Bird's journey of self-discovery
Rugby league has been good to Greg Bird.
It has given a talented and tenacious footballer a way to make a living and on a couple of occasions extended a second chance.
The profile the game has afforded him will ensure life for him and his family will be prosperous once he stops pulling on the boots but its greatest gift may be a connection that has inspired the Titans lock forward to discover more about himself and where he comes from.
Bird grew up in Maitland west of Newcastle knowing there was Indigenous blood in him, but a family history he simply describes as "dysfunctional" meant that the exact details of his ancestry were something other family members found difficult to discuss.
When he was selected for the inaugural Indigenous All Stars team in 2010 many fans were unaware his lineage made him eligible but that initial experience gave him the strength to search for more meaningful answers to his own questions of self.
In an Instagram post during All Stars week in February Bird revealed something of the journey he has been on.
Part of the All stars ideal as I see it is to be proud of who you are and where you come from. In the first all stars camp after hearing some of my teammates stories i was intrigued, as I knew nothing but I was Gamilaroi. Since this I have spoken to a few family members and obtained some photos, documents and knowledge and discovered im actually Anaiwan. This is a photo of my great grandmother Lillian Ward (the young girl to the right of the seated man) born in Inverell and her family from the 1900's. Her parents were Rose and Joseph (back), sisters were Christina and Alice, and her grandfather (sitting) is John Baldwin who's marriage certificate I have to Elizabeth Natty is my earliest document from 1876. This is a little of my story. I don't know much of before my own beautiful Nan, but I'm very proud all the same. If anyone recognizes these names or pictures don't hesitate to direct message me or just say hi. #NRLallstars #Family #Proud
Speaking to NRL.com ahead of this weekend's Indigenous Round, Bird detailed tree carvings still standing in western New South Wales that have been directly linked to his ancestors and his determination to take pride from the difficult path his family had to travel.
"It goes back to my great, great, great grandmother and that's Elizabeth Natty. She was a Gamilaroi woman, inland from Armidale and Inverell," Bird said.
"Early on I didn't know anything and now we know where my grandma grew up and where all her family grew up, all her brothers and sisters.
"The dysfunction that has happened back in the 1920s and '30s that's happened in their lives and a few of those stories have come out now.
"It was definitely a bit of an eye-opener. It was different times back then and they lived pretty hard lives, the Indigenous people.
"I've got a family member who has done a lot of the research and she is the one I've been speaking to. She's a photographer and she's keen to go down there and go to some of these places that ancient family trees that have been written about in history books directly related to our family but none of us have actually seen them."
Again expressing his disbelief that the All Stars concept could ever be under threat of falling off the rugby league calendar given the community involvement it embodies, Bird said the game itself can help foster a greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Many of us know little of Indigenous culture and while Bird acknowledges a right to anger for a people who were not even considered by the Australian Government as citizens less than 60 years ago he hopes rugby league can serve as a conduit to bring all Australians together.
"If it's played in the right manner and it's played for the right reason – which it is at the moment – we're bridging the gap," said Bird.
"We've got all these cultural visits and cultural workshops and the game is built around those things. That's great for the game and great for society.
"There is a big disjoin between the Aboriginals and the whites," Bird admits.
"It gets to Australia Day and all the Aboriginals are complaining about their past and the rest of the Australians are saying 'Get over it' and all this. Everyone needs to be educated more.
"I think that's all anyone really wants, is to know what happened and for it to be acknowledged by society those things that have happened so everyone can move on together for an informed future rather than people just not knowing.
"After finding out some stuff myself, it was pretty tough times back in those days and you've got every right to be angry and for family members to pass that down to their kids and pass that on to their grandkids.
"Education about Aboriginal culture is one thing that needs to be picked up and picked up by all Australians and not just the ones directly involved."
And it is something he will pass on to his one-month old daughter Finley as she grows up.
"It's definitely something I want to pass down to my little girl," said the 32-year-old.
"It's a bit of her family history and where her granddad and her great grandad come from so it's something I have to find out a little bit more of."