Lisa Wilkinson admits her upcoming appearance on the SBS genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? will feature “a lot of ugly cries” as the television star delves deep into her family’s past.
But while some discoveries were deeply heartbreaking, she said she formed a connection to the strong women at her roots that she’ll carry through her own life for years to come.
Having learnt more about her mother Beryl, who she sadly lost in 2018, it was a journey twinged with fresh pain for Lisa.
The journey – much to her astonishment – took her all the way to India.
“It was an incredibly emotional journey for me, I learnt a lot about the women in my family trees on both sides. And in ways that I wasn’t expecting,” she told news.com.au.
“I also learnt a lot about where the beautiful soul of my father came from,” she said, later adding: “There’s a lot of ugly cries that Australia is going to have to deal with.”
Speaking ahead of the episode airing Tuesday night, Lisa said it was Beryl’s 2018 passing that inspired her to learn more about her mother’s roots, and in the process, uncover the secrets Beryl wasn’t able to.
Having grown up shifting between orphanages, not knowing who her father was, with a mother whose substance abuse rendered her unable to care for her daughter, Beryl’s childhood was filled with pain.
But a chance encounter at a family wedding late in life at last handed her a puzzle piece of her past that Lisa was able to explore: the identity of her father.
“My mother only found out very late in life who her real father was,” Lisa explained.
“It had been kept from her, her mother never told her and she found out by complete chance at a family wedding.”
As Lisa dug further into the identity of her mother’s real father, she uncovered a surprising truth.
“Mum always presumed that she must have come from poverty,” Lisa said.
“There was a huge surprise for her and me that her story was very different.
“It was only through the early death of her father when she was still a baby that her mother was flung into poverty,” she said, explaining that her grandfather’s backstory – a newspaper journalist and son of a politician – painted a very different picture from the one they’d both imagined.
As she plunged deeper into the lives dotting her family trees, heartbreaking stories of hardship unfolded of women on both her mother’s and father’s sides.
“Every single one of them has done their very best to try and make the most of the very difficult circumstances that they’d been flung into,” she said.
“That was probably what moved me more than anything, I look at the lives that they led and wonder if I could have possibly been as resilient as those women,” she said.
Revealing that she had “no idea” India was even part of her story, Lisa said the entire process, which lasted two weeks, was a surreal experience.
“The way they delve into your history is so full of detail and they keep so much from you.
“Every day you have no idea where you’re going. They said we’re going to Sydney airport and pack for a warm climate. They took my passport and dealt with the visa, I was only allowed to be handed my passport until I got to border control and discovered I was going on a flight to Chennai,” she said.
Lisa spoke more about her appearance on the show on Instagram over the weekend.
“What I discovered explained so much for me and took me to places that broke my heart,” she wrote on Sunday.
“To be honest I’m feeling very nervous about it all because TV doesn’t get more raw or real than this … but it’s my story with all its missteps and flaws, but one that’s also full of acts of bravery and the unending resilience of my ancestors.”
Who Do You Think You Are? airs Tuesday, May 19 at 7.30pm on SBS