A 12-YEAR-OLD was lying in a hospital bed when her grandmother whispered "don't tell them you're Aboriginal because they'll put you out on the verandah".
It still bothers Aunty Fay Carter that she kept quiet, 75 years ago.
"Nowadays I would stand up for myself, but at the age of 12, I didn't quite have the strength to do that," she has now told the Yoorrook Justice Commission.
The commission is delving into Indigenous Victorians' experiences for a comprehensive record of Truth, ahead of upcoming Treaty negotiations.
Commissioners hope those experiences will help make sure the pain Indigenous people have experienced will never happen again.
It has heard from a number of Elders including prominent actor Uncle Jack Charles, who spoke about feeling "whitewashed" after being stolen from his mother as a baby.
"I was a lost boy but now I am found," he told the commission as he described the weight of intergenerational trauma.
Aunty Fay is a Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta woman. Her Country includes Bendigo in central Victoria.
Her testimony about the removal of her appendix at Mooroopna is just one story she has shared in a commission witness statement.
Aunty Fay has given her permission for them to be shared here.
Four years after the surgery, Aunty Fay was at Echuca's hospital in northern Victoria, working with her mother, who wanted to show her the verandah she was born on.
Her mother had not been allowed to stay on the same wards as non-Aboriginals.
"She did not think there was anything wrong with it, but I sure did," Aunty Fay told the commission.
"By then, by that age, I was very much aware of discrimination against our people. But our people did not want to make trouble. There was always that fear, of getting into trouble."
Storekeepers would make her, her grandmother and her Aunties stand against walls, only to be called forward once non-Aboriginal people had left shops.
"Aboriginal people were always treated as second class people. They always had to wait to be served and had to keep their place," Aunty Fay said.
Racism is still alive and well in Australia, she said.
"It is more covert now. It is an undercurrent ... but let me tell you, at my age, at 87, I can read it like I'm reading a book. I know who is genuine and who is not. That's for sure," Aunty Fay said.
In some ways, she felt having fairer skin had made her more acceptable to non-Aboriginal people.
At 14 years of age, Aunty Fay was probably the only Aboriginal girl working in an Echuca shop.
"But sometimes that really bugs me because you have to really, really try to convince people that you are Aboriginal," she said.
Aunty Fay's family had been deeply distressed when her grand-niece came home from school upset last year.
Her teacher had not believed her proud story about her Indigenous identity.
The experience triggered a cultural program delivered to the entire school.
"That was a good outcome, but why should that little girl have gone through that?" Aunty Fay said.
Her people have a long history of advocating for their rights.
In 1939, 200 people walked off New South Wales' Cummerangunja Station to protest poor living conditions and bad management.
The Cummerangunja Walk-Off is often described as the first ever mass strike of Aboriginal people.
Protesters included a four-year-old Aunty Fay, whose family was among the many to never return.
"When you heard the old people talk about Cummeragunja, they loved that place ... and the community feeling there, not how they were treated," Aunty Fay said.
They had not been able to practice their culture or speak their language without being penalised without rations being cut or possessions confiscated.
Many of those families banded together to share what they could after walking off of Cummeragunja, as the government revoked much of the support it had given them there, Aunty Fay said.
"You were never without somebody caring for you. You never belonged to your parents - you belonged to the whole community," she said.
Aunty Fay's grandmother fed, clothed and educated her and 18 other children while protecting them from police and "Welfare" - this was the era of the Stolen Generation.
"The grandmothers and the old Aunties had to do most of the rearing of the kids at that time, because after coming off the Mission and becoming fringe dwellers, the mothers and the fathers had to go out and look for work," Aunty Fay said.
She often reflects on Indigenous history and thinks "we are the kindest people, to be able to know what happened to our people, and still survive".
Some of Aunty Fay's Ancestors were forcibly removed from their families or killed in massacres. They were driven off Country and treated like they were not human.
"I think we're the most adaptable people in the world. I do. I think how we've survived and we're still here, talking about being Aboriginal, is amazing," Aunty Fay said.
She hopes more non-Aboriginal people embrace Culture through awareness training, or take the time to learn more themselves.
"History should be taught right from the beginning. It can be a real healing process, for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, when you face up to history and acknowledge it," Aunty Fay said.
The work of the Yoorrook Justice Commission continues.
I grew up in Bendigo and I want to tell your stories.
I grew up in Bendigo and I want to tell your stories.
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