With a possum-skin cloak draped on her seat, Lidia Thorpe broke down 161 years of Victorian parliamentary history.
A proud Gunnai Gunditjmara woman living on Wurundjeri Country, the new Greens member for Northcote not only broke a 90-year Labor hold on the inner-Melbourne seat, she became the first Aboriginal woman elected to state parliament.
“For an Aboriginal kid who grew up in public housing and left school at 14, taking my seat in this chamber is something I was told could never happen,” Ms Thorpe said in her maiden speech on Wednesday.
“Too many of our kids grow up believing this. Their lives are debated but not reflected in our political system.
“As long as those voices are missing from the heart of our democracy, we limit our children’s potential.”
Which is why, she says, her election matters.
She was greeted at parliament by local Aboriginal elders, who on the sweltering front steps of parliament performed a smoking ceremony and Welcome To Country.
“We’ve sustained and protected this land for thousands of years,” Ms Thorpe told the Legislative Assembly.
“And now, in Victoria, we finally have a say in how our land is governed.”
In a by-election spurred by the cancer death of family violence minister Fiona Richardson, Ms Thorpe won resoundingly despite big spending by Labor to retain the marginal seat.
A single mother and grandmother, the 44-year-old domestic violence survivor paid tribute to Ms Richardson and to a long line of strong Aboriginal women relatives.
Her grandmother Alma Thorpe and great-grandmother Edna set up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, and Ms Thorpe herself led the protest to save the Nowa Nowa Gorge from a pipeline.
“I have stood in front of bulldozers and I will continue to stand up for our communities and our environment,” Ms Thorpe said.
“There’s a fire in my belly for justice, equality and protecting country. I will bring that to this parliament.”
Being Aboriginal is not all that she is, but it is at her centre, Ms Thorpe said.
“My mother’s family lived their lives as refugees in their own country, on Gunnai land in Gippsland,” she said.
“They were poisoned, shot and herded off cliffs in one of the most ruthless and systematic attempted genocides the world has ever seen.”
Survivors were imprisoned on rations, Ms Thorpe added.
“Decisions made in this very chamber took our language away, removed children from our families and forced us from our land,” she said.
“Those scars run deep for all Aboriginal people. But despite that deep sense of loss, I grew up surrounded by people who refused to give in to hopelessness.”