Lisa McCune s colourful past

Television golden girl Lisa McCune hoped her family history would be colourful when she agreed to take a genealogical journey on the popular Who Do You Think You Are?

"I'd rather have a colourful past than anything too beige," McCune says in the opening scenes after arriving in Perth from Melbourne, not realising she would soon uncover a sensational murder and family hardship.

McCune, the WA-raised actress and WAAPA graduate who became a household name as Constable Maggie Doyle in Blue Heelers and won four Gold Logie awards, has known since she was a teenager that her grandfather Jack McCune was not her dad Malcolm's biological father.

Malcolm was the youngest of McCune's nanna Dot's three sons. He spent several years in foster care while his brothers were in an orphanage after Dot fell on hard times after separating from her husband. When Dot married Jack McCune six years later, the boys were retrieved and the family re-united.

Out of respect for his parents, Malcolm had never looked for his birth father, so McCune, armed with the name George Bloomer, visits the State Records Office to meet a genealogist who reveals her great-grandfather George Bloomer was in 1908 charged with wilful murder at the mine site Day Dawn, south west of Cue.

The local newspaper described it as "one of the most fiendish murders ever committed in the State", a cold-blooded crime where the victim had been thrown down a mine shaft.

"I am a great believer, that if anything in my history had changed one bit . . . if anything changes in the course of your life, you aren't where you are today," says an upbeat McCune by phone from Melbourne where she is appearing in The King and I. She has been nominated for best actress in a musical at tonight's Helpmann Awards.

"I have met so many wonderful people along the way doing Who Do You Think You Are? I always watch the show and think 'Why are people so emotional, stop crying' but when you are in it, it is really moving.

"To change any of it, none of us would be where we are today and I wouldn't have my beautiful children."

Mother-of-three McCune says she was first approached to do the series several years ago but declined while Jack McCune was alive.

"I have always carried his name very proudly; being aware he brought my dad up.

"I didn't want him to ever think I needed answers about any of that, so I said no, thank you."

George Bloomer went on to have 11 children, including McCune's grandfather Colin. Through medical and service records, McCune learns Colin struggled with mental illness that was not helped by the stress of being separated from his young family while serving during World War II. This contributed to the end of his marriage and his children going into care when Dot became destitute and sought help.

"The great part about my dad's story is that Dad was fostered out for some years and the lady who fostered him, my Aunty Sally, they don't touch on this much in the story but she became a very important part of our upbringing and was the most beautiful lady," says McCune.

"It kind of goes to show that out of loss comes gain and that's the part about my story that I find really wonderful."

McCune says learning more about Colin's struggles had changed her attitude to mental illness. "We don't talk about it enough. It is something we actually do need to talk about and support each other . . . we brush it away and put it in a cupboard and we shouldn't do that.

"It has really changed my attitude and made me feel very much that we should be talking about it. I certainly don't want my children growing up - if they are going through a dark period - not being able to talk about it."

McCune was astounded at how well our records are kept and grateful to the experts who helped fill in the stories behind the documents that helped piece together the Bloomer family history, leading her to new family members.

"It was a beautiful experience; I can't tell you how wonderful it was. What I want to say is thank you. How do you thank someone for giving you a gift like this? Yes, it's a television show and everyone knows a little bit of your family history but it is a pretty extraordinary gift."

Who Do You Think You Are? airs tomorrow at 7.30pm on SBS1.

The West Australian

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