Former NRL hardman Justin Hodges might be used to the brutal arenas of grand finals and Origin, but he’s revealed those huge games paled into comparison next to the ‘massive impact’ finding out his family were part of the Stolen Generations has had on him.
Hodges, who played for the Broncos, Roosters, Queensland and Australia in a decorated rugby league career, has always known he’s had Indigenous heritage.
Unfortunately, like many Indigenous people, he didn’t really know much, if anything, about either side of his family.
So imagine Hodges’ shock when he discovered his mother’s side were part of the Stolen Generation.
Justin Hodges plays for the Indigenous All Stars in 2012
Hodges said it was ‘one of the hardest days’ of his life when he found out, and the revelation has changed him forever.
‘I was in disbelief. My family was deeply impacted through that. It was really heartbreaking. It had a massive impact on me,’ he told News Corp.
‘I’m starting to feel that identity that’s been missing for so long. It’s one of the best feelings and best adventures I’ve ever taken, even in terms of my sporting career.
‘I’m so thankful I got to find out some information about who I am.’
Hodges with wife Gyanna and son Carter after his last ever NRL match
He will be appearing on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are to learn more about family
The star Broncos centre was born in Cairns to Cheryl and Roy Hodges, and will be appearing on SBS program ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ as he seeks to find out more about his mysterious family history.
Hodges admits during his upbringing he was very rugby league-centric and ‘wasn’t culturally strong’, though he is incredibly thankful for being able to connect to country and culture via the show.
‘For 15 or 16 years of my life, it was always about rugby league and being a rugby league player … my cultural side was sort of lost,’ he said.
‘I never thought I was a spiritual person because I wasn’t connected to culture or country.
‘But I’m getting more of a sense of purpose and belonging. This land is where some of my people have walked and lived. It was the swimming holes they swam in and the path that they took. I could feel that; I could sense that. Even though they (my ancestors) have passed away, their spirits are still here and I felt that.’
Justin Hodges arrives at the Dally M Medal with wife Gyanne in 2013
Along with representing Queensland (24 matches) and Australia (13), Hodges also proudly played for the Indigenous All Stars team three times, though he admitted the boys in that squad found it ‘challenging’ at times.
‘We didn’t know who we were and where we came from. Through all the history of what happened to our people, a lot of our old people weren’t allowed to talk about anything or pass things down the line,’ he said.
Through the show, Hodges has now been able to find out more about both sides of his family.
Hodges (left) makes a break for the Indigenous All Stars against NRL All Stars in 2015
On his mother’s side, great-grandmother Dolly, sadly like many Indigenous women of the time, was adopted by a white family while Dolly’s mother Minnie was sent to Yarrabah, an Aboriginal mission near Cairns.
This was part of the sad period of the Australia’s history called the Stolen Generation, where Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in the care of the state.
Two of Queensland’s greatest Indigenous players, Hodges (left) and Greg Inglis (right)
Hodges at the Indigenous All Stars game in 2013 in Brisbane. He played for the side twice after his dedication to footy left him lacking knowledge about his culture as a youngster
Hodges knew slightly more about his father’s side, which has Torres Strait ancestry, and was able to discover who his great and great-great-grandparents were on a visit to Poruma Island, which is 130km north-east of Thursday Island.
He said got ‘goosebumps’ and felt an instant connection to family and place when on the island.
As part of the show, he was able to travel to most of the traditional lands of his family, and the enormity of it was clear through his strong emotions on learning about his culture.
‘What they (ancestry researchers) found out about my family was just unbelievable. Now I want to find out more stories and reconnect with more family. I want as much information as I can get that’s still out there. That’s what it’s about for me now,’ he said.
Hodges (left) grapples with another Indigenous superstar – Johnathan Thurston (white jersey) in the 2015 grand final, where they each captained their respective sides
Hodges now has a family of his own. He has been married to wife Gyanne for over 12 years, and the couple have two children; son Carter, 8, and daughter Milane 5).
For his part, he is keen to make sure his children are well aware of their proud Indigenous roots.
‘As a father, it’s important for me that my kids never have to second guess themselves that they are Indigenous. Information is the most powerful thing. As a father, it’s the most rewarding gift I can give them,’ said Hodges.
Justin Hodges has also had a semi-successful boxing career since retiring from the NRL
He currently works for his former club, the Broncos, in their Indigenous community program, and has also spent time in the boxing ring since his retirement.
He is due to take on former club and state teammate Ben Hannant on June 29; three days after State of Origin Game 2.