Kerri-Anne Kennerley has opened up on her resentment towards her grandmother after discovering how she shipped her mother off to live with another family member when she was just a child.
Appearing on SBS’ Who Do You Think You Are? – set to air on Tuesday night – the Studio 10 star, 65, took a trip down memory lane to try and finally find out her gran’s reasons for the decision – and give her mother Grace the answers she’s always wanted.
Grace was the last of 12 children and was forced to leave the family home to live with her mother’s sister when she was just 12 years old, shortly after her father – Kerri-Anne’s grandad – passed away.
“Basically she babysat her sister’s kids. What sort of woman just ships off their kid to be a glorified babysitter?” an angry Kerri-Anne asks on the show.
Opening up on the little she knows of her mother’s “tough upbringing”, Kerri-Anne admits she herself has inherited that “sheer absolute grit and determination” from her mother.
Now aged 97, the star explains that her mum still doesn’t know what led to her own mother’s decision – and it’s that fact that finally prompted the TV favourite to appear on the show and trace her roots back.
“I was a bit cross with my maternal grandmother… I’d like to know why and how she could have done it,” she admits. “And to be able to tell Mum a little bit more information would be fabulous.”
The show follows Kerri-Anne as she finds out about her great-grandfather, who was originally from Dundee, UK. She discovers he was a private in the army and served for 18 years before being discharged over his heavy drinking.
Seeing an advert for free transport to Queensland from the UK, her great-grandparents took the opportunity to move with their child – Kerri-Anne’s grandmother Margaret.
They settled together in Roma, QLD, in what’s now dubbed the “poverty blocks” due to the difficult land to farm on. From there, their luck went from bad to worse as Kerri-Anne’s great-grandad was charged with larceny (theft) and sentenced to nine months in jail. Following his imprisonment, his wife was hospitalised and a local report at the time stated the children (including Kerri-Anne’s gran) were left alone without food.
They were left to fend for themselves in the bush until a neighbour took them in. Her gran was 11 years old at that time. Eventually her great-gran recovered and her husband came home from prison, restoring the family unit.
However, Kerri-Anne then discovers that her grandmother went on to marry at the age of 14 to a husband 10 years older than her.
“I feel this enormous sadness for the whole family, let alone my grandmother. I never realised what a horribly tough, sad, sad life that she had,” she says. “I’m just hoping it was a happy-ish life because the rest of it has been pretty tragic.”
While the young couple appeared to be in love, Kerri-Anne finds out that her gran had actually run away from home to marry her grandad – causing a huge family upset.
Her grandfather worked hard as a wool carrier at the time, and as Queensland hit an economic downturn, he continued working a hard job until 70 when he died, leaving her grandmother in the middle of the depression.
“It wasn’t unusual for people not to be able to make ends meet, so what do you do with the kids,” an expert points out to Kerri-Anne, while explaining her history to her.
It’s then that Kerri-Anne is told that her gran had to make the impossible decision to give up care of Grace – in order to support the rest of her family.
“I had some serious reservations about my grandmother because I didn’t think she was fair to my mother, but now looking at her history, her life, how tough it was, makes you realise you should never by judgemental about people,” Kerri-Anne says.
She adds: “I don’t think my mother ever really resented anything, I probably resented it more than Mum did. I think she understood the times.”
Elsewhere on the show, Kerri-Anne also traces her father’s family back and discovers where the family inheritance money really came from, how one of her relatives tragically ended up in a mental institution and how her paternal grandparents overcame all odds to secure a happy life together in Australia.
Who Do You Think You Are? airs at 7.30pm, Tuesdays on SBS.