Senator-elect Lidia Thorpe says she rides on the backs of women who fought for equality and she will take that fight into federal parliament. CLARE QUIRK reports.
WHEN Edna Brown was young she jumped on the back of a truck and fled the Framlingham Mission.
Decades later her great granddaughter Lidia Thorpe is now the Greens' senator-elect for Victoria.
"She jumped on the back of a truck and travelled to Melbourne," Ms Thorpe said.
"She was Edna Brown. Mission life was horrible for our people in those days so nan decided that she didn't want to have that life and be treated that way.
"She and others, I understand, got on the back of that truck and travelled from Framlingham to Fitzroy.
"She was part of that Fitzroy community and the establishment of the Aboriginal Funeral Fund happened because of Nan."
Ms Thorpe said as a proud Gunnai-Kurnai/Gunditjmara woman the matriarchs in her family set a high standard to follow.
"That's a strong line of what they endured in their early years... (it) has had an impact on who I am today," she said.
"It's through their resistance and resilience that has been passed onto me.
"The fact that there's just over seven clans left of the Gunditjamara when we had over 70.
"Our people were absolutely decimated in the western districts and to know that I'm a descendant of the survivors is incredible.
"But it only fuels my way forward in continuing to fight for the rights of our people. Continuing to call for truth telling so that we can all be a part of this country's narrative, but the true narrative and even though it's some really difficult conversations to have. Particularly in the western districts, I mean a lot of people benefited from the slaughter of my people in the western districts. They still benefit today, they may not have been responsible for mass murder but do they benefit?"
Ms Thorpe was the first Aboriginal woman elected to the Victorian parliament in 2017, and she herself admits she never thought she'd become a politician.
She was raised in housing commission flats in Collingwood, has survived domestic violence and raised her three children as a single mother.
In her maiden speech to state parliament Ms Thorpe said through her nan, Alma Thorpe, she learnt the importance of self determination.
"Her motto has always been 'you get up and you have a go', and she did," she said.
In her speech she said once Aboriginal people were given the right to vote in the 1967 referendum her grand mother and great grandmother applied for a loan which helped them set up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.
"Growing up, nan's house was a magnet for political discussion," she said.
"I would listen to the tough conversations our elders had about how they could improve the lives of Aboriginal people. It was not just talk, my family's activism started at home."
Ms Thorpe said parliament needed more people like her with real lived experience.
"People with power who make decisions for this country need to know what it's like," she said.
"They need to have lived experience if they want to actually address what is going on in this country... we need more women, we need more Aboriginal people and that's what will bring this country together.
"All the experiences I've had, both good and bad have certainly shaped the person that I am today and I will certainly bring that into the parliament.
We want local communities to have these difficult conversations themselves and it's not going to be easy and I think it has to be done in a way we create safe spaces for people to... have a yarn of what these things feel like to us as black fellasLidia Thorpe
"I'm not a career politician. It's not something I aspired to be as a young person or even later in life. It's the last thing I thought I'd ever be.
"But because I've continued to fight for justice and equality it has just somehow landed me in this space and I'm ever grateful for it and I'm not going to change who I am.
"I'm going to continue to be the person that I am and I will take that to Canberra."
Ms Thorpe said she believed as a nation Australia was on its way to healing and figuring out its true identity.
"I don't think that it should be a top down approach," she said. "It has to come from local communities, local people.
"We don't want Scott Morrison telling the people of Warrnambool how to run their community or how to identify as a community, it has to be the community themselves and it has to be a bottom up approach rather than this top down dictatorship which we've experienced since invasion.
"We want local communities to have these difficult conversations themselves and it's not going to be easy and I think it has to be done in a way (that) we create safe spaces for people to... have a yarn of what these things feel like to us as black fellas.
"We need to address the poverty that our people face in this country.
"We want to be part of the economics of this country. We want to be a part of what this country has to offer... We don't feel part of that.
"We're always struggling to have a say and have a seat at the table and I think it's time for that to change.
"I think there are too many good people in this country that won't just let this go."
Ms Thorpe said she wanted to unite Australians and was recently misquoted as saying she wanted to change the name of the state of Victoria.
She shared on social media text messages between herself and the newspaper reporter to prove what she called a set up.
"That's my end goal, I want a united nation not a divided one," she said.
"Now we've got to be very careful of getting sucked into this narrative that does divide us and think about what unites us rather than what divides us.
"I never said change the name of Victoria.
"We don't want the community to be sucked in by that narrative. We want the community to inform themselves properly and make an informed decision about it."
Ms Thorpe's appointment makes her the fifth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander currently a member of parliament.
She said for young Aboriginal women in the south-west they should never forget where they came from.
"Never forget our people's struggle and that we can achieve anything and yes it does get very hard in our life to get through this struggle, but don't let that hold you back and you rise above and know that you have the support around you to get through this," she said.