Community engagement

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Johnny Lovett

Photo of Johnny LovettBorn 1947

A Country and Western Star, Political Activist and Community Advocate

Uncle Johnny Lovett is a respected Gunditjmara / Boandik Elder. Johnny 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.

60 years of country music

This year is Johnny’s 60th anniversary 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. Johnny has performed country music since the age of eleven and he continues to love music. Johnny has been a solo artist and a band member of Black Opal, Wild Wood, and Lovett or Leavitt.

Johnny has performed all over Australia and has played at numerous events, community fundraisers and festivals, including Tamworth, Alice Spring, Barham, Tooleybuc, Moama, South Australia, the Riverland region, Adelaide, Murray Bridge, Wellington, Mt Gambier, and has played at NAIDOC events across Victoria.

Tamworth Music Festival

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. Johnny 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 Hoadleys 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.

Maralinga

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.

Advocating for native title rights

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”.

Recognising Aboriginal soldiers

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.