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.

Geelong Advertiser - TV Guide - - FEATURE -

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.

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