"What I'm about to read is the reasons why we will never forget that white Australia has a black history."
On the stage at Lake Wendouree, Maryanne Sam read a list of massacres, battles, and murders from 1840s Victoria, reeling off staccato-style the record of hundreds of deaths of Indigenous people.
There were places from across the state, some closer to home than others, but as the list stretched on - more than 50 sites, each with its tally of deaths and some with names credited - the effect was potent.
The sun had just risen and fog was rolling in, and more than a thousand people had crowded View Point for Ballarat's first Survival Day ceremony, the first ever in a regional town.
Supported by the City of Ballarat and organised by the Koorie Engagement Action Group, it was a solemn recognition of a painful past, and why January 26 is so traumatic to some people - the date British colonists raised a flag at Sydney Cove, and the beginning of an attempted genocide.
The emotions were clear from the guest speakers, from deep sadness to fiery frustration at the lack of positive change or respect.
There was still optimism and hope, however.
KEAG committee member Nikki Foy, who helped organise the 5.30am ceremony, said the turnout from the wider community exceeded expectations, which is a promising sign.
"The spirit of solidarity really shone out this morning," she said.
"It just shows the time is right now, people want to have the conversations and be part of doing better.
"The emotions that come are real, people speak and speak from the heart - our speakers have lived experiences and families, but it was good to see the wider community, who was here today, could feel that emotion too, and share and have an understanding."
Speaking powerfully from the stage, Aunty Faye Clark said the 'lucky country' was not lucky for everyone.
"Those feeling so blessed are oftentimes these new Australians that colonised it," she said.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a more complex view, Australia is not lucky for us in many cases.
"Certainly we can appreciate the wonderful things about Australia that ought to be celebrated, but how can people celebrate a land that was stolen, the people who were systematically killed, oppressed, and disadvantaged to this day, and a system that favours whiteness and continues to misunderstand everything about us.
"It's insult to injury."
Aunty Jenny Muir was also one of the guest speakers, and described herself on-stage as a warrior.
"This is the day slaughter, rape, dispossession of my people began, and I will mourn the death of my people, just as I do on Anzac Day," she said.
"It's imperative to recognise the powerful resilience of Aboriginal people in this country, acknowledge the continued existence and strength of Aboriginal people, our culture, communities, and have the willpower and confidence to ensure we pave the way for a positive future, for many generations to come
"Be proud of who you are and where you come from, and think of how generations before you fought so you could be here today."
She said afterwards seeing the crowd listening was "mind blowing".
"It was very emotional," she said.
"I was very taken aback that so many people want to listen, and learn, people have come up to me and said they want to learn more and there's so much they didn't know.
"They want to be educated - there's so much more behind January 26 that they need to know.
"This is just the start of what's to come, it's only going to get bigger."
City of Ballarat deputy mayor Belinda Coates added she was "overwhelmed" - the city has been conspicuous in attempting to ensure January 26 is recognised as both the national day and as a day of mourning.
While there were vocal protests at a Citizen of the Year award night on Friday against the fireworks, Cr Coates said she was keen to see how the dawn event evolves.
"It's incredibly profound to be witness to this first event and to really have made space to hear the truth - it needs to happen," she said.
"It will be the start of an ongoing, annual event, I think."
That's echoed by Aunty Diana Nikkelson, who spoke wrapped in a possum-skin cloak.
She said she was proud of her daughter and granddaughter for being involved in the ceremony.
For her family, January 26 is an especially difficult day - it's also her late son's birthday.
"It means a big step forward, I think, for Ballarat and the Aboriginal community, it brings a lot of people together," she said.
"It's unbelievable, it's absolutely beautiful."
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