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Uncle Johnny Lovett Talks About National Reconciliation Week

Uncle Johnny Lovett is Deadly and Proud and a respected Gunditjmara/Boandik Elder. He is a well-known singer-songwriter and country and western star.

Johnny has been actively involved in the community and has advocated for native title rights as well as recognition and compensation for his father and uncles as Aboriginal soldiers who served in World War I and World War II. Johnny was born in 1947 in Hamilton, Victoria. He is a proud father, grandfather and great grandfather.

Johnny attended Heywood Primary and Heywood Secondary College and grew up in the Hamilton and Heywood area. He was the only Aboriginal student at both schools. Growing up Johnny was a talented sportsman, gifted boxer and musician.

National Reconciliation Week provides a platform for non-Aboriginal people to interact with First People to gain a better understanding of the historical and contemporary issues that Aboriginal people have encountered since colonisation. Part of that journey includes listening to the truths of Aboriginal people and hearing their pain about historical and ongoing injustices since colonisation. Uncle Johnny believes that sharing truth - particularly around the Eumeralla Wars which occurred on his country - is vital to set the record straight for all Victorians to understand our true history. Uncle Johnny feels that in order to progress as a society, the true history of conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians must be shared to the wider Australian public.

Lake Condah is a sacred place for the Gunditjmara people and is world heritage listed, it is where the Eumeralla Wars were fought and took place. Named by settler Thomas Browne, the Eumeralla Wars were a series of fights which occurred between the Gunditjmara people and the settlers in the 1830s and 1840s, leading to more than 10,000 Aboriginal deaths.

As a story of Aboriginal resilience, the Eumeralla Wars are important to share this Reconciliation Week as they demonstrate the experiences of the Gunditjmara people in coming face-to-face with weapons they could not prevail over but defending their land for 22 long years. The first-ever recorded massacre of Aboriginal people were of the Gunditjmara people at the Convincing Ground at Lake Condah. Of the 59 clans who were originally on Gunditjmara Country, only 10-15 remain today.

Uncle Johnny has advocated for native title rights and, in particular, he has been actively involved in the recognition of native title rights of the Gunditjmara people. Johnny is proud that the Gunditjmara people are now formally part of the political landscape.

The Gunditjmara can legally have a say about developments – called ‘future acts’ – that occur on their native title lands.

Through their native title rights, Gunditjmara have the right to negotiate when high impact activities are proposed on their lands. Johnny states that, “native title recognises our land as being Gunditjmara country.

It puts local councils, state government agencies and private land users on notice that they now have to deal with us as a people.

They now have to negotiate with us through the proper channels. We have to be involved, at last”. Johnny has fought tirelessly for his father and uncles to be properly recognised and compensated as Aboriginal soldiers that fought in World War I and World War II. They had no citizenship, no right to vote, and no right to enlist to go to war.

In World War I, Johnny’s father Herbert was a machine gunner on the Western Front.

He was one of four Lovett brothers who served. Twenty years later the four brothers re-enlisted, along with their younger brother, for World War II.

As Johnny has said, “they fought for their country when their full citizenship was denied and came back to discrimination. While white soldiers were given land under government soldier settlement scheme.”

For years he has searched military archives and lobbied state and federal ministers for due recognition. Johnny is determined to see his father's right to a settlement parcel honoured after his father's historical request for a soldier settlement block was knocked back on the grounds of race.

Johnny wants justice for his father and family. In 2013 his father and uncles, known as the Lovett Brothers, were inducted to Victoria's Aboriginal Honour Roll for their courage and their contribution to their country.

Today Johnny continues to honour their legacy by fighting for recognition. Johnny will never give up on advocating for his family and community. Uncle Johnny’s celebrates over 60yrs in the country music business. His efforts and commitment to country music is remarkable.

Johnny is a talented, self-taught musician in guitar and piano. He has performed country music since the age of eleven and continues to love music. Johnny has been a solo artist and a band member of Black Opal, Wild Wood, and Lovett or Leavitt.

Johnny was an entrant in Tamworth Music Festival, and has played with Shane Howard and Archie Roach, as well as many other artists including Jimmy Little, Chad Morgan, John Rex Reeves (nephew of the great Jim Reeves), Joanne Cash Yates (sister of the legendary Johnny Cash), and Hank Sasaki from Nashville Tennessee.

He has also played with Troy Cassar-Daley, Harry Williams from Country Outcasts, and many more. Johnny continues to perform and devote his time to music.

In 1967, Johnny and his brother were runner-up’s in Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds music competition at Melbourne's Festival Hall. In the 1970’s Johnny and his band Black Opal came equal first at a country music festival in Western Australia.

Johnny has also won the Portland Offshore Male Vocalist of 1988 and the Major Award for Male Vocalist of 2010 at the 32nd Annual South Australian Country Music Festival Barmera.

Most notably, Johnny wrote the song ‘Maralinga’ in response to the Australian Government providing a permanent test site at Maralinga for British nuclear testing in the 1950’s and early 1960s at Maralinga, South Australia.

Johnny was inspired to write the song in 1972 when he met lifelong friend, former RAAF solider Avon Hudson, who was a whistle-blower on the British nuclear testing, and the radioactive aftermath that continues to effect the community today.

