Moses Mbye has spoken openly about his family history. Image: Adam Head
Moses Mbye has spoken openly about his family history. Image: Adam Head

The man who wasn’t there made Mbye the man he is

The housing commission flat, tattered and torn, is still standing, tangible evidence of where Moses Mbye came from … and the man he is today.

Even Mbye shudders at the eeriness of one of the most remarkable stories of State of Origin week.

The government housing rests about 800 metres from Queensland's new training base at Davies Park in West End.

Amid the suburb's organic cafes and the melting pot of hipsters casually mixing with Greek and Vietnamese restaurant owners sits the housing commission flat Mbye once called home.

Incredibly, a cubby house and set of swings with frayed rope remains, some 22 years after Mbye and his mother left the area for a new life at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

But something more valuable than a swing-set has been left behind in West End.

His Gambian-born father Mohamad.

The man Moses Mbye has not seen for 15 years.

The proximity of this raw, heart-wrenching family tale is as truly chilling as it is head-spinning.

As Queensland's latest debutant takes to the training field at Davies Park, Mohamad Mbye is just a six-minute stroll away … yet they may as well be hemispheres apart.

Mohamad could easily walk through the gates of Davies Park for Queensland's 5pm training session to greet the Maroons rookie who, for all their years of distance, will always share his African blood.

 

Mbye with mum Kay and brothers Joe and Matt.
Mbye with mum Kay and brothers Joe and Matt.

 

"I can't even remember my dad too well, it's been that long," Mbye tells The Sunday Mail.

"My earliest years were in that housing-commission flat with him in West End.

"I'm still trying to work out when I last saw my dad. I would say I was about nine or 10. I haven't seen him for at least 15 years.

"I haven't heard from him. He hasn't got my number.

"I won't lie, it was hard at times. There were struggles for my mum being a single mum raising three boys on her own.

"But every second family these days seems to have a single-parent situation so unfortunately it's not too uncommon is it?"

It is that anecdote which best crystallises the uniqueness of Mbye.

Beyond his heritage which makes Mbye one of the few players with African DNA to play State of Origin, he has already made a mark in Camp Maroon as a future leader ahead of his Queensland debut this Wednesday night.

 

A young Mbye turns out for the Queensland under-20s.
A young Mbye turns out for the Queensland under-20s.

 

At 25, Mbye speaks with the sagacity and tempered maturity of a man a decade older. Perhaps it is his natural intellect or the worldly pressures imposed by becoming a father to three of his own children.

Undoubtedly, it is the result of a turbulent past. While his mum Kay worked long hours at a petrol station to make ends meet, Mbye and his brothers Joe and Matt would fend for themselves without a traditional father figure.

"I know his name is Mohamad," Mbye says. "He is from Gambia, apparently he has six brothers and sisters back in Africa.

"He moved out here when he was about 26 years old. From what he told me, he was a seaman in Gambia, working on boats, but he came here in search of a better life, like most immigrants.

"When he came here, he did some work on boats in Brisbane."

 

Mbye went from Noose to Canterbury to make his NRL dream real.
Mbye went from Noose to Canterbury to make his NRL dream real.

 

Mbye says he left with his mum for Noosa when he was about three. Mohamad and Kay had split up. For about six years, Mbye would visit his dad on weekends. Then, suddenly, of Moses' own volition, Mohamad vanished from his life.

"I stopped seeing my dad originally because of resentment," Mbye says. "I was angry about him and mum splitting up.

"As I've gotten older, you realise there are reasons why your parents break up.

"Maybe it was the best thing for mum and dad to break up. Maybe they weren't in a healthy relationship. It's not until you get older that you have the maturity to get your head around that.

"Looking back, my old man's circumstances weren't too great.

"He was living in housing commission. He probably didn't have the capacity to raise three kids."

 

Mbye had a good connection with fans at Belmore. Image: Phil Hillyard
Mbye had a good connection with fans at Belmore. Image: Phil Hillyard

 

Mbye's words and mature perspective suggests there is still a place in his heart for his father. I suggest to him that he still cares for his old man. That maybe he should reconnect with Mohamad.

Surely the curiosity gets the better of him?

Emotionless, Mbye simply nods with pragmatism.

"I'm not planning on reconnecting with him," he says. "I don't know … it's not my priority in life now.

