Sue-Anne Hunter never forgets the day she came home from school and told her father Captain Cook discovered Australia.
"Wow, did I get a lesson in history," the proud Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman recalls.
"When I was young I didn't really get what being Aboriginal meant. I was taught more about the Holocaust than I was about our own history in school."
Ms Hunter is one of five commissioners leading Victoria's Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, Australia's first truth-telling inquiry.
Named after the Wemba Wemba-Wamba Wamba word for "truth", the commission was established in March to investigate social, political and economic injustices committed against Victorian Aboriginal people.
This includes cultural violations, massacres and genocide of the past, as well as ongoing injustices in healthcare, policing, youth and criminal justice, child protection, family and welfare matters.
The commission has three years to establish an official public record of First Peoples' experiences since the start of colonisation and recommend reform and redress.
Its work will also help guide the state's treaty negotiations.
Ms Hunter, a leader in trauma and healing practices, says Victorians are ready.
"People are doing cultural burnings. Language is being woken up. People want to learn this in schools. Our voices are being heard more than ever. It's a really good time for our mob to be moving forward," she said.
She said this can only happen if Victorians understand and accept how the wrongs of the past impact Aboriginal people.
"It's not a blame game. It's not that we want people to feel guilty and we don't want to bring the past up in a way that will re-traumatise our mob," she said.
"It's truth-telling. We've got a history that needs to be told, however ugly that looks, and then we figure out how we move forward. There's a big bloody job there and it's not lost on me."
Commission chair, Wergaia and Wamba Wamba elder Eleanor Bourke, says many Victorians aren't aware of the state's history and she hopes to hear stories that have never been told.
"We are meeting so many people who say, 'Why didn't I learn something about this? Why didn't I know this? Why isn't this taught?'" she said.
"It's not just about filling the empty pages in history books, we want to hear from people who have grieved for things that didn't happen or things they've lost."
Professor Bourke said the commission must first strengthen ties with Indigenous communities and raise awareness ahead of public hearings next year.
A series of meet and greets will be held on country once coronavirus restrictions allow and in the meantime, the commissioners are meeting with traditional owner groups online.
Hearings will be held statewide, with private and group sessions and public panels all options. Artwork, audio and oral history submissions will be accepted.
Former Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bell is the only non-Aboriginal commissioner. Throughout his career, he has advocated for human rights, equality and access to justice but admits the system continues to fail Aboriginal people.
Professor Bell said truth-telling processes have worked successfully in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, although the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is the first to examine past and present systemic injustice arising out of colonisation in all respects.
"We won't just point to the high rate of child removal and say 'well that's a terrible thing, it's a human rights breach, we have to fix that,'" he said.
"We will be able to connect that with the way in which family is not respected, the way in which culture is not respected, the way in which people have been disempowered, the way these problems have followed through the generations and hopefully come up with solutions that are deeper.
"We hope to be brave, we hope to think big, we hope not to be trapped into following paths that have been proven to fail."
Professor Bourke agrees, saying the evidence for change needs to be strong and clear.
"Otherwise things won't change at all," she said.
Australian Associated Press
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