The damage done to Aboriginal people in the vicinity of test sites is immeasurable and included displacement, injury and death. Service personnel from several countries, but particularly Britain and Australia, also suffered. His song recorded the devastation and destruction caused by the atomic bombs and the subsequent impacts on Anangu communities. Johnny has gifted the song that he wrote over 40 years ago to the Anangu community.

‘Maralinga’ was translated and recorded into Pitjantjatjarra language by Johnny and the Yalata Band in April 2016. It was recorded in the two languages to retell and maintain the history of the families who moved to the Yalata township after the bombs, to ensure this tragic chapter in Australia’s history is never forgotten.

He also wrote and recorded ‘Gunditjmara People’ that is now seen as an Anthem for the Gunditjmara people of the south west of Victoria. Johnny continues to use his talents to give back to community, performing at community events and teaching anyone who is interested. Johnny has been actively involved in the community his whole life, managing the George Wright Hostel in Fitzroy which provides support, accommodation and meals for homeless Aboriginal men in and around Fitzroy.

He is also involved in the Treaty, of which; • Victoria is the first state or territory in Australia to commit to negotiating treaty with its First Peoples. This is something all Victorians can and should be proud of, but there is still a lot of work to do. • Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians have long called for treaty and have made it clear that there can be no self-determination without treaty. • Treaty will benefit all Victorians by fostering shared pride in Aboriginal cultures, helping to heal the wounds of the past and establishing new relationships with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. • There are no rules about what should and shouldn’t be in a treaty. Victoria’s treaty will be shaped by history, the social and political context of our state, and the aspirations of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, and non-Aboriginal Victorians. • Victoria’s treaty could include the recognition of past wrongs, acknowledgement of the unique position of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in our state, enhancement of existing laws and how they officially impact Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, official apologies and truth-telling, and the transfer of decision-making power and resources so that Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians can make decisions about the matters that affect their lives.

Truth and Justice in Victoria • To move forward, Victoria must first acknowledge past and present wrongs and injustices and how they have shaped our State. • Reckoning with past and present injustices will not be easy, but has the potential to be a healing and unifying process for all Victorians. • Victorians will be asked to examine our history – and our identities – to take an honest look at our past and understand how it has led to inequities that persist today. • The establishment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission and the appointment of its five Commissioners makes Victoria the first and only jurisdiction to have taken action on the Treaty and Truth elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The treaty process so far

• Mar 2016: Victorian Government commits to treaty. Premier, Daniel Andrews, commits the State to embark on treaty discussions. • Feb 2018 Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission (VTAC) is established. Jill Gallagher AO is appointed as Commissioner and work commences to establish an Aboriginal representative body. • June 2018 Treaty Act passes through Parliament. The Act becomes the first piece of treaty-related legislation in Australia’s history. It sets out a pathway to treaty in Victoria. • October 2019 First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is established. The Members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria are elected to represent Aboriginal views about how to conduct future treaty negotiations. VTAC’s role comes to an end. • July 2020 Truth and justice process is announced to run in parallel to treaty. Process will formally recognise historic wrongs and past and ongoing injustices against Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. It is the first of its kind in Australia. • August 2020 Victorian Government and the Assembly hold their first official meeting, kicking off discussions to agree the architecture for future treaty negotiations. • February 2021 Deadly & Proud campaign launches, telling stories of pride from across Victoria. • March 2021 Victorian Government and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria announce the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, Victoria’s formal truth and justice process. • May 2021 Victorian Government and First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria announce the five Commissioners who will lead the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission into past and present injustices experienced by Aboriginal people since colonisation.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the next steps in the treaty process?

• The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria is the first democratically elected representative body for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in the state’s history. • The Assembly is comprised of 31 Victorian Traditional Owners, with 21 members elected by Aboriginal Victorians across five voting regions and 10 members appointed by formally recognised Traditional Owner groups. • The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the Victorian Government are currently working in partnership to agree on the architecture for future Victorian treaty negotiations, including:

o a Treaty Negotiation Framework – which sets out the rules and process for future treaty negotiations o a Treaty Authority - to act as an independent umpire in future treaty negotiations o a Self-Determination Fund - which will provide Aboriginal Victorians with an independent financial resource to support their equal standing with the State in treaty negotiations. • Once these elements are established, the Victorian Government, Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians will be ready to commence the negotiation of treaty.

OFFICIAL Yoo-rrook Justice Commission - Overview

• The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission (the Commission) was established by the Victorian Government as Australia’s first formal truth-telling process into past and present injustices experienced by Aboriginal peoples and communities across Victoria since colonisation. • The phrase “Yoo-rrook” means “truth” in Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba, an Aboriginal language spoken in and around the North West region of Victoria. • It is anticipated the Commission will investigate past and present injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians by State and non-State entities. • Areas of historical and ongoing injustice may include cultural violations and massacres, policing and criminal justice, child protection, family support, health and healthcare as well as other areas of economic, social and political life. • The Commission is expected to deliver its interim report in June 2022, with the final report expected to be received in June 2024. • The Commission has been established with the powers of a Royal Commission, including the power to subpoena documents and past officials.

Deadly Questions • Deadly Questions provides a platform for all Victorians to learn more about Aboriginal people, their cultures and histories by asking questions then answered by Aboriginal Victorians. • Deadly Questions was part of a continued effort to engage the broader Victorian community in conversations that enable people to learn more about the rich cultures and histories of Aboriginal Victorians and their aspirations for treaty. • Deadly Questions launched in June 2018 and has since received more than 4,000 questions.


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