Nine Network sports reporter and presenter Yvonne Sampson has been the bright and bubbly face of the station’s NRL coverage for two years – but beneath the in-depth match analysis and game highlights brews a dark past.
In a column written for Fairfax Media on Monday, the rugby league host revealed a long-held family secret which rocked her world on Boxing Day 2015.
Sampson, who spent a happy childhood with her adoptive parents and met her birth parents when she turned 18, said what she found out about her family’s heritage made her more proud and grounded and changed her life forever.
She said that during a phone call with her father the day after Christmas, he revealed he was also given up for adoption in 1964 because his mother was an Indigenous Australian – a secret also kept from him for 51 years.
“Growing up in a beautiful, rural setting, riding horses and stealing strawberries from the farm next door, I never would have thought my family was a victim of racism,” the 34-year-old wrote in the column.
“But like any family, mine also has its deeply held secrets, buried to protect or to avoid shame and the secret we recently discovered has changed my identity.”
Sampson said she had always known that she was adopted from the moment she could ask ‘where did I come from?’.
“My mother and father carefully explained they couldn’t have children of their own, so they waited and waited until finally I came along,” she wrote.
“Luckily, when I turned 18 I met my birth parents, who turned out to be wonderful people who fell pregnant as teenagers and decided they were too young to raise a child. Thankfully, my birth parents and I have maintained a loving relationship ever since.
“On Boxing Day, my birth father called to wish me season’s greetings but also to deliver another piece of my genetic puzzle. He had never known his mother. Raised by his grandmother, he was told his mum died in a car crash.”
The truth he recently discovered was almost as heartbreaking, Sampson said.
“Charters Towers, 1964, a 21-year-old mother was told her infant died of pneumonia. Secretly, the baby boy was perfectly healthy and given to another family to raise. Why? Because the young woman was Aboriginal. A mother was left to grieve a baby who didn’t die, while the boy grew up never knowing his mother or her heritage.
“Fifty-one years later they met and are now filling in the gaps, solving untruths and putting their identity puzzle back together.
“Which also turns out to be part of the fabric that tells my story. My history and my racial identity.”
Sampson said hosting the NRL Indigenous and World All Stars last week took on a different significance.
“I’ve always been proud that league celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have transformed the game, become superstars and important leaders in the community, but somehow that match meant more,” she wrote.
“I was inspired by the fans, who had driven days from the Cape or far south coast to watch their heroes represent their Indigenous history in league’s cultural showpiece.
“Anyone who questions the importance of the All Stars concept only needs to look at the week spent influencing Indigenous youth through leadership summits and community camps and the Deadly Choices program. All these help reconciliation across our country. It represents the good in rugby league.
“While I’m slowly piecing together the rich tapestry of my background, I’m so grateful secrets are being solved, wrongs are being made right and to have a connectedness to Indigenous Australia.”
Sampson’s grandmother was a nurse and inspired other Indigenous women to succeed, she also received an Order of Australia medal for her dedicated work within remote communities.
Meanwhile, on Monday Indigenous journalist Stan Grant spoke passionately at the National Press Club in Canberra about his family history and the “generations of injustice” experienced by Indigenous Australians.
“For so many of my people, Aboriginal people, this is true, there is a deep, deep wound that comes from the time of dispossession, scarred by the generations of injustice and suffering that have followed,” Grant said.
“And this wound sits at the heart of the malaise that grips indigenous Australia.”