A Victorian truth-telling commission investigating injustices against Aboriginal people hopes its work will pave the way for change across the nation.
The Yoorrook Justice Commission, the only one of its kind in Australia, met for the first time in Melbourne on Thursday.
Commission chair Professor Eleanor Bourke said Yoorrook, which holds the powers of a Royal Commission, will set an example for other jurisdictions.
"We've created protocols around how we manage our engagement with the community in a way that we hope is welcoming and comforting," the Wergaia and Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba elder told reporters.
"Treaty is on the agenda in other places and they are watching us. It's even been said to me, 'don't muck it up'."
Following a smoking ceremony and traditional dance, the commission outlined its work, guidelines, and practice directions on truth-telling at a ceremonial hearing, or "wurrek tyerrang".
The commissioners and counsels assisting spoke at Fitzroy's Charcoal Lane - a site that Prof Bourke said represented the Aboriginal community's "strength and continuity".
"This is about one story, one place," she told the hearing.
"There are many places in Victoria with their own stories, their own histories, and we're looking forward to hearing that as we move around."
Prof Bourke said the commission was striving to create an official record of what has happened to Aboriginal people in Victoria, from the stories of Indigenous people.
Yoorrook will also look at what changes need to happen across areas like the justice and health systems.
"Whatever system you want to pick, we're still in a colonial construct, or in silos created by other people," Prof Bourke said.
"That doesn't really suit us because everything's connected in our culture."
The Yoorrook commissioners will begin visiting regional Victoria this week to speak with elders.
Prof Bourke said the commission was "hungry" for those face-to-face talks after COVID-19 restrictions moved most of the discussions online.
"We will feel so much better about engaging with our people on their country, in their place, and hear their voices," she said.
The commission will then return to Melbourne on April 26 for public hearings.
Counsel assisting the commission Fiona McLeod said Yoorrook would hear allegations of violence, abuse, and neglect in the evidence.
She said the commission would use a trauma-based approach to ensure those giving evidence were supported and felt safe.
Tony McAvoy, one of the counsels assisting Yoorrook, said the task ahead would not be easy.
"While we might have many expressions of political will, of good conscience, the difficulty largely lies in the bureaucracy," he said.
"The bureaucracy in this state, as in other states and territories in this country, is colonial. It's not designed for First Nations people and so our job is a difficult one."
Yoorrook has three years to establish an official public record of Indigenous experiences since the start of colonisation and recommend reform and redress.
Its findings will guide Victoria's Treaty negotiations.
The commission, which was given $44 million as part of the state government's 2021/22 budget, is due to release its interim report on June 30.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.