RON’S PUNT ON THE PAST
The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? explores the roots of a handful of famous Aussies. Guy Davis spoke with one of them, football legend Ron Barassi.
SBS is once again climbing the family trees of six well-known Australians with its new season of Who Do You Think You Are?, the local version of the popular UK genealogy series that explores the lineage of prominent people.
This second season sees the program delving into the backgrounds of acclaimed actors Sigrid Thornton and Ben Mendelsohn, musicians John Butler and Christine Anu and celebrity cook Maggie Beer.
And kicking off the six-episode season is a look at the family tree of one of the greatest Aussie rules football players the game has ever produced – Ron Barassi.
Renowned as both a player and a coach, Barassi has a reputation as a tough, straight-talking character and a man of principle.
Indeed, the 73-year-old was recently in the news when he came to the aid of a woman being assaulted in the street and was subsequently himself roughed up by the attacker.
Barassi’s father, also named Ron, was a footballer as well but he cut his promising career short when he volunteered in 1939 to fi ght in World War II. Two years later, he was killed on a battlefi eld in Tobruk – his son was only fi ve.
While Barassi had some knowledge about his father’s death, he had heard confl icting reports and was eager to fi nd out the whole story. So when the opportunity came to take part in Who Do You Think You Are?, “ it didn’t take me too long to sign up,” he said.
The makers of the show were able to connect Barassi with two WWII veterans who served alongside his father and provide him with an eyewitness account of his father’s fi nal hours.
“ I was very impressed with how well they dealt with what could be seen as very sensitive issues,” Barassi said.
The journey into Barassi’s background didn’t stop there, though. As a child, he spent six years living with his grandfather Carlo in the central Victorian town of Guildford.
“ Unfortunately, he [ Carlo] and his father – who was the fi rst Barassi to come to Australia, arriving here in 1854 – had a relationship that wasn’t the best.”
Research into the lives of the region’s immigrant community, and more specifi cally a chat with a neighbour with some insight into the rift, helps uncover a possible source of the bad blood between Barassi’s grandfather and great-grandfather.
And this leads to an investigation into the background of Carlo’s wife, Ann Connolly Dale. Unearthing her background – and that of her grandfather, an Irish convict who spent much of his life seeking redemption for a brutal crime for which he was genuinely remorseful – adds further depth to Barassi’s life story.
“ I had no idea about that side of my family whatsoever. I’d never heard of Ann Connolly Dale, and it was a bit of a shock when I heard about her grandfather.”
Although, he added with a laugh, “ I was very pleased to fi nd out that I have some Irish in my background”.
Taking the plunge: Ron Barassi ponders his ancestry in the new season of Who Do You Think You Are?, which also traces the heritage of ( inset, from left) Christine Anu, Maggie Beer, Ben Mendelsohn and John Butler.