A household name and one of the most recognisable faces on Australian television, Mike Munro made a name for himself as a journalist on shows like 60 Minutes, A Current Affair and Sunday Night and as a presenter of the long-running show This is Your Life.
In 2018, he hosted a multi-part series on the History Channel on Australian bushrangers. More recently, his book The Last Bushrangers further explored the story of infamous criminal duo, the Kenniff brothers.
As part of the 2019 Mudgee Readers' Festival, Mike and ABC Western Plains presenter Nick Lowther will be joined by guests at The Pavilion at Lowe for the event: This Is Your Life: a dinner with Mike Munro.
Mike Munro spoke with the Mudgee Guardian ahead of the Readers' Festival event to speak about the book, his career and his connections to Mudgee.
More Readers' Festival:
A family secret
No one talked about it for eighty years. My father’s generation got a clip around the ears if anyone mentioned the Kenniff brothers.
Growing up wasn't easy for Mike. His younger years were marred by an abusive and alcoholic mother and a father that he barely saw. He says that these hardships are what drove him to succeed.
The world he knew was turned upside down when Mike was in his early thirties. His father, gravely ill, revealed that his real family name was not Munro, it was Kenniff.
Mike learned that at one point, his grandfather decided to illegally change his name from Patrick Kenniff to Henry Munro - presumably to distance the family from the notorious bushrangers.
Even more shocking was the reputation attached to the surname. Brothers Patrick and James Kenniff were among the last of Australia's bushrangers, roaming remote Queensland at the turn of the century, mainly stealing livestock.
After a shootout which left a police officer and civilian dead, the brothers were tried and eventually hanged for their crimes. Mike says the legal establishment was eager to convict the brothers despite the general public being largely supportive of the two.
"There was still a bit of sympathy around for them up until their hanging. But because the legal establishment went to such great lengths [to catch them] they didn't want to miss them," he said.
"For example: they moved the court from Rockhampton to Brisbane to introduce a special jury which had only been introduced in Queensland a handful of times in the years before the act became legal in 1865.
"So a special jury of pastoralists, lawyers and professional people were brought in who were not going to miss these guys."
After decades of research and investigation, the book, The Last Bushrangers focuses on the life and death of the brothers and reveals more about the lineage of the Kenniff name.
A hidden history
My mum and dad split up and mum would often say to me when she’d criticise me, ‘you're just from a family of murderers and bushrangers anyway’.
Mike spoke enthusiastically about the book and his time spent investigating the Kenniff brothers and their escapades.
"I was going through Ireland a lot doing an investigation for 60 Minutes, I started going to Trinity College and they have a fantastic genealogy department. I started to research the Cunniffes from Tipperary," he said.
"Of course when the Kenniffs arrived in Australia none of them could read or write. When they were being busted by the cops you know, they'd ask 'what's your name?', 'Oh my name's Patrick Kenniff' - 'Patrick what!?'. 'Patrick Kenniiiiiff'...'how do you spell that?'.
He insists it wasn't something emotionally tough to face, rather, approaching it like a good journalist would.
"For me, it wasn't an emotional journey. I'd been looking over it for the last 25-30 years anyway. It was a hard slog going through 600 pages of trial and appeal transcripts. That was - it was interesting but a hard slog," he said.
"My grandfather had five children the youngest of them was my father. They all grew up illegally as Munro most of their lives until the old man died and a death certificate was issued. I guess that's when the name became legal.
"My dad - on the rare occasions I saw him - always said to me: 'You never dob' and 'You never become a copper'.
"I used to think, 'geez where's all that coming from?' and now I understand. His older brother would be turning in his grave is he knew I was a journo telling the whole Kenniff story."
Mike's visit to Mudgee for the Readers' Festival won't be his first, in fact he has family in the region with his daughter living in Mudgee with his 'three beautiful grandchildren' and that the first time he ever came to our town he fell in love.
"I just absolutely fell in love with it. It's a really friendly, lovely town. It's just the quintessential Aussie town for me," he said.
"Mudgee has some really good, solid people, I do wish that somehow that lovely generous lovely country spirit could spread to the cities. We need more of that supporting community spirit in the cities and Australia would be a much better place."
Mike Munro: This is Your Life will be held at The Pavilion at Lowe on Saturday, August 17. Tickets are $95 which includes a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, followed by a four course gourmet meal.