Path to per­sonal discovery

Ac­tor and beloved chil­dren’s en­ter­tainer Justine Clarke went on Who Do You Think You Are? to find out her fam­ily his­tory. She tells DANIELLE McGRANE what she dis­cov­ered.

Sunday Territorian - - TV -

Justine Clarke knew very lit­tle about her fam­ily his­tory grow­ing up. The ac­tor and chil­dren’s en­ter­tainer, who be­came a house­hold name as a pre­sen­ter on

Play School, was raised in Syd­ney mostly by her mum. Her par­ents sep­a­rated when she was nine months old.

This made her, in her opin­ion, the per­fect can­di­date for Who Do You Think You

Are?, the long-run­ning factual show that delves into the fam­ily his­tory of well-known peo­ple.

Clarke had no idea what she would find out in the process of mak­ing the show.

“You re­ally hon­estly don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. By the end of the day you have an­other doc­u­ment with a clue on it, but you don’t know un­til the next day what is go­ing to be re­vealed,” Clarke said.

What Clarke knew of her mother’s side was quite lim­ited, but she knew even less about her fa­ther’s fam­ily his­tory, which she dis­cov­ered linked her to the First Fleet.

“That was amaz­ing. It has given me a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, par­tic­u­larly about be­ing a Syd­neysider. My mum was from Mel­bourne and she moved to Syd­ney when she was quite young and Syd­ney has al­ways been my home and it just gave me this kind of deeper con­nec­tion to it as a city,” she said.

She also dis­cov­ered an in­ter­est­ing love story in­volv­ing her third great grand­mother and an Ir­ish rebel.

Led by the his­to­ri­ans in the show, Clarke said she was amazed at how much in­for­ma­tion is ac­tu­ally avail­able.

“Be­cause we’re a pe­nal colony, there are a lot of records, prob­a­bly a lot more records than there would have been if we were just free set­tlers here in NSW. And you can get a his­to­rian to do it for you, you can get some­body to go to the archives who knows what to look for to do it for you and that was some­thing I had never con­sid­ered ei­ther,” she said.

Ex­plor­ing her mother’s fam­ily took her on a global tour to her grand­fa­ther’s home­town in Belarus and Clarke dis­cov­ered she has a rel­a­tive she didn’t know ex­isted liv­ing in Moscow.

“It was all bril­liant, but that was one of the best parts. Moscow is some­where I’ve al­ways wanted to go, and to go there to find a rel­a­tive was like an ab­so­lute gift,” she said.

It also gave her a greater un­der­stand­ing of the grand­fa­ther who she knew so lit­tle about.

“I knew that my grand­fa­ther had fled Rus­sia, but I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances around why he’d left and what was hap­pen­ing his­tor­i­cally there. I think the last time I saw him he was in his late 90s and I’d only met him twice, so I had no knowl­edge of his life,” she said.

Be­ing on the show started to con­nect the dots for Clarke and she be­gan to un­der­stand her fam­ily and the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind some of their ac­tions. She learnt that her Jewish an­ces­tors on her mother’s side largely turned their backs on Ju­daism, cre­at­ing a rift in the fam­ily.

“My great grand­fa­ther was so ashamed that his son had turned his back on his Jewish faith to such an ex­tent that he’d mar­ried a shiksa (non-Jewish wo­man) and al­most had a sort of dis­re­gard for it. That was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me be­cause he’d been so strict with him I felt that that was prob­a­bly why my grand­fa­ther had turned his back on it. I un­der­stood,” she said.

In the be­gin­ning, Clarke wasn’t sure she wanted to turn the at­ten­tion to her­self, but she re­alised it was some­thing she could do for her whole fam­ily, who are all ex­cited by what she’s dis­cov­ered.

“As much as you feel like the spot­light is on you, the gift you give ev­ery­one else has been great, and it’s con­nected ev­ery­body which is what it should do,” she said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.