Well-known Australians play detective as they go in search of their family history, revealing secrets from their past.
16 Jul 2015 - 4:24 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2015 - 1:52 PM

Episode 1: Ron Barassi

Sporting legend Ron Barassi is seen as a man who has done much with the gifts he was born with. As a player and team captain he played in eight grand final matches of Australian Rules Football and as an AFL coach he led three underdog teams to premiership success.

He believes that he’s been dealt good cards in life, and wants to know if his ancestors were dealt good cards too. His philosophy in life is that you’re dealt the cards and you should be judged on how you then play those cards…

Both as a player and a coach Ron Barassi developed a reputation for being a tough, uncompromising man of principle. This was highlighted recently when he made national news headlines as a latter day knight in shining armour coming to the rescue of a young woman being bashed in the street only to end up being attacked himself. So is the staunch straight-talking Ron Barassi a product of his ancestry?


Episode 2: Sigrid Thornton

Australian film and TV industry luminary, actress Sigrid Thornton has cornered the market in feisty leading roles. She is best known for her role in “The Man from Snowy River” and more recently as the relationship-challenged magistrate Laura in “Sea Change”.

She says she knows remarkably little about her ancestry as up until now her focus has been on career and family. But now at middle-age with nearly grown-up children and ageing parents she believes it’s time to take stock.

Being born into a politically-active family with a mother famous for chaining herself to a Brisbane bar-rail in protest at women being denied the right to drink in public bars with the men. Sigrid believes her penchant for feisty leading-lady roles is no accident and expects to find that she comes from a long line of strong women.


Episode 3: Ben Mendelsohn

Over the past 25 years, Australia has watched Ben Mendelsohn grow up on screen to become one of the country’s leading character actors.

Throughout his career he had a tendency to play the bad boy larrikin or a man burdened with the baggage of a fractured family... a characterization that has often come very close to the truth of Ben’s own life.

Ben was born Paul Benjamin Mendelsohn, the oldest son of Frederick Mendelsohn and Carole Ann Ferguson.

His parents were divorced when he was about 6 years old. He lived with his Mum for a little while and when that didn’t work out he lived with his father and stepmother.

Ben is driven to discover if, as family legend suggests, he is related to the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn of “The Wedding March” fame.


Episode 4: Christine Anu

Christine Anu burst onto the music scene in the mid 90s with her version of “My Island Home”, which became an iconic national song, reflecting Australia’s island identity, and the islands of the Torres Strait, where Christine’s ancestors come from.

Born in mainland Queensland, Christine moved away from home when she was 17 to pursue a career as a dancer. She joined the Bangarra Dance Company, where she met singer/songwriter Neil Murray who invited her to sing, thus launching her singing career.

Christine feels that in moving away from home, and pursuing her dancing and singing career, she’s moved away from her culture. Having two children of her own – a son, Kuiam, 12, and daughter, Zipporah (Zippy), 6 – she now feels it’s the right time to re-connect with her culture, and learn her ancestors’ names.


Episode 5: Maggie Beer

Celebrity “Country Cook” Maggie Beer is probably best known for being half of the TV duo “The Cook and The Chef”. She is also a winemaker, a gourmet food producer and exporter, restaurateur and an award-winning author. She thinks that she has inherited her very strong work ethic from her parents who, after going through the trials and tribulations of bankruptcy re-invented themselves as caterers.

She remembers her mother as a sunny person with a very positive approach to life who loved entertaining and always saw the bright side of things, even when the family was going through the bankruptcy. She had a real joy for life and positive approach that Maggie also believes she has inherited. She wonders if this "courage in the face of adversity" is a family trait.

Maggie Beer was born Margaret Ann Ackermann. Her parents were Ronald Ackermann & Doreen Carter. Maggie knows very little of her family story. She knows that her father’s ancestors were German, who lived at Hill End in regional NSW and were gold miners and she is fairly sure they were Jewish. She has a strong sense of her Jewish ancestry but, as yet, no evidence for it. She doesn’t know when or why her father’s ancestors came to Australia or precisely where they came from.


Episode 6: John Butler

John Butler started out busking on the streets. Now, he is a world-wide recording and performing phenomenon. He is an activist at heart and uses his music and celebrity to promote causes dear to his heart.

He has longed to know more about his family history. His first album was entitled “Searching For Heritage”. Now he will finally uncover his family history and discover the ancestry he has craved for, he would like to find poets, musicians and revolutionaries.

John was born in the United States to Australian father Darryl and American mother Barbara, also a Butler but not related. When his parents split up he moved to Perth with his Dad. Later, on his sixteenth birthday, his paternal grandmother gave him an important family heirloom - his grandfather John Francis Butler’s Dobro guitar. A grandfather he never met.

John wants to know more about the man whose guitar has been central to his musical journey.



Join stars Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette, Luke Nguyen, David Wenham, Dawn Fraser, Peter Rowsthorn, Greig Pickhaver & Ray Martinas in the new season of Who Do You Think You Are. Starts Tuesday 4 August, 7:30pm on SBS.


See also: Genealogy Resources