7:30pm Tuesday 19 August on SBS ONE.
“I kind of wanted a colourful past. This is primary colours going on here” – Lisa McCune
Actor Lisa McCune has a successful career on screen and stage, but the McCune name she’s made famous does not feature in her biological family tree.
As a teenager Lisa learned that the man she knew as her grandfather was not her dad’s biological father. Her dad, Malcolm, was fostered out as a very young child and his brothers were placed in an orphanage. Lisa’s Dad knows little about his biological father beyond a name – George Bloomer.
In the new Australian series of Who Do you Think You Are? Lisa embarks on a quest to find out about the mysterious George Bloomer. She discovers two: a great grandfather caught up in a gruesome and sensational Gold Rush murder; and a grandfather struggling with mental illness and the pressures of war – with tragic consequences for his young family.
Lisa begins her journey in Perth at the WA State Records Office. She learns that George Bloomer is not her grandfather but her great grandfather. Her grandfather is Colin George Bloomer. She discovers some intriguing references to great grandfather George. At the age of 18, he was arrested and charged with wilful murder. The scene of the crime was a mining settlement called Day Dawn.
Lisa travels to Day Dawn, about 700kms north east of Perth, where she meets gold expert Barry Strickland. He tells her that at the time of the murder in 1908, Day Dawn was a hard place to live; temperatures were often over 40 degrees, tented accommodation was rough, men outnumbered women four to one, and reportedly spent at least a third of their wages on alcohol. In this rough, tough environment a family feud led to the murder of William Clinton – who was shot and thrown down a mineshaft.
Lisa goes to the court house at Geraldton, on the mid-West coast, where George Bloomer found himself in the thick of one of the biggest, most sensational show trials in WA history. She meets historian Dr Leigh Straw who has the court records. Lisa reads George Bloomer’s statement where he admits to his part in assisting with the clean-up of the murder and to lying about the whereabouts of the victim. When it came to crunch time the jury took just one hour to make their decision. Harry Smith, the only man charged that was not related to the victim, was found guilty and sentenced to death. Lisa’s great grandfather George was found not guilty of murder but guilty of being an accessory to murder. He was sentenced to 6 months in gaol.
Lisa learns more about her great grandfather’s life after his crime through military records. George was sent off to fight in France in World War One and returned with a gunshot wound to the leg. In 1952 his death notice holds a big surprise for Lisa. George and his wife Mabel had 11 children, the eldest of them, Lisa’s grandfather, Colin – her dad’s father.
For the first time Lisa meets a relative from the Bloomer line, her second cousin Joe Porter. His mother and Lisa’s biological grandfather Colin Bloomer were siblings. Joe tells her that her grandmother Dorothy was very much in love with Colin. After they were married, Colin enlisted in army duty during WWII, and served in the Middle East.
Colin’s War Service records reveal he was continually in trouble with the army for repeatedly going absent without leave. At the Army Museum of WA in Fremantle Lisa meets military historian Dr Mark Johnston who has records of Colin Bloomer’s subsequent courts martial. Lisa reads a statement by Colin. “My child is suffering from attacks due to an enlarged heart. He's aged 2 and 4 months.” Colin was going AWOL because he was concerned for the health of his young family, but his pleas for mitigation fell on deaf ears. He repeated his offences and was locked up for increasing periods of time culminating in a one year sentence.
With some trepidation Lisa applies for her grandfather’s military medical record under the Freedom of Information Act. On his field medical card she reads the diagnosis “Depression psychosis. Anxiety state and psychopathic personality.” Colin suffered anxiety attacks, had trouble with his temper and experienced a number of breakdowns. After an attempted suicide he was transferred to hospital for psychiatric assessment. Colin was not institutionalised, he was discharged from the army. Three years later Lisa’s dad Malcolm was born.
“It’s quite amazing, you know, that night his attempt at suicide – if he had of gone through with it. It’s just a classic example of how life would have been so different because my dad would never have been born. Hence we would never be here. Life is amazing when you go back and look at it like that.” – Lisa McCune
Lisa wants to understand the sequence of events that led to her dad being sent off to foster parents, and his brothers being admitted to an orphanage. Child welfare records reveal some of the hardships her grandmother Dorothy and her children faced living in squalid public housing. Left with no food and no money, Dorothy sought assistance from the Department of Child Welfare and the children were taken into state care. The records reveal her strength of character and resilience during this time. Dorothy visited Lisa’s father once every month over the coming years – the maximum she was allowed – until she was able to bring her children home.