He was gentle and quietly spoken, but a person whose strong work ethic and irrepressible passion for his heritage had a momentous impact in central Victoria and across the state.
Uncle Brien Nelson, a Jaara elder who rekindled Dja Dja Wurrung culture, fostered reconciliation and built up Aboriginal communities, is being remembered by many following his death last Friday.
Uncle Brien was born to George and Rebecca in 1940 on 'The Flats', an area between Shepparton and Mooroopna that became home to many Aboriginal people who walked off the Cummeragunja reserve at Barmah in 1939.
He was the second-eldest of four children and spent his childhood in the Shepparton area, where from a young age he would spend time before and after school packing tomato boxes.
Two of his children, Rick and Justice, told the Bendigo Advertiser they believed such experiences fostered the tireless attitude to work that went on to drive their father's achievements in the future.
"It was that sense you contribute to family... You had a place and you put in," Justice said, adding that she never heard him complain about work or say anything was too hard - he simply did what needed to be done.
As a young man, Rick said, Uncle Brien met a Castlemaine girl and began spending more time in the central Victorian area.
He went on to marry that young woman, Jeannie, and they had four children - Rick, Paulette, Kane and Justice.
Uncle Brien's life was full and varied.
The great-grandson of Aboriginal rights champion Henry 'Harmony' Nelson, Uncle Brien was a man proud of his cultural heritage and desirous to share it.
"He was aware of the loss of the culture and tried to make the public aware of Aboriginal culture, particularly the history of certain areas," Rick said.
Uncle Brien was passionate about reviving Dja Dja Wurrung culture.
He played a leading role in arranging the first meeting of Dja Dja Wurrung people on country in 2000 and the subsequent formation of the Jaara Jaara Loddon Aboriginal Corporation.
He established the Bunjil Park Aboriginal Education and Cultural Centre at Neilborough to educate people about his culture, and with Justice formed Songline Cultural Tours.
"It's our cultural responsibility as well to share our knowledge... and true leaders don't hold that knowledge or keep it from anyone," Justice said.
He was somebody who opened himself up to what he could learn from people like me, and likewise open to teaching people like me whatever he could... Brien was a scholar of his community.- Gerry Gill
In 2009, Uncle Brien was made an honorary emeritus scholar of La Trobe University for his contributions to sharing knowledge of his people, having given lectures on country and culture and helped create short films.
Gerry Gill worked with Uncle Brien as a sociology and Aboriginal history lecturer.
"He was widely read and just kept on learning all the time," Gerry said.
"He was somebody who opened himself up to what he could learn from people like me, and likewise open to teaching people like me whatever he could... Brien was a scholar of his community."
Rick said his father was interested in the land and environment and protecting Aboriginal cultural sites.
For 17 years Uncle Brien worked for Parks Victoria, where he promoted awareness of areas of cultural importance.
During his Parks career he also played a pioneering role in working with Aboriginal groups, developing cultural training for staff and creating a plan that established land management agreements between the department and traditional owners.
His work to support and build up Aboriginal communities extended beyond his own people and country to other parts of the state and even New South Wales.
Uncle Brien also advised on the protection of Aboriginal heritage during major projects, including the duplication of the Calder Highway.
Justice is a member of the Yulendj group, a committee comprised of Aboriginal community members and elders from across Victoria that advises and co-curates the content in the Melbourne Museum's First Peoples exhibition.
Justice said all the knowledge she put into that award-winning exhibition came from her dad.
She said her father not only sought to share knowledge with his own people, but everyone in the community.
"I still think Dad's inclusiveness in sharing his knowledge is something for me that stands out the most," she said.
Justice said her father was not focused on what he could achieve for himself, but what he could do for others.
This spirit meant he became an important figure in reconciliation in the region.
Vic Say, who was long involved in the reconciliation movement in Castlemaine, said Uncle Brien was someone who created an atmosphere in the town where people from different sides of a divide could come together, acknowledge the truth and walk forwards together.
Uncle Brien was also a long-serving member on the City of Greater Bendigo reconciliation group.
"One of the reasons we have such a strong movement towards reconciliation in Bendigo and Castlemaine is because of the efforts Brien put in in reaching between those cultures [Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal] and teaching people about it," Gerry said.
A highly respected elder, Uncle Brien delivered Welcomes to Country at civic ceremonies in the region, and even greeted the Dalai Lama when he visited Bendigo in 2007.
Gerry said he was a role model and mentor to many young Aboriginal people and future leaders.
Uncle Brien had some perhaps lesser-known achievements, too.
Rick said his father was "pretty stoked" when he got to spend four months in the United States, learning about First Nations people and how they farmed.
Uncle Brien raced cars in the early days of the Bendigo Speedway, Rick said, and came second in the Victorian championships twice.
He was also a talented boxer: Justice said he was one of the first Aboriginal men to fight on television, and one of the first boxers to fight in two divisions on the one night and win both.
"He was a great artist with pen and paper and different things," Rick also said.
"He dabbled in a bit of Aboriginal art, but he could draw really good... lifelike stuff."
Uncle Brien's achievements are vast, and in 2017 they saw him inducted into Victoria's Aboriginal Honour Roll.
He was great, he was a really gentle man, my dad. Quietly spoken, didn't beat around the bush, he just got on with things.- Rick Nelson
But those who knew and loved him remember him just as much for his kindness, warmth and humour as they do for what he accomplished.
"He was great, he was a really gentle man, my dad," Rick said.
"Quietly spoken, didn't beat around the bush, he just got on with things."
Justice said her father was very loving and encouraging.
"If you wanted to do something, there was no dream too big he didn't encourage you to pursue," she said, adding he was also an amazing grandfather.
Vic remembered him as a very wise and generous man, who embraced partnership with others. Gerry likewise described him as generous and co-operative, "a very dear soul and one we will miss enormously".
"He was just someone you could count on, who had very gentle hands and a huge heart," Justice said.
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