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'Racism Played A Part' In Tanya Day's Death

Systemic racism played a part in the death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day in Victoria Police custody, her family's lawyer says.

Tanya Day, a mother, grandmother and Yorta Yorta woman, was taken off a train and arrested for being drunk in a public place in December 2017.

While in custody the 55-year-old hit her head five times and eventually died from a brain haemorrhage.

An inquest into Ms Day's death began in Melbourne in Monday.

The lawyer acting on behalf of her family said there was no doubt racism played a role in her arrest.

tanya day
Tanya Day's daughter Apryl Watson holds a photograph of her mother. Photo: AAP.

"She was vulnerable not simply because she consumed alcohol, she was vulnerable because of who she was," Peter Morrissey SC told the inquest.

"There is no doubt that there was a failure. The extent of it will be looked at."

Mr Morrissey said there were other options rather than arresting Ms Day at Castlemaine station.

The three-week inquest before coroner Caitlin English will look at whether racism was a factor in Ms Day's treatment and ultimate death - a first for a Victorian coroner - after successful campaigning by Ms Day's family.

Tanya Day’s eldest daughter, Belinda Stevens, centre, with Apryl Watson and Warren Stevens. Image: AAP

The proceedings were opened by Ms Day's uncle Colin Walker, who performed a welcome to country.

"Tanya Day is my niece, a beautiful young woman who's life was taken away from her," he said.

"They failed her duty of care and neglected her. They never went near her for hours. She was never violent."

Before attending the inquest, Ms Day's family and friends took part in a traditional smoking ceremony at a nearby park to honour her and other Aboriginal lives lost in police custody.

Family members, including Tanys's daughter Apryl Watson (centre), are seen at a smoking ceremony in Kings Domain Park prior to a Coroners Inquest. Photo: AAP.

Her daughter Belinda Stevens said Aboriginal women were more likely to be targeted by police for being drunk in public than non-Aboriginal women.

"Our mum should be alive today. We know that racism played a role in mum's death and that Victoria Police failed her. We want truth and accountability through this coronial inquest," Ms Stevens told reporters.

"Our mother had so much more love and life to give - to us, to her grandchildren and to the broader community."

In December last year, the coroner called for the state government to abolish the offence of being drunk in public. The government finally announced action on Thursday to abolish the law.

The family also want CCTV footage of Ms Day's time in custody to be made public.

V/Line staff and witnesses who saw Ms Day on the train before her death are expected to be called to give evidence on Monday.