For almost 60 years artist Lloyd Hornsby was told he was Maori, descended from family in New Zealand's north island city of Rotorua. One day he learned the truth of a hidden past, reaching back to the then Wallaga Lake mission.
As an artist, 73-year-old Hornsby has created waves similar to those breaking on rocks along the saltwater Country of the Far South Coast. In October his intricate painting Past Warriors, skillfully crafted with a toothpick, will hang in the Louvre Museum in Paris, the world's largest art museum.
I had no idea about the brutal history.Lloyd Hornsby
The painting captures his story of discovery and unites his Chinese and Australian heritage. One he had no idea about until the age of 59.
"Stars are eternity,' he said from his Glen Innes gallery, studio and coffee shop.
"The painting is about the two oldest cultures known to man."
At first Hornsby thought the prestigious offer from France was a scam, or a "rip off", but after requesting Austrade check it out, the reality began to sink in.
"It blew me away, mate," he said.
He discovered it would cost him thousands to get the artwork to Paris, and unfortunately due to an injury suffered during a severe spear tackle while playing rugby league as a child and the COVID-19 pandemic he won't get to see it on full display. Under lights in the city of light.
"Anywhere I go, when I find something I want to paint I get permission from Elders," he said.
"People need to come together."
Hornsby's mother's half-sister, May O'Donnell, was the last remaining relative who knew the truth about his past, and one day sat down with his daughter to reveal everything.
What he found out was the story covering everything from the first Melbourne Cup, French and Chinese connections, and a deep family history within the Wallaga Lake mission.
While his daughter was shocked, Mr Hornsby said it explained the fierce racism he had endured throughout his life, and reminded him of being hidden by his mother from authorities, concerned they would kidnap her son.
"My mother didn't walk with us down the street. She'd walk ahead of us," he said.
Despite having no knowledge of his own heritage, Hornsby's story is like many others who have grown up surrounded by racism in Australia.
He says he barely knew his white father, who would only spend time with his "lighter skinned brothers".
"My father hid my mother from his family like he was embarrassed to have fallen in love with a black woman," he said.
The day his auntie sat down with his daughter, Hornsby's life would change forever.
His auntie revealed a family connection to inaugural Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Etienne Livingston de Mestre's, whose name is forever etched into Australian history books.
It also revealed another side of the family - Etienne's first family - hidden from sight for 150 years.
At the time de Mestre's top horse Archer was busy winning the first two Cups in 1861 and 1862 he had started a young family with an Indigenous woman from Nowra called Sarah Lamb. While little is known about Sarah, the couple's daughter, Helen de Mestre, made a life for herself at Wallaga Lake.
Mr Hornsby would later attend a de Mestre family reunion in Nowra, and said, along with other Indigenous relatives, he didn't feel welcome.
The internationally renowned artist Roy De Maistre is also a relative.
Mr Hornsby has visited Wallaga Lake twice since finding out about his family connection to the former mission.
"I'd love to get to know my whole family," he said.
"It was great to be there, and we had a ball with the kids, but the first time I went down it was very sad to see how everyone lives."
Since then he has even discovered relatives in nearby Armidale he has never met.
After discovering a whole new world, he took up studies at university, which he says was an extremely emotional time.
"I had no idea about the brutal history. It inspired me to get more involved," he said.
"Even today it affects me. I put up with so much as a kid, but what I copped was nothing compared to kids in institutions.
"Whipping kids to make them smile for people."
He's worked tirelessly with inmates, foster children, hospital patients and held workshops in communities across the state and Queensland.
"I stick my nose into things as much as I can, but I don't tell people what to do," he said.
"People tell me they just want an education and a job.
"These kids want to be educated, and cultural connection combined with their education is how you bring out the best in kids."