FOOTBALL has delivered Johnathan Thurston fame and fortune, but it's a third F - family heritage - of which the Queensland Cowboys co-captain is most proud.

Speaking to ARM Newsdesk this week about taking on the 2016 Queensland Reconciliation Awards ambassadorship, Thurston relived the moment in 2010 when he realised how little he knew of his Aboriginal heritage.

While at an Indigenous All Stars training camp, Australia Rugby League commissioner Dr Chris Sarra asked Thurston and his teammates to break into two groups - one comprising those who knew a lot about their culture and one for those who did not.

"I didn't really know much about my family history and my culture, so I stood at that part of the room," the 33-year-old son of Debbie, an indigenous Gungarri woman, and Graham, a New Zealander, recalls.

"After that I rang my mum because I wanted to find out more about where she grew up."

DESERVED PRAISE: Johnathan Thurston had a year to remember as a State of Origin winner, NRL premier and Dally M medallist.
DESERVED PRAISE: Johnathan Thurston had a year to remember as a State of Origin winner, NRL premier and Dally M medallist. Warren Lynam

Thurston's quest for knowledge led him to Mitchell - a small town off the Warrego Hwy, about 590km west of Brisbane and 180km east of Charleville.

"A couple of my uncles took me and my cousins out to Mitchell for a weekend to show us where they and my mum grew up," Thurston says.

"We saw what they used to do for fun, we did a little bit of traditional dancing as well and most importantly we learnt about where our family was from."

James Cook University awards Thurston a Doctor of Letters in a special ceremony Aap Image

Thurston says that trip opened his eyes like nothing else could.

"When I got out there, it was like I had been there before," the bloke who last year led the North Queensland Cowboys to their inaugural NRL premiership says.

"It just had this real calming influence on me - I really enjoyed my time there.

"It showed me the importance of knowing about what our culture has been through and knowing that we need to recognise our past and move forward as well."

There are vast health, social justice and other gaps between white and black Australians - for example, Aboriginal people die earlier, have higher infant mortality rates, lower education levels, weaker job prospects and higher incarceration rates than white Australians.

"It does sadden me a lot - to tell you the truth - when you're hearing stats like indigenous Australians are dying at 10 years younger than everyone else," Thurston says.

"It's very alarming. It's a massive issue for the first inhabitants of this land and I think everyone needs to be made aware of that."

Thurston knows he wields a massive influence over thousands of people thanks to his spectacular football prowess.
He's not afraid to put that fame to good use.

"I'm very proud of my indigenous heritage," he says.

"I'm in a very privileged position with my standing within the game.

"I want to use that to make a difference in the things I'm passionate about and one of those things is reconciliation."

While he's willing to give 100% to achieve change, Thurston says the only hope of ending the imbalance is for all Australians to pull together.

"I think there are a lot of people out there who are making a difference and there are people who still have their heads buried in the sand," he says.

"Everyone needs to be doing their part in raising awareness of the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people and doing their part in reducing those gaps

"As a community we need to be on top of this, inspiring the next generation to make the decisions that will foster change," he says. 

- ARM Newsdesk


Nominate your choice for this year's Queensland Reconciliation Awards

THERE is not much time left to get your nominations in for this year's Queensland Reconciliation Awards.

You have until the close of business on Monday, March 21, to put forward your suggestions for businesses, community organisations, educational institutions and other partnerships that excel at improving harmony between the state's indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the awards recognised and celebrated the "true power of reconciliation".

"Reconciliation is a journey that should concern every member of the community," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"If all members of our community embrace reconciliation and actively promote positive change in their everyday actions, it will pave the way for a better future for Queensland."

About $25,000 will be shared across the five award categories - business, education, community, partnership and the Premier's Reconciliation Award.

Visit or call (07) 3003 9200.



THESE are some of the key dates in Australia's long and winding road towards reconciliation.

1932: The Australian Aborigines' League calls "for the preservation of our race from extinction and to grant representation to our race in the Federal Parliament".

1938: January 26 declared a day of mourning for Aboriginal people.

1966: Aboriginal stockmen protest poor working conditions.

1967: 91% of Australians vote "yes" in the referendum giving the Commonwealth power to legislate for Aboriginal people and to include Aboriginal people in the Census.

1971: Neville Thomas Bonner becomes the first Aboriginal MP.