LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers: The Kenniffs

LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers

The Kenniffs

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1 hour


LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers can be linked directly to the following subject areas of the Australian National Curriculum:

  • Year 9 History, Year 9 and 10 Science
  • Relevant Content Descriptions for Year 9 History
  • Relevant Content Descriptions for Year 9 & 10 Science

LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers blends science and history to deliver powerful documentaries that will have an impact and an enduring legacy. This series will change how Australians see their folk heroes, and themselves.
At the core of this series is a bold vision to investigate Australian colonial crimes and mysteries using modern day science and technology. Hosted by respected journalist Mike Munro (himself a descendant of bushrangers) we fol- low investigations into the past and deliver the findings in the present to living descendants of both bushrangers and those who fought against them.

Mike Munro’s real surname is not Munro: it’s Kenniff. The notorious Kenniff brothers were the last of Australia’s ‘wild colonial boys’ roaming remote north Queensland at the turn of the century, stealing cattle and horses with the confidence and skill of organized criminals.

Their careers culminated in a showdown in the Carnarvon Ranges that left one policeman and a civilian dead. Their victims’ bodies were found burned and chopped into pieces. Patrick and James Kenniff were caught and tried for willful murder – but they maintained their innocence to the bitter end. What turns thieves into brutal mutilators? Was there reasonable doubt that they didn’t do the deed?

Mike Munro needs to know – this isn’t just a question about the nature of crime and punishment, this story is deeply personal. The Kenniffs were Mike’s ancestors and the cause of shame for his family through generations. The LAWLESS team embark on a factual and forensic analysis of the crime to search for answers and Mikes meets descendants from the other side of the story. Against the backdrop of a brutal event, this case marks a pivotal point in the history of our evolving laws and nationhood and this investigation makes for an extraordinary personal journey for host Mike Munro.


ACTIVITY – Profile of The Kenniffs

Using information from this episode, as well as your own research, students are to produce a hard copy or digital biography of The Kenniffs.

Please note: There may be little information available on The Kenniffs; as such, you may have to rely on the information gained from this episode of ‘LAWLESS’. Information to include:

  • Family background and early life
  • Initial run-ins with the law
  • Their actions as a bushranger
  • Their alleged role in the murders on Easter Sunday,
  • 1902 and subsequent trial.

If creating a digital biography, students can use tools such as glogster ( or padlet (


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Activity: Drawing conclusions about The Kenniffs

Working in pairs, answer the following questions. Share and discuss as a class.

  1. Paddy Kenniff was condemned to death on the word of a single witness, the police tracker Sam Johnson. After watching the episode, do you think there ap- pears to have been any problems with Sam Johnson’s testimony?
  2. We meet Bill Lawton, an elder of the local Bidjara peo- ple, whose grandfather often rode with the Kenniffs. What family secret does he reveal regarding the mur- ders and how does Mike react to this?
  3. Following the team’s examination of the range of evidence, do you think the right Kenniff was punished for the murders? Explain your answer and discuss as a class.


Activity: Focus on the descendants

Renowned journalist and host of ‘LAWLESS – The Real

Bushrangers’, Mike Munro is the great nephew of the Kenniff Brothers. As he states: “Patrick Kenniff was my great uncle. And for years I wanted to know if Patrick was innocent as he always claimed or just a cold-blooded killer, who some say, deserved to hang in

Sisters Meryl Campbell and Norma Jurss are the great nieces of Constable George Doyle, the policeman who was brutally killed and mutilated by the Kenniff brothers in Queensland, 1902. Their grandfather was George Doyle’s brother, and the sisters have learned the story of George’s death through stories handed down the generations. The family believe that one of the Kenniffs did the crime, but they’re not sure which one. More information would give them a sense of closure.

  • How would you describe the meeting between Mike, Meryl and Norma? How did their great uncle’s murder impact their family? What are they seeking in terms of helping them to deal with the tragic event?
  • How would you describe the final meeting of Meryl, Norma and Mike? Do you think there has been any closure for the descendants? Discuss as a class.


Useful, interesting, challenging, materials can be found at the websites below.

Download & Print PDF – STUDY GUIDE