Tom Calma grew up on roads built by Aboriginal hands, travelling between his father's home in Darwin and his mother's land along the Adelaide River. Much of the black bitumen on the way was laid down by Indigenous workers under the eye of his father, a Iwaidja man who had risen high in the territory's public service.
"But it's not widely known a lot of those roads were built off Aboriginal labour," Calma says. "There's a lot of untold history like that. What's the word? Whitewashed."
For Calma, now a leading Indigenous campaigner and academic, the road ahead has been clear for some time.
Almost 15 years ago, he called on the government to bring the health and living standards of Indigenous Australians into line with the rest of the population, laying the foundations for the Close the Gap campaign.
While he swears he was "never a good student at school", he has since written dozens more reports outlining how Australia can lift up the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - which are still, on average, 10 to 17 years shorter than their non-Indigenous counterparts. But while his work has been read at every level of government, very few of Calma's recommendations have ever been implemented.
"Canberra is full of reports like mine that have been shelved," he says. "They all want something they can sign off on, but there's no humanity to it. If only we had the fortitude, the courage, to really act."
For all his frustration Calma is shockingly upbeat. Under curly white hair his eyes are bright and smiling. It's hard to imagine anyone shaking his hand and not leaning in to hear what he has to say.
We're having lunch at the University of Canberra, where Calma is about to begin his third stint as chancellor. Leaves and sunlight trail along in our wake as we wander through the campus.
Calma, an avid gardener, is keen to see how the saplings at the university's new Indigenous garden are coming along. He lists off his other "interests" too, a sprawling CV of appointments to boards and advisory panels, coordinator and adjunct professor roles, ambassador gigs.
He's served as Australia's race discrimination commissioner, worked abroad as a diplomat and even won the hotly contested post of parents council president at a school for diplomat's children run by the UN.
Now 65, he's showing no signs of slowing down (even if that does leave a lot of the gardening to his wife, Heather). He shrugs, chuckling. It's in his blood.
Calma's father, also called Tom, dropped out of school at 14 to take care of his family. Later, patching roads and driving trucks, he put himself through night school and eventually found himself in charge of clean-up efforts after Cyclone Tracey.
"He really drummed that into all of us. Not just education but giving people opportunities, half his workers were Aboriginal."
When Calma began studying social work in the 70s, he says there were only a hundred or so Aboriginal students in Australia's entire tertiary sector.
After graduating, his father fell ill, perhaps the end result of breathing in all that bitumen and tar, his family suspects. Calma put further study plans on hold but a chance encounter at a community meeting saw him head up a new Indigenous higher education centre in Darwin.
By the 90s, the Australian government was eyeing opportunities to attract international students to its shores and Calma became one of five diplomats sent overseas to establish outposts. With their young children in tow, the Calmas landed in India, and later Vietnam.
For Aboriginal diplomats, there were very few cracks in the glass ceiling overhead; and Calma quickly became the nation's highest ranking.
There was definitely a glass ceiling for [Indigenous] diplomats.Tom Calma
"That lasted until very recently which is, really, a bad indictment on the Australian diplomatic system," he says. "We're getting a few more people in now which is great but it's taken a long, long time."
Education has since exploded into one of Australia's largest exports. At UC, Calma says the university is hoping to grow by about another 1000 students, and its connections to India are stronger the ever.
But, during all his time spruiking the benefits of Australia's sun-drenched shores, he remained acutely aware of problems back home.
He and his three sisters had been lucky, he says. Growing up in 1960s Darwin they never wanted for anything, or at least it didn't seem that way to him. Both his parents managed to escape forcible removal from their communities as children, as others in their family were taken away.
Calma played AFL and water polo, and the family took regular trips out hunting and fishing, exploring swimming holes. "Any time we weren't at school we were going bush."
It was only later, after his father died, that he realised all those long afternoons hunting were really a way to supplement the family's income.
"I found our old financial records and all the balances were at zero," he says. "I'd never realised how tight things were."
The family were among the first Aboriginal people to move into their neighbourhood and surrounded by an unusually diverse mix of nationalities for the time.
That served him well during his time as Australia's race discrimination commissioner, a particularly chaotic period, Calma says, that saw him weather both the Cronulla riots and take on the Howard government's intervention strategy back home in the NT.
"Why me?" Calma laughs. "It was everything at once. In Cronulla we really saw the beginnings of the far right in Australia."
In the years since, progress on improving Indigenous health outcomes has remained embarrassingly slow but there have been small wins too. His work to tackle high rates of Indigenous smoking is starting to pay dividends, Calma says.
A long-time advocate of justice reinvestment, which sees more resources targeted at crime prevention and community supports, Calma has also welcomed the ACT's new overhaul of its justice strategy.
And, at last, there's serious talk of an Indigenous voice to parliament.
Calma's eyes shine as he considers what that could mean for the next generation of Indigenous leaders as they work to finally close the gap for Australia's first people. They'll need to challenge the orthodoxy and think big, he says.
"But I say to them 'love and hope', that's where it has to come from. That's how it will happen."