When Aunty Denise McGuinness looks up and down Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, she sees her community’s history everywhere.
“Fitzroy’s so significant to Aboriginal people … if you come from Perth, anywhere, you come straight to Fitzroy,” she says.
The inner-Melbourne suburb is now dominated by expensive houses, trendy bars and designer homewares, in recent years garnering a reputation as a hipster haven.
But it’s still home to the large public flats where Ms McGuinness lived as a girl.
Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Fitzroy and the surrounding suburbs were a meeting place for Aboriginal people who’d left behind restrictive lives on missions or emerged from state institutions, searching for family links the government had tried so hard to severe.
“We were discriminated against, there was only one pub that would let us drink, and that was the Builders Arms,” Ms McGuinness recalls.
Now, the stories of laughter, tears and powerful civil rights victories born on this part of Wurundjeri land are free for all to hear, through a truth-telling phone app.
Named Yalinguth, after the Woi Wurrung word for “yesterday”, the app follows your GPS location, producing rich audio stories that reveal the recent history of the land you’re walking on.
Wander past the Builders Arms Hotel, and Uncle Jack Charles comes through the headphones, telling you how he discovered Melbourne’s Indigenous community inside as a teenager.
Stroll down to Atherton Gardens, and the late Uncle Archie Roach’s haunting lyrics and story invites you to reflect on the cruel cost of the Stolen Generations.
Further down, by the police station on Condell Street, elders share their memories of racist treatment by the justice system.
Bobby Nicholls, a multi-clan traditional owner with Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Wotjobaluk connections, says the project is a powerful way of ensuring the legacy of civil rights leaders including Sir Doug Nicholls, William Cooper and Jack Patten are more widely known.
“They came into Melbourne to achieve a lot of things, and one of those things was to ensure that Aboriginal people had equal rights,” he says.
It was on Gertrude Street that the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service was opened in 1973, offering a safe space in an era when stories of racist treatment in health services were common.
“[In Echuca]they used to have the expectant mothers to be out on the verandah of the maternity hospital, so they weren’t taken into the wards like non-Aboriginal people,” Mr Nicholls says.
Ms McGuinness spent two decades working in the community-controlled service, which ran on little more than community passion in the early years.
“Back in those days, we didn’t need the funding that we rely upon now,” the Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman says.
“We worked at the health center … three months without a wage, three to six months.
“We still delivered the service.”
Ms McGuinness hopes those who take a walk through the stories offered by elders will gain a deeper appreciation of the struggles her community has endured.
“Get a different understanding and learn the struggles back then,” she says.
Gunaikurnai and Kooma-kunja artist BJ Braybon gathered many of his elders’ stories for the app.
He feels young Indigenous people taking in the stories will find themselves changed.
“It’ll change the young people because it will help them to understand about their elders’ history,” he says.
Yorta Yorta man Jason Tamiru, who helped formally launch the Yalinguth app this week, says the trove of elders’ stories collected on the app represents a chance to become better informed.
“History’s shaped us all, good and bad,” he says.
“Outside of our own community some people have made judgment of us and that judgment is incorrect and there’s been a lot of books, lot of stories and those stories haven’t been always positive.
“You want to hear the truth, you want to hear from the right people.
“Engaging with the app, you’re going to engage with a lot of elders, a lot of people that hold stories and those stories are important.”
You can find out more about the Yalinguth project on its website.