"I don't feel like I have an empty spot in my heart. I have three beautiful kids of my own and my wife and my brothers and my mum.

"I feel comfortable with how my life is going. I don't plan on reaching out and I'm OK with that.

"There's a lot of love in my life."

 

The move to Wests Tigers gave Mbye a fresh start. Image: AAP Image/Darren England
The move to Wests Tigers gave Mbye a fresh start. Image: AAP Image/Darren England

 

Queensland powerbrokers have been blown away by Mbye's presence over the past week. While he is a debutant on the team sheet, his demeanour in camp has seen Mbye identified as a future Maroons leader.

It is not just Mbye's welcoming spirit and well-spoken style that has impressed Queensland coach Kevin Walters. It is a resilience derived from the industry of his mother.

"I've never wanted to be a victim. I've never wanted to make excuses for my life," Mbye says.

"In life, everyone faces some sort of adversity, whether it's being a single parent or having an illness or a disability. It's how you deal with a tough situation that shapes your outlook. I could say my life is hard but then I think of kids in Africa who don't eat and suddenly my life isn't so difficult.

"It's all in your head, the way you perceive your situation.

"While my dad wasn't around, I had the most valuable thing in the world as a kid and that was freedom. Freedom to make mistakes and learn life lessons.

"I think I grew up quicker because of those experiences. I could have easily gone down the wrong track, but the people of Noosa were a community and we looked after each other.

"Even if you did some that pissed off your neighbour, the local people would be there to protect you.

"Now that I'm a parent, I only truly realise what my mum did as a single mum. She worked her ass off to pay the bills and put food on the table for her kids.

"She made so many sacrifices and yet I never saw them because she made it feel like there was no sacrifice.

"Now I see how hard it was. I can never imagine being a single dad to three kids. I'd go insane. I'd be in a clinic somewhere."

 

It is a surprise Mbye took this long to make his Queensland debut. Image: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
It is a surprise Mbye took this long to make his Queensland debut. Image: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt

 

Indeed, Mbye's first clinic was at Auskick as a seven-year-old, but Aussie Rules quickly took a back seat when he was offered to play league for the Noosa Pirates.

"The first day I played footy I loved it," Mbye recalls. "I said see you next Tuesday night for training. I never looked back."

By the age of 13, Mbye's hero was Johnathan Thurston, the Maroons playmaking great whose first job was as a butcher's assistant, mopping up blood and bone.

Incredibly, Mbye unwittingly fell into the same line of work.

"My first job was at a butcher's shop," he says. "I worked for a fellow from the Noose Pirates called Garry. He had a shop called the Butchery. It was an after-school job.

"I'd finish school at 3pm, get there at 4pm and finish at 6pm. I did two hours a day for the whole week. I'd get around $200 in week which wasn't bad coin. I even declared everything on tax. I was a cleaner, just wiping fat and crap off the floor."

 

That life experience makes him a leader in Maroons camp. Image: Adam Head
That life experience makes him a leader in Maroons camp. Image: Adam Head

 

Despite struggling to make Sunshine Coast representative teams, Mbye, who started out as a left centre, always believed he could crack the NRL. When the Canterbury Bulldogs finally arrived in 2010 armed with a meagre $1000 contract, it was Mbye's time to shine.

"I always had a feeling I was going to make it," he says. "I was never arrogant about it, but I remember saying to my brother, if I can hang in there long enough and do all the little things right, I will get there.

"There could have been some superstars out there, but I was one of the fortunate ones.

"It's a good message to kids out there. If an opportunity pops up, you have to take it. Just take that opportunity."

When he runs onto Suncorp Stadium this Wednesday for his Origin debut, Mbye says he will think of countless people when he walks down the tunnel. I ask if he will think of Mohamad, his old man around the corner at West End.

"It's moments like this where you realise just how many people play a role in your success in life," Mbye says.

"I've had so many text messages and calls of support this week and it reminds you how many people have an investment in your life and the relationships you form along the way.

"I know I will take a moment to be selfish and be proud of how hard I've worked to get this far.

"If he (Mohamad) reads this, I guess I have to say thank you for giving me my life and my two brothers.

"If he called me tomorrow and said, Moses, 'I'd like to catch up', I'd probably say, 'OK dad, bring seven bucks … and let's get two coffees'."