Rugby League star Johnathan Thurston has been awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal for his work in Queensland Indigenous communities.
The North Queensland Cowboys co-captain says his work improving educational outcomes for young people far outweighs his on-field achievements, which have included the Dally M, an NRL Premiership and Origin and National success.
But for someone who has plenty of trophies in the cabinet, he became very emotional when collecting this particular honour.
“I’m a little bit nervous up here,” he said.
“Kicking a football is much easier.”
Emotional win for football star
The halfback choked back tears as he talked about his work as an ambassador for the Deadly Kindies program which aims to boost the number of Indigenous children receiving early childhood education.
Thurston is also heavily involved with the NRL Cowboys House which provides supported accommodation for Indigenous students from remote Queensland communities so they can access better education in Townsville.
“You may know that I’m passionate about my sport, my club, my state and my country. But what I’m most passionate about is my culture,” Thurston said.
“One of the biggest drivers of change in closing the gap is education.
“Education is the key to everything in this country.
“And I want to make sure that families, the elders are celebrating the success of the next generation of our culture and to make sure they are proud of the achievements that they’re having in school.”
Palmer, 13, is a current resident at Cowboys House and says Thurston has changed his life.
“It’s great. It’s really good for him. He’s my idol,” he said.
Awards celebrate same-sex marriage changes
The Young People’s Human Rights Medal winner is Victorian Georgie Stone for her work improving medical and legal rights for transgender adolescents.
“Although there is so much we have achieved there is still this social stigma in Australia against trans kids. That needs to change, especially in the light of the same-sex marriage debate,” she said.
“The No campaign used trans kids as cannon fodder.”
The win on same-sex marriage was celebrated throughout the proceedings, especially by Disability Commissioner Alastair McEwin who popped the question to his partner Michael via FaceTime — who said yes.
However, there were several silent protestors who stood up and crossed their arms above their heads during a speech by Federal Attorney-General George Brandis, over the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
Among the other winners were Behind the Wire in the Media Award category for The Messenger podcast and the book They Cannot Take The Sky which share the personal stories of people who have been held in immigration detention or in offshore processing centres.
Barbara Spriggs won the Community Individual Award for her work in helping to expose the culture of cover up and abuse in the Oakden Aged Care Mental Health facility in delaide.