Studio portrait of Private Alf Lovett with his wife and sons, 1915

Studio portrait of Private Alf Lovett with his wife and sons, 1915

Continue Close window


This is a black-and-white photograph of Private Alfred John Henry Lovett of Hamilton in Victoria with his wife Sarah and two sons. The photograph was taken before Lovett's embarkation for Europe to serve in the First World War (1914-18). Lovett and his sons are Indigenous Australians. The family is posed and attired in the manner required of a formal studio portrait, complete with English landscape backdrop. Lovett is wearing an Australian military uniform, while Sarah and their sons wear wide lace collars. A toy rifle is posed in front of the younger son.

Educational value

  • The photograph is evidence of the participation of Indigenous Australians in the First World War, a fact of which few Australians are aware. Despite the discrimination that they faced in society, when War broke out in 1914 many Indigenous men wanted to enlist but were initially rejected on the grounds of race. As the War progressed and enlistments flagged restrictions were relaxed and more than 400 Indigenous men enlisted and fought in the AIF.
  • Alfred Lovett (1880-?), whose people are known as 'the fighting Gunditjmara', was the eldest of five members of the Lovett family, of Milltown near Lake Condah in Vic, to enlist as soldiers in the First World War. Alfred Lovett saw service in the 12th and 26th battalions on the grim battlefields of the Western Front, fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm. His four brothers also survived and along with a younger brother fought in the Second World War.
  • Lovett enlisted in July 1915 when most Australians were caught up in the euphoria generated by the first reports of the Anzac Landing at Gallipoli in Turkey in April, and his decision to pay for a studio portrait that shows him wearing his Australian military uniform may well reflect his family's pride in his decision to enlist. Such portraits were also taken against the possible contingency that the person would not return from the War.
  • For many Australians and particularly for Indigenous people, such a wartime studio portrait was the first and perhaps only such portrait ever taken of them. Studio portraits of the time were posed against a formal backdrop, in this case an English landscape, and everyone dressed in their best clothes, as seen by the wide lace collars. The inclusion of the toy rifle in the pose is indicative of the militaristic thinking of Australian society at the time.
  • The calm assurance of the pose conflicts not only with Lovett's traumatic experiences during the War but also his frustrations after it, intensified by his experiences during and after the Second World War. On both occasions, when returned soldiers were being allocated land and assistance to become farmers - including at Lake Condah where Lovett had been raised - he was denied such benefits on account of being Indigenous and not officially an Australian citizen.