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All You Need are Neighbours

Pin Oak Court is a corner of Australia well-known to millions of Britons who have never set foot in the Southern Hemisphere. This unassuming, suburban Melbourne close has been beamed into British homes twice daily, five times a week for 17 years. It has been home to household names such as Helen Daniels, Scott Robinson and Mrs. Mangel, and is today inhabited by the Kennedy, Scully and Hoyland families. Pin Oak Court is a living television set, and is better known to us Poms as Ramsay Street.
 Whilst still popular at home, Neighbours doesn’t have the same exotic allure as it does back in the old country. For its British fans, it depicts an ideal life in a sunny, relaxed, friendly country where people still play cricket in the street. It provides a form of escape not found in gritty home-grown soaps like Eastenders and Coronation Street. Most Australians I’ve spoken to about Neighbours, seem perplexed by our fascination, and fail to realise that most young British people’s earliest perceptions of their country were greatly influenced by the adventures of day-to-day life on Ramsay Street.

Ramsay Street

 Neighbours really began to take off in the late 1980s as I was going into my teens. A passion for the goings on in Ramsay Street exploded at schools all over Britain. We would spend every last minute of our break-times swapping stickers of Jim in the swimming pool for Des and Daphne in the Coffee Shop, whilst avidly discussing whether Kylie and Jason really were having an off-screen romance, despite their vigorous denials. My Neighbours mania was all consuming. I began to tell people to “rack off”. I dreamt of wearing a little beige and maroon checked dress to school, rather than a regulation dark brown a-line skirt and blazer. I even managed to convince my mother to make me a special Coffee Shop chocolate milkshake every evening after school, double malted, just like Scott Robinson of course.
 This Neighbours obsession soon extended to full-on Jason Donovan worship. Every inch of my bedroom wall was covered in posters of the divine Jason in any number of alluring poses. I would spend hours convincing anyone who would listen, that Jason’s relationship with Kylie was purely professional. In spite of the age gap, he would eventually come to his senses and realise that he and I were meant to be together, and we would live happily ever after somewhere in Erinsborough. It was fate.
  My burning passion for Jason has dulled over the years, along with Jason’s career, and I now consider myself a relatively well balanced adult. Due to the rigours of the working world, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that recently I’ve missed more episodes of Neighbours than I would have liked. However, when it came to planning a few months away, the remnants of that adolescent obsession convinced me that the time had finally come to see Australia for myself.

The Robinson’s Kitchen

Imagine my delight when arriving Down Under, in Sydney to be precise, I found that many of my adolescent Neighbours-inspired insights into Australian life were confirmed. People actually do say “G’day”, pay for things with brightly coloured money, and drink orange juice out of oversized plastic bottles. It all felt strangely familiar.<!–page–>
 As beautiful as Sydney was, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. It was only when I left to travel on to Melbourne that the nostalgia kicked in, and I started to feel like I was getting to where I wanted to be. Arriving in what’s know mysteriously in Erinsborough as “the city”, I was more than impressed. Melbourne is a vibrant, bustling place with plenty going on, not the threatening place described by Tad and Flick. <!–page–>As most guide books consider themselves above providing help with such things, I made my way to the tourist office outside Flinders Street station to coyly ask for directions to Ramsay Street. I’m not sure whether the smirking lady behind the desk was convinced by the old “My mother would be really upset if I didn’t go and take a photo for her” excuse.
 I woke up early the next day, which was just as well as Pin Oak Court is quite a trek from central Melbourne by public transport. The first stage was to catch a train out to Glen Waverley – one of Melbourne’s busiest suburbs. From there an infrequent bus runs up Springvale Road, passing close to Pin Oak Court. I took my life into my hands crossing Springvale Road, one of the main routes out of Melbourne, not something I’d imagined lurked in the no-mans land just around the corner from Ramsay Street. However, just three streets down from the main road, I finally stumbled across Pin Oak Court. Joy of joys, they were filming an episode!

Susan and Libby…

Because of the filming, myself and my fellow pilgrims were kept at a safe distance by a wooden barricade, watched by a cheerful security guard. He seemed genuinely bemused by the Neighbours phenomenon. Apparently about 300 sightseers come down to see the famous street every day. About 95% are British, he told me with a sympathetic smile.
 The day I had chosen was a particularly hot mid-February day of about 36 degrees and full ozone-lacking Australian sun. But could I tear myself away to sit in the shade or go to the beach? Of course not, there was filming to be watched. I’m not embarrassed to say that I stood there, in the heat, for 3 hours, watching take after take of Lou Carpenter driving down around the corner and into the street. I watched as Libby and Drew pushed a pram down their driveway and were engaged in idle chit-chat by that icon of icons, Harold Bishop. I didn’t even run away in shame when a couple of boy racers revved their way past, cruelly shouting “Get a Life!” at the assembled crowd. I was utterly transfixed. It was a dream come true, yet somehow quite unsettling to discover that these people I’d been watching for years don’t actually live in this pleasant street, but camp out in dressing room trailers in a car park around the corner. A few lucky families actually do live in the houses of Pin Oak Court, and are paid vast sums for the inconvenience of the filming, which takes place about twice a week on the street itself.
 Eventually I dragged myself away, promising that the next day I’d pay a visit to the Melbourne Museum, where one of the original Neighbours sets has been reconstructed. My thumping headache also reminded me that I needed to get something for my heat-stroke on the way back into the city. It had been more than worth it though. Now, back in rainy London, whenever I switch on to see what Joe Scully, Karl or Toadfish have been up to, I can quietly say to myself that, like the thousands of other British backpackers that make the trip each year, I have seen the real Ramsay Street.

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