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Back to Being Black

By John Lovett, 2010 3:56 minutes

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Recommended for Year 9, 10 and 11. John talks about his father's experience of fighting in World War I in the 15th Machine Gun Battalion in 1917 and his bitter experience of not being honoured upon his return to Australia.

Collection In Our Words: Stories from Victorian Veterans

How were Indigenous veterans treated upon their return from service?

John explains the camaraderie and equality that existed among the troops in World War I: “The men in that war fought together against the enemy. Australians side by side. Black and white fellas trusting in one another – mates, equality.”

  • What do you think would create this equality in the battlefield?

When his father returned to Australia, John explains: “Finally the war was over but one horror turned into another.”

  • What was the horror for Herbert?
  • What was the final insult?
  • John says his father “became a part-time father to me”. Why?

Although his father died over 30 years ago, John concludes that: “The recognition and the benefits that were not given to my father and other Indigenous veterans and their families from the First and Second World Wars – this still is a big issue for me.”

For many the racism that underpinned the discrimination towards Indigenous Australians before and after World War I remains an issue.

The repercussions of the Aborigines Protection Act 1869 are felt to this day.

  • What other policies did this Act lead on to? What were the implications of these policies and other limitations on freedoms that resulted from this Act?
  • What parallels have been drawn between the Aborigines Protection Act 1869 and current policies?

John speaks of ‘honour’ and ‘honouring’ when he tells his father’s story.

  • How important is honour for our individual and national identity? Discuss.

Research: the Hindenburg Line

Herbert fought along the Hindenburg Line.

  • What was this line?
  • Where did it stretch from and to?
  • What was the strategic thinking behind the creation of the Hindenburg Line?