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Daughters of stolen generation survivor tell her story

Eunice Wright was nine years old when she and her siblings were snatched from their home by police and thrown into a cell for the night.

With her mum in hospital with tuberculosis and father away at work, the wider family rallied to have the children returned, but instead they became members of the stolen generation.

Victoria's Yoorrook Justice Commission - the nation's first truth-telling inquiry with the powers of a royal commission - returned on Wednesday for another two-week block of public hearings.

Delving further into the child protection system, the commission heard from the family of Ms Wright, a Gunditjmara elder and activist who died in 2020 after a terminal illness.

She was forcefully removed along with her older sister Gloria and younger brother Ronnie by authorities from the Lake Condah Mission near Hamilton in southwest Victoria in 1954.

"They were safe and loved and cared for and getting fed. That's when the police car came," her eldest daughter Donna Wright told commissioners in a recently recorded meeting at the old mission site.

One of Eunice's aunties hid six-year-old Ronnie under a bed and told police he wasn't there.

"That police officer ... said if you don't tell us where Ronnie is we're going to come and take your children," Donna added.

The three children spent the night locked in the cells at Heywood Police Station.

"They cried and cried and cried," Eunice's second daughter Tina recounted.

They appeared before a court the next day but pleas from family members to retain custody were rejected, with documents containing "blatant lies" about Eunice's father.

"It was already done," Donna said.

"Because it was like so racist down here in the southwest ... being the first colony set off in Victoria. That hurt our families and destroyed our families."

Separated from their younger brother at a Melbourne centre for removed children, the girls went to an orphanage in Ballarat and the family drifted apart.

At the orphanage, Eunice made beds in the morning and washed babies in the evening in what her family described as "slave labour".

"Mum had to look after babies and little kids and she was a little child herself," Donna said.

Their mother left the orphanage at age 17 and went on to testify at the first official inquiry into the stolen generation, leading to the landmark Bringing them Home report in 1997.

In 2008, she was one of the Aboriginal elders chosen to accept the national apology from prime minister Kevin Rudd.

A long-time campaigner for stolen generation redress, Eunice did not live to see Victoria become the last Australian state to open its scheme, let alone hear it announced in March 2020.

Four days after her death, Tina said then-Aboriginal affairs minister Gavin Jennings rang the family to flag that an announcement was coming within 24 hours.

"I would believe it was all ready to be announced way before mum died. Probably a year before mum died. It didn't make sense," she said.

In a final insult, her family could not apply for reparations on their mother's behalf because she had died.

"It's a deadset kick in the guts," Donna said.

Yoorrook is creating an official public record on the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people in Victoria and will recommend actions to address historical and ongoing injustices.

"I feel like the government pissed on our family tree," Tina said.