WA independent musician John Butler has always been an activist but he didn't realise until recently that revolutionary blood ran through his veins.
The 34-year-old former busker moved from the US to Fremantle as a child following the divorce of his American mother and Australian father. But he never knew about his family history until he was approached by producers from WA company Artemis International to become the subject of a program in SBS's groundbreaking genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?
His journey, which followed three central stories in his father's ancestral line, took him from Perth to the old Victorian goldfields and, finally, to the Bulgarian revo- lutionary hotpot of Koprivshtitsa, where his great-grandfather Nicola Radomiroff was born.
There, Butler discovered his great-great-grandfather Kristio Radomiroff was a meat trader who helped fund the Bulgarian revolution which eventually ousted the ruling Ottomans.
"We would all like to fantasise that the values we have were held by our ancestors, but it's not always that way," Butler said. "But it was great to find out that it was so spot-on in this case.
"To see that attitude in Koprivshtitsa and to see my family were a part of it and didn't try to find the easy way out, which they could have done because they had an amnesty and money, and used their freedom to encourage culture and resistance is pretty cool … in this day and age people seem to like to stay comfy and not rock the boat."
Butler, who still lives in Fremantle with wife Danielle and children Banja and Jahli, was excited to read his grandfather John Francis Butler's war diary in which he expressed concern about the racism exhibited by some white American soldiers. Butler's grandfather, whose Dobro guitar Butler inherited, died while fighting a bushfire at Nannup.
He found his great-grandfather Jack Butler had deserted from his World War I duties to look after his younger siblings after his father's death. Then he had discovered his great-great-grandfather Joseph Elijah Butler was born in Castlemaine, Victoria.
He said it was amazing to go down to Nannup "to the spot of my grandfather's passing with my father, then to Echuca and Shinbone Alley (on the Victorian goldfields) and then Bulgaria."
The musician said his Victorian connection had been a surprise, revealing his surname should have been Parker.
He found that his great-great- grandfather was born to Noah Parker and Elizabeth Butler.
But the couple were estranged by the time of his birth and he took the Butler name before Elizabeth Butler married a Chinese immigrant George Ah Kew and was again abandoned, this time with several children.
If not for that twist in history, he could have been the central figure in the John Parker Trio. The program will air on November 1.
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