Mike Leyland, MBE (4 September 1941– 14 September 2009) and Mal Leyland, MBE (born 1945), also known as the Leyland brothers, were Australian explorers and documentary film-makers, best known for their popular television show, Ask the Leyland Brothers. The show ran on Australian television from 1976 until 1984.
In November 1990 the Leyland Brothers opened the theme park Leyland Brothers World (32°37′3″S 152°4′48″E), on a 40 ha property at North Arm Cove on the Pacific Highway north of Newcastle, New South Wales. It included a 1/40 scale replica of Uluru, as well as amusement rides, playground, roadhouse, museum and a 144 student capacity bush camp. In a 1997 article in the Sunday Age, Mike Leyland said that the initial A$1 million loan blew out due to rain during construction and a 27% interest rate. In July 1992 Chris Palmer of BDO Nelson was appointed receiver and manager of the park when the Leyland Brothers company failed to meet its loan commitment to the Commonwealth Bank. Auctioneers Colliers Jardine estimated the yearly attendance of the park to be about 400,000 people, with 10,000 students for the bush camp. After an auction held by the receiver on 26 November 1992 the theme park was sold for $800,000, and continues to trade successfully as the Great Aussie Bushcamp.[ The brothers went bankrupt.
After the 1992 bankruptcy, Mike and his wife Margie ran a New Lambton video store and worked for the park’s new owner. In 1997 Mike sold part of his Tea Gardens property to fund the production of a far north Queensland film for Channel Seven. Mike and his wife Margie signed a contract with Channel Seven for 12 one-hour documentaries, the first of which aired in 1998 in The World Around Us slot. On 14 September 2009 Mike Leyland died from Parkinson’s disease. He was 68 years old. Mike is survived by his wife Margie, his daughters Kerry, Sandy and Dawn, his stepdaughters Sarah and Alison, and seven grandchildren.
Mal and his wife Laraine ran a photo processing lab in Queensland and launched a travel magazine. In 1997 Mal and Laraine launched a bi-monthly magazine, Leyland’s Australia. In 2000 Mal produced the television show Leyland’s Australia, with his wife Laraine, daughter Carmen and her husband Robert Scott – travelling around Australia in a caravan. In April 2000 Channel 9 cancelled the show after 6 episodes but the series was then picked up by Network Ten.
Leyland Brothers: Mal Leyland reveals financial rift tore popular brothers apart
Australian Story By Brietta Hague
Updated 16 Feb 2015, 11:34am
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.”
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.
Mal Leyland speaks with Australian Story
PHOTO: Mal Leyland says the financial rift over the failed theme park ended up pushing the brothers apart. (ABC: Anthony Sines)
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.
Tim Alderman 2015