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Moffatt, Lawrence Francis (Laurie) (1897–1966)

by Joanne Bach

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Lawrence Francis (Laurie) Moffatt (1897-1966), Aboriginal leader and labourer, was born on 11 November 1897 at Ramahyuck, Gippsland, Victoria, and registered as Francis Lawrence, son of Aboriginal parents Edward Moffatt, a labourer from the Monaro district in southern New South Wales, and his wife Florence, née Foster, a local Kurnai woman. On 21 February 1924 at Lake Tyers Aboriginal station Laurie married Regina Harrison with Anglican rites. They were to have eight children.

Throughout his life Moffatt moved on and off Lake Tyers station, leaving to work in nearby towns and returning to be with his family. At various times he worked near Lakes Entrance, at a sawmill at Healesville, and at Yallourn. This freedom was a right he always exercised, much to the frustration of the station managers at Lake Tyers, and it was central to his demands for Aborigines. He called for the reduction of the station manager's powers, to enable residents to leave the station or relatives and friends to visit without being required to obtain permission or risk being charged with trespass.

On 15 June 1940 Moffatt enlisted in the Australian Military Forces, lowering his age by four years. He served as a private in the 23rd Battalion at Albury, New South Wales, and was discharged at Caulfield, Melbourne, on 22 March 1941, after which he returned to Lake Tyers. As a campaigner for Aboriginal rights, Moffatt was most active during the 1950s and 1960s. He had a knack of capturing media attention. At the opening of the inaugural Moomba Festival in 1955, he slipped through the barricades and joined the governor on stage. He said he brought greetings from his people.

At a time when the government pursued a policy of assimilation and threatened to close down the remaining Aboriginal stations, including Lake Tyers, Moffatt argued for self-determination and self-reliance. He criticized a system whereby 'the Government gives us charity instead of letting us do something for ourselves'. Residents of Lake Tyers wanted to run the station as a co-operative and proposed several schemes, including farming, fishing and a timber mill. He explained: 'We feel it is a way in which we can become financially and economically secure without splitting up and moving away from our families . . . We love the land here and don't want to lose it'.

In 1963, and again in 1965, Moffatt led Lake Tyers residents as they marched on Parliament House, Melbourne. He addressed a public meeting organized by the Aborigines Advancement League and spoke to members of the Trades Hall Council. Elected to the Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1961, he was vice-president in the mid-1960s. In 1965 he attended the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders conference and spoke of the situation at Lake Tyers. Moffatt also entertained delegates at the conference's cultural evening—he had been a member of the Lake Tyers Gum Leaf Band in the 1920s.

By 1966 Lake Tyers had been gazetted as a permanent reserve and in 1971 4000 acres (1620 ha) of land were handed over to the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust. Predeceased by his wife, Moffatt died of pneumonia on 24 August 1966 at Traralgon and was buried in Lake Tyers cemetery. Three daughters and three sons survived him. In the annual report of the Council for Aboriginal Rights, an obituarist described him as 'the epitome of a great ideal':

A man of great personal charm, with a sense of humour and a sense of dignity . . . absolutely dedicated and persistent in his endeavours to influence all with whom he came in contact, that Aborigines were entitled to the dignity of Group Identity.

Select Bibliography

  • The McLean Report, Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1956-58, vol 2, paper no 14
  • Truth (Melbourne), 25 Aug 1962, p 9
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1963, p 11, 16 Mar 1965, p 7
  • Age (Melbourne), 17 Mar 1965, p 2, 18 Mar 1965, p 2
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 17 Mar 1965, p 13
  • Lake Tyers correspondence files, B356 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Council for Aboriginal Rights papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Joanne Bach, 'Moffatt, Lawrence Francis (Laurie) (1897–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/moffatt-lawrence-francis-laurie-13105/text23709, accessed 15 December 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012