Broncos captain Sam Thaiday has pleaded for fellow NRL stars to head into Australia’s remote communities to help spread the message of healthy living as the NRL’s Close The Gap Round endeavours to raise awareness of the difference in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Thaiday and wife Rachel recently gave birth to their first child, daughter Gracie Willow, and Thaiday’s drive to make a difference comes from what he has seen during his years of community work. The 2011 Ken Stephen Medal winner is still haunted by images of kids sniffing petrol during a visit to Arakoon in Far North Queensland.
“There’s just not much to do up there and there’s such a miseducation in healthy living,” Thaiday says. “Kids were sniffing petrol early in the morning, having a packet of chips and a can of Coke for breakfast on their way to school. A lot of those kids are living paycheck to paycheck through no fault of their own.
“Their parents probably have some type of substance abuse problem and spending all their money on cigarettes and alcohol. It was pretty sad, and eye-opening to me personally.
“I encourage a lot more rugby league players to see these communities and help out where they can because simply telling their story to young kids is inspiring to them.”
Like many his age of Torres Strait or Aboriginal descent, Thaiday grew up attending funerals of family members who had passed far too young and is fully aware of the history of disease in even his immediate family.
“Diabetes was huge in my dad’s side. He’s a Torres Strait Islander and I can remember attending a lot of different funerals as a young kid and thinking that my aunties and uncles were way, way too young to be passing away,” Thaiday says.
“It was something that made me want to get a chance and an opportunity to go into different communities, not just Torres Strait ones, but Aboriginal communities, ones all over Queensland.
“People that talk to me about sponsoring a child in Africa... I don’t know how many times I’ve said we’ve got just as many kids in Australia that struggle to get a feed, that struggle to get to school and struggle to get clothes on their back.
“I hope Gracie’s generation will be more advanced in closing the gap. What this round does is start conversations, spreads awareness and gets it out there in the public. People ask questions and want to learn and be more educated about it. And that’s what this round is all about. The more educational tools we get out in the community, the healthier, stronger and smarter Indigenous people can become, and therefore close the gap.”