TONY SQUIRES – SMH COLUMN

By Tony Squires

If you’re Shirley Maclaine, the answer to Who Do You Think You Are? (SBS One, 7.30pm), would be an Egyptian princess, a medieval warrior and, in one past life, my current dog and I were well-to-do lovers.

Tuesday’s return of this series doesn’t have to travel nearly so far to find an equally fascinating story.

Family trees are wonderful things, although usually not quite so fascinating for those outside the family, whose limbs don’t belong on the tree.

But Who Do You Think You Are? continues to manage broad appeal, starting with comedian and perhaps the world’s most genial TV host, Adam Hills.

The keys for the celebrities who take this voyage are that they are good travelling companions and that something in their lineage surprises them. We need the moment when they look at a picture, a faded letter or a crumbling building façade and make a new, fundamental, life connection.

What we don’t need is a matter-of-fact, “yeah, I know that, I spend a lot of time on Ancestry.com”.

Hills is perfect. He has a good turn of phrase, a desperation to engage with the migrant ancestry on his mother’s side, and an openness to both the humour and emotion each jigsaw piece may bring.

While these journeys are intensely personal, they also offer a social history. Hills heads first to what was once Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, to trace his great grandfather, Oscar Kluckhenn.

It’s then to Malta to track down another line of the family who’d fled mass unemployment early last century, only to arrive in Sydney to banners reading “Maltese immigrants not wanted”. We were trying to send the boats back even then.

The final revelation is perfect for Hills and is probably already be part of his stand-up routine.

If you want modern history, stay with SBS One Tuesday for a special episode of Insight (8.30pm). Jenny Brockie is in Alice Springs to speak with Aboriginal teenagers. What they have to say won’t thrust Alice any higher on the World’s Most Liveable Cities list.

Trevor is 16 and he’s already had a joint on the day Brockie speaks to him. Why? Because it’s “about the only way you can be happy in this town”. Trevor wants to get out of a town where alcohol and fighting go glass in fist.

“Yeah, I fight … but I’m getting tired of it now.” Sixteen with the world-weary defeat of an old man.

Brockie is a sensational journalist so it’s hard to believe this bleak portrait of Alice Springs is in any way a – dare I say – beat-up.

When your heart beats so fast from anger and resentment and the only way you can find calm is to cuddle up to your pet snake because it can “feel your pain”, you know it’s been a tough day. That’s 17-year-old Ray’s story. Scary.

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