and with a lot of effort from a lot of family groups that make up the Gunditjmara people,
the land was given back and it was fantastic.
So, you had to actually go or the family had to go to the Federal Court in the end to get it back, is that right?
Yeah, I believe so, as I said, I was a lot younger at the time and I couldn’t really speak with the factual knowledge of the stuff that was talked about around the house and that. But a lot of my aunties and uncles and cousins went to put their case forward to the Federal Government
and the end result was we got our land back.
When you mentioned at Lake Condah area with the Saunders as well, I mean there is one of the most famous Australian soldiers, Reg Saunders?
Yeah again, it’s a beehive of activity down there, I guess, Uncle Reg Saunders, reading a story on him, he looked up to the five Lovett brothers as role models and yes he went on to be the first Aboriginal officer in the Australian Army and served with
distinction in Korea as well as World War II, so yeah that’s a great story.
He says, I think, that they were the inspiration for him to join up, did he?
Yeah, I guess of the time seeing all his uncles come back from service with their uniforms on, proud of who they were and what they had done, had some inspiration on him because he went out and certainly reading his stories made me a prouder person and has given me an inspiration to my bit as well, so it’s
had a double fold effect. He’s looked up to my family as my great uncles and grandfather as a role model as much as I have looked at him as a role model as well.
With doing your bit, going back to Timor, you said, I think, before we spoke, on the phone, that you were interested in going there because it was a peacekeeping operation, what do you mean by that?
I guess if you come from an Aboriginal
community and family infrastructure you help each other. They always say Aboriginal people have a lot of cousins, you know, it’s just the family network and we all help each other, within the family and the wider community. And to be able to help someone else is a fantastic opportunity and to be able to provide that opportunity in East Timor it was great as well. We do a lot of what we call ACAP tasks,
they’re ATSIC community aid projects. ATSIC Army Community Aid Projects and the unit I serve with, Royal Australian Engineers was 21st Construction Squadron and we spent five months up in an island called Bickerton Island which is just off Groote Island and we put in a one point five million dollar waterborne sewerage system for the community. Our sister squadron, which was 17th Construction Squadron, they also spent time
over in Western Australia putting in similar infrastructure there. It’s a five year project, it’s gone onto it’s fifth year now and certainly a lot of Australian soldiers have spent time out in community, working with community and seeing the living conditions of Aboriginal people and to see the same sort of conditions when they went to East Timor, I guess, was not new to them, it was
more of a challenge, here is another job, it’s just in another country.
Interviewee: Ricky Morris Archive ID 2532 Tape 123
I was just going to ask before we get back to ACAP and back to when you were talking about helping each other and in Timor, what did you see with the people there, were they… what type of… how did they respond when you started to help?
I guess at first like they’d seen a lot of soldiers in their time in
East Timor and they were a bit wary of us at first as much as we didn’t know what to expect when we got there but they soon learnt to trust us and work with us, they were only too happy to help us. I put a toilet in up on the border, we put some remote toilets in position and I had the best work team in the country I think, it was fantastic, they were only too willing to help with that. It was the fastest toilet I’ve put in in a long time, I know that, when you are, only throw a stone and you
hit the border, I guess, you’re not on an hourly rate then, you get the job done and you get out of there but the locals were fantastic, they wanted to interact with you and they wanted to talk to you. The hard thing, I guess, was the language barrier and it was funny, as I said I was up in Bickerton Island and we had a language barrier there, well with a lot of the customs and traditions of the local Aboriginal people up there. We found that
problem as well here in Australia, so it wasn’t new to us as I was talking about ACAP task before. The big difference was that we were just in another country and we had to carry a weapon with us, with the work we done, the work was similar to what we do with the ACAP task and the unit I went over there with were well prepared for the job at hand and we done a fantastic job, yeah.
But they’ve got the same problems with the infrastructure or the lack of it?
Yeah, as I said, septic tanks are only designed to stay in the ground for so long before they break down and that’s not a secret, that is what’s happening in a lot of the Aboriginal communities around Australia and they haven’t got the knowledge to fix them. So they do get contractors in and there’s new initiative to bring army on side to give them that training in deploying to a remote area. Certainly proved itself when we did
have to go to Timor, I think we got the, we had running hot and cold water in our showers three days after landing in Dili where I think a lot of the other forces were still having bucket showers. So as usual with the curse of the rest of the corps, them engineers have got everything, we’ve got nothing, that is the nature of the beast, I guess, yeah, it’s fantastic, yeah.
And with Timor and with ACAP there must be great satisfaction then in doing that and seeing how the people…?
