Truth-telling probe brings up past police brutality

Abandoned on the river flats and adopted by his aunty and uncle, Ross Morgan has experienced racism his entire life.

He lived on land now called the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative before being moved to commission flats in Mooroopna, near Shepparton in Victoria, in what he described as an attempt to assimilate the Aboriginal population.

But it wasn't until his late teenage years that Uncle Ross started to experience police violence.

The 69-year-old Yorta Yorta man told the Yoorrook Justice Commission in Melbourne on Monday that police violence against Aboriginal people was pretty common when he was a teen.

He recalled once while being held in police cells he was surrounded by seven or eight officers who each took turns punching him.

The attack only ended when a young constable demanded the older officers stop.

Another time, Uncle Ross was beaten with a police baton after officers followed a car he was travelling in to a motel car park.

Police said there were too many people in the car. Uncle Ross said he calmly suggested he would get out, and was struck multiple times.

Despite not raising a hand against anyone, Uncle Ross says he was later charged with assault for knocking off an officer's hat - something he still denies.

The name-calling he experienced during his two years in a boys' home and six years in jail were designed to break down the spirit and cultural identity of Aboriginal men, Uncle Ross says.

And while jail was bad, it was nothing compared to his time in the police cells.

He will celebrate 25 years of sobriety in May and says his choice to get clean was linked directly to his spirituality and culture. His addiction was linked to his trauma, pain and hurt.

"The first time I've felt free is being out of the country," Uncle Ross told the hearings.

"I've always got my defences up for racism or violence."

He is also against Victoria's proposed treaty, questioning whether it removes the assertion that land was stolen from its Indigenous owners.

Now, Uncle Ross works as a co-ordinator at Dardi Munwurro, an organisation that runs men's healing programs.

He is also an elder in Victoria's Koori Court and previously worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor.

The Yoorrook Justice Commission will continue until Thursday and is expected to hear the personal experiences of witnesses and their thoughts on the push to overhaul Victoria's bail laws.

The commission will hold further hearings focused on the child protection and criminal justice systems between March 21 and 31.

Representatives from the Victorian government are due to give evidence then.