Many family businesses either start as sibling partnerships or husband and wife teams. If successful the business may expand, continue through the generations and become a long term legacy of wealth for the family group. Sometimes, as in the case of the Leyland Brothers, governance, due diligence and good communication become the stumbling blocks for long term success. –David Harland – Family Business Advisor
Long before Steve Irwin was jumping on crocodiles, Mike and Mal Leyland were sailing down the Darling River in a chaotic dinghy without oars — all in the name of entertainment.
They were the television legends whose wild adventures captured Australia’s imagination.
Armed with a camera and a catchy song that few can forget, they pioneered a successful outback documentary format and made millions of dollars along the way.
But it was their disastrous decision to branch out into the tourism industry by building their theme park Leyland Brothers World that would end the brothers’ collaboration — and relationship.
Mike Leyland died in 2009 and his brother Mal, now 70, has now agreed to repeated requests from Australian Story to tell their story.
“This is the first time that I’ve publicly spoken about what happened to the Leyland Brothers and why Mike and I went our separate ways,” Mal Leyland said.
“We made a conscious effort to make sure that people thought we were still travelling together.
“We didn’t want people to feel as though we were actually ready to rip each other’s throats out.”
By the time the project collapsed in 1992, they had lost more than $6 million and were bankrupt.
“The receivers came in and took possession of the whole lot,” Leyland said.
Who were the Leyland Brothers?
Australian explorers and documentary film-makers Best known for their TV show Ask the Leyland Brothers, which ran from 1976-1984.
Starred in a following series called Leyland Brothers’ World Both brothers were awarded MBEs in 1980 “in hindsight, Leyland Brothers World was a huge mistake, the biggest mistake we ever made.”
Amid the financial woes, media reports claimed the brothers had transferred more than $1 million of assets into their wives’ names over an 18-month period.
“I didn’t really mind losing the money. I objected to being treated like a criminal because I lost the money,” Leyland said.
“The partnership that Mike and I had for 29 years was crumbling before my eyes and I knew would never be the same again.
“And since there was now nothing left that we jointly owned, there was no need for us to stay in partnership, so for the first time we went our separate ways.”
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Brothers were original Ten Pound Poms
Despite their quintessentially Australian characters, the brothers were born in England and arrived in New South Wales in 1950.
Even at a young age they were fascinated by the outback and all things Australian.
The Brothers first set off to explore the country with their cameras in 1961 when Mal Leyland was just 15 and television was first starting to come to Australia.
They were the first to film Uluru in the wet and first to travel the length of the Darling River in a dinghy.
“We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. We were so inexperienced; we had no oars and only an outboard motor,” Mal Leyland said.
The adventures grew in size and ambition.
Their decision to travel from Australia’s western-most to eastern-most point was a feat never before captured on camera.
It was this entrepreneurial take on filmmaking that led to their early success.
“We decided we would road show the film, we would take it around the country and hire town halls, cinemas if we could, and advertise it ourselves and see how we went,” Mal Leyland said.
It was a risk that paid off.
“At the end of the two-week season we’d recovered $15,000, enough money to buy three houses at the time,” he said.
And so the Leyland Brothers were born.
Before long, their quirky television program Ask the Leyland Brothers was attracting some of the highest ratings of the 1970s and 80s, and the theme song is still a familiar tune to millions of Australians.
“Their place in television history is there forever. Historically, the films are incredibly important,” said entrepreneur Dick Smith, whose decision to make his own travel documentaries was inspired by the success of the Leyland Brothers.
Are you interesting in ensuring the future success of your Family Business? Contact FINH on 07 3229 7333