Yeah. I think the beauty of it we went into East Timor and a lot of the infrastructure was not there. We had a lot of work ahead of us to get the INTERFET forces settled, make sure that our own hygienic standards were raised and kept at a level so that we weren’t coming down with any diseases and when we left, after four and half months in East Timor, we achieved that. We had
the toilet, a septic system in place, a sewerage system in place for the INTERFET forces and also when we left ACAP task there was a waterborne sewerage system in place as well for that community so it is a great opportunity, sorry great satisfaction to see that sort of stuff, to go into somewhere and knowing after four and half, five months when you leave that
that community or that group of people are better off for you being there, yeah, it’s fantastic.
And they’ll show it with their smiles on their faces?
It’s just as I said, the interaction is fantastic. Again, we were prepared for it because we’d done ACAP task and there are language barriers there within Australia and a lot of our boys had to go over to East Timor, it wasn’t a new challenge to them, it was just another job and they done a fantastic
job at that as well.
This is your first Anzac Day just since Timor, is that any different or anything special?
I am over in Perth at the moment and we’re a small army over there and certainly I make every Anzac Day a special day and this one’s just a little bit more because you can relate a little bit better to the old diggers and that. You can swap war stories I guess, although their’s was a lot better, a lot more warrier because
the nature of their conflicts to ours, however the interaction there again was good too because you had a common bond there, you had been overseas, you had lived in those conditions, you knew what it was like to be scared, yeah that’s right.
Those things went through your mind about your family on Anzac Day?
Yeah. I didn’t really think much about East Timor, it was just another job but when you look back on it and reflect on it all,
the danger was there and it’s not until you get home and have time to settle down and think about it that you realise the dangers that were around you at the time.
And with Anzac Day, also the renewal of interest or increasing interest among young people with the day itself and the Anzac legend. Why do you think, have you got any thoughts on that on why that is, why that’s happening at the moment?
I think Anzac was born of a [UNCLEAR] at Gallipoli
and there’s not too many… I think we’ve only got one veteran from the Gallipoli landing alive today and I think to see the kids of today really taking that interest. You only have to see it on Anzac Day that the tradition is there and the honour of marching on Anzac Day to the applause of the younger generation does put a lump in your throat and more so for the older soldiers.
You’re working in recruiting
then with indigenous youth there, what type of things do you tell them?
I tell them anything I was to say to any other…. young lady or man that wants to join the defence force. It’s a job, we’re there to do our job although the bottom line is we’re here to defend Australia and it’s interests, lost outside of that, it’s not just running around in the bush with can’t see me
clothes on or flying jets or steering a big ship. There’s a lot of history there and tradition and honour in serving in the defence force and certainly take up the challenge, have a look at it. Look at your own family history; you’d be surprised, as I was, being the nineteenth member of a family to see active service that I was not aware of. I just tell them to have a look at your own family, family groups and you’ll be surprised with the
history you have got with the defence force with your family.
And with those families too, with the black families and stuff with the history we’re talking about before the interview about the wages and the pension and stuff out of it. They often seem to miss out on pensions or they weren’t given the same wages, do you think that’s the story?
I don’t know if they missed out or maybe not aware of the benefits entitled to them.
I know of one chap that I did an interview for [UNCLEAR] studies that I was doing and he actually got a pay increase when he joined the army and the colour line disappeared, he was amongst mates, he was treated as an equal. However, with the wages and that I couldn’t really comment on if there was any discrepancies there, I know I have heard of stories but any factual information I couldn’t really answer that I guess.
But like with your family after World War II, the colour lines probably disappeared when they were in the services and when they came back the colour lines came back?
Yeah. It appears to say with a lot of non-indigenous Australians there was land there for soldier resettlement and for my great uncle to ask for land it seems a bit of a standard there that was set in those times, I guess,
and I wasn’t aware of them at the time. That’s the politics of the time, I guess, if you look back in the history books that was the politics of the time and they’ve changed for the better over the years, which is great.
With your experience of peacekeeping, I mean we’ve talked to some people who’ve said that if the defence forces gear up and train for peacekeeping it can be detrimental to the ADF [Australian Defence Force], but do you think that it’s a
good thing then for Australia to participate in peacekeeping operations?
We call it peacekeeping operation but certainly the danger was there, I guess. The threat was always there to be shot at or to be fired upon so although it is peacekeeping, a peacekeeping mission, we were there to provide security and peace for the East Timorese people and
yeah, I can’t really comment on that one and answer that one at the moment.
Okay great, thank you.
Sorry, I got lost on that last one, sorry.
Is there anything else that you want to add that we haven’t asked you?
No, as I said, I hope I have done my side of it. I’ve got my long flight back to Perth, so that’s all I was worried about, I hope I’ve got it right now, hope I’ve got enough to answer these people.