Retired NRL star Johnathan Thurston is hoping to see more Townsville kids join kindergarten and to tackle the high rate of Indigenous children without birth certificates.

Thurston attended the launch of a new program during the Murri Rugby League carnival in Townsville last Saturday, but his presence was kept quiet until he arrived at the ground.

Kids gathered for the carnival came to meet the star, who gave more than a thousand signatures, while spreading the word about the Deadly Kindies and Deadly Choices Birth Certificates campaigns.

The campaigns have been running for two years in south east Queensland where Indigenous children are being encouraged to go to kindy and maintain regular health checks.

The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) has reported a 21% increase in the number of Indigenous children attending kindergarten in south east Queensland since the program started in 2016, up to 79%.

More than 17% of Indigenous kids in Queensland are not registered at birth and more than 400 kids have been awarded a birth certificate since 2016.

The Deadly Choices Birth Certificate program rewards families whose kids are up to date on vaccinations, by providing them with a birth certificate package valued at $63. They receive a legal birth certificate and a commemorative birth certificate, in either a Gold Coast Titans or Brisbane Broncos design.

A third design is now available to kids across Queensland—Thurston’s team, the North Queensland Cowboys.

IUIH has partnered with Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service (TAIHS) to move the program into far north Queensland.

TAIHS CEO Kathy Anderson said the impressive results in south east Queensland made them confident it was the right move for Townsville.

“With JT having been the very recognisable face of the Deadly Kindies campaign since the very beginning, our Townsville community has long been asking when the Kindy Kits will be here,” Anderson said, referring to the kits that kids who meet the vaccination and health requirements receive when they sign up for kindergarten.

Thurston has been the ambassador for both campaigns since their launch in Brisbane in 2016, where the IUIH has reported a significant rise in the number of Indigenous kids under five going to kindergarten and getting health checks.

“These programs are instrumental in getting our mob health checks, into school and into the workforce,” Thurston said.

The success of the campaigns in Brisbane and surrounds pushed the program north to Townsville this October, where Thurston is hoping it will have a similar impact.

“These programs weren’t around when I was younger and it’s great now our culture has access to these programs to close the gap. It starts at this level, it starts at this age group, and these programs are great for our mob,” Thurston said.

Having a birth certificate is critical to navigating various parts of life and can be an inhibitor to Indigenous people around the country.

IUIH have partnered with Deadly Choices to help with the identity of the program and are working with TAIHS in Townsville to roll it out.

Find out more about the programs below.

The Deadly Choices birth certificate package is available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged up to five years old who are up to date with their health checks and vaccinations. It includes a legal birth certificate and a commemorative certificate reflecting the hugely popular Deadly Choices brand.

For more

The Deadly Kindy kit is available for kids aged 3 to 4 years old when they have a health check and enrol to go to kindy in 2019. It includes a Deadly Kindies backpack, lunchbox, water bottle, hat, cot sheets, blanket and library bag.

For more

By Keiran Deck