Joel Thompson has made his name in rugby league as one of the toughest characters out there – and when you delve into his past there is no wonder why.
On the rugby field, Thompson made his NRL debut in 2008 with before stints with the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2014 and more recently playing 60 times for Manly, bringing his NRL career tally to 234, scoring 62 tries.
Last year he captained the Indigenous All Stars in his seventh appearance for the side whilst he is also an influential figure off-the-field, a strong advocate for both Indigenous voices and mental health, founding The Mindset project in 2012 and being awarded the Ken Stephen Medal in 2016 for his community work.
That work all stems back to his childhood which, in an eye-opening interview with the Physio Spill, wasn’t exactly the easiest to deal with.
“I was brought up around a lot of drub abuse and violence,” Thompson admitted on the program.
“There was a lot of tough times in those earlier years – living my mum who battled some issues, it made things tough for us.
“We would be settled at one place and then we would be moving. I would be living with aunties and uncles and different random people.”
Things came to a head one day when Thompson returned home from school, only to be given a shocking truth.
“There were so many times I’d be going to school and then it would be like ‘we are moving’.
“My name was actually Joel Murdoch, because of my mum’s partner who I called dad.
“One day I came home and my mum was like that’s not your real dad and my father was someone else – I really felt lost even at that stage.”
Growing up in Ivanhoe – an aboriginal society – was difficult for the 32-year-old, because it meant – as someone who was white – that he was on the receiving end of racism.
“I was fair skinned and I was on the other side of racism in an aboriginal society.
“I was so lost even at an early age – I struggled at school and any argument I’d just have a fight.
“I got in trouble with the police at a young age as I was doing break and enters and stealing cars.”
But, it was one particular moment that stunned Thompson into positive action.
“I was in the front garden with my nan and the police rolled in and took me down to the station – I was brought up to hate police.
“I was living with my nan who took me in, she was so hurt and tears were running down her eyes.
“She was very respectable in the community, she never smoke and never drank – to see her hurt changed me.”
That change took Thompson to the rugby field and to the great career that he has had.
The Australian hung up his boots at the end of the 2021 season due to personal reasons and has now had a change of direction, joining the train management system in Australia.