Melbourne, Australia is not only home to great culture, nightlife and great shopping, its also home to the set of the longest running Australian soap drama Neighbours.
In my younger days, I can remember coming home from school, rushing through my homework, then eating my dinner in front of the at the TV, almost open mouthed, screaming at the TV sometimes when that well known theme tune kicked in, at the end. We’d talk (my sister and I) for a while afterwards; completing our own post show analysis, imagining what could ever happen next.
At the time, I had a huge crush on Jesse Spencer (Billy Kennedy), and had many posters around my room. I was glued to the TV during these dinner times (dreaming that I could meet him one day!)
I had had a brief break in watching neighbours during my high school years, but later got into it. I later had a huge crush on Scott Timmins (Stingray), played by Ben Nicholas.
His death in the show was the final time I remember watching it. This was around 2007/8.
I treated the show like it was real life. I was involved. Its the most successful soap to have come from Australia. It proves more popular in the UK than Australia itself. One fact I learnt during the tour was that the show is even broadcast in Kenya and Vietnam!!
So, during my recent visit to Melbourne, I thought it would be criminal not to visit the set. Even though I wasn’t a current fan, or an avid watcher now, I wanted to relive some of my childhood and school day memories.
The tour of the Neighbours set is run by a company called Bunyip tours, who also run tours to the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island.
As I was travelling with a friend, we decided to book ahead. The tour itself costs $50 if you want to see just the street and meet a cast member, or $68 if you want that, plus access to the studios, to see the sets of Harold’s store, Lassiter’s Hotel, the high school and hospital. However, we ended up getting a package deal for the tour, and the neighbours night, plus a free ticket to the Eureka Skydeck for $90.
Our day began quite slowly, with a leisurely breakfast. We knew that we had to be at the Neighbours centre by 10.45am, and that it was on Flinders Street. Of course, the super organised traveller that I am, I didn’t look up a direct location, just caught a tram to Flinders Street station. It turns out that Flinders street is actually quite long. We seemed to be walking for miles, I glanced at the time, then at the number of the street we were at, we had 7 minutes to get there (by the tour departure time of 10.50am, not the tour meeting time) at that point I decided to run as fast as i could (this isn’t easy with flip flops on!) I made it at 10.51am and saw the tour bus pulling out of the road.
I knew I couldn’t just hail it and leave my friend, so I wandered in, hoping they could fit us in for the later tour at 3pm.
I was greeted by a busy team, who didn’t seemed at all bothered that i was late, they said another bus was leaving in 5 minutes. I relaxed, paid my $93 ($3 for card charges – it pays to carry cash!). My friend soon arrived and paid. We waited outside, with what appeared to be about 50 other people!
This is where we learnt that the centre we were at didn’t only run the Neighbours Tour, as it looks from the outside. It ran tours the above mentioned. At this stage, we saw the disorganisation of the company unravel before our eyes, as several tour buses, with no indication of where they were going appeared. A driver would get out and shout “people for bus 4, come with me”. Trouble was, we (and many others were not told a bus number). We were told that we were waiting to go with Gerry, who by that point, i had worked out was Northern Irish. This was awesome I thought, except that Gerry was nowhere to be seen. He turned up after 15 minutes after a passenger pickup (something we were told that wasn’t offered as a service).
A quick introduction to what we were about to go to, and we were off. I have to say, at this point I was thinking, this may be have been a waste of money.
Then … Gerry started talking. This dude is a bit of a legend. The whole way to the street we were kept entertained. He shared random facts and figures about neighbours that i had no idea about, including how in winter (when it gets cold in Melbourne) the use heat packs in bikini’s during the pool scenes.
Quote of the tour “did you know that Erinsborough is actually an anagram of Neighbours … OMG, get on twitter .. status update!”.
The actual street based on the TV show is filmed on a real street called Pin Oak Court in Vermont South, Melbourne. Its quite a small street, smaller than it looks on the screen.
Residents of this real street are paid $28000 per year for the disruption that filming causes. Pin Oak Court is clearly one of the best streets to live on in Neighbours .. you’d be gutted if you lived across the road.
During our time on the street, we had about 30 minutes. There was a security guard, as apparently sometime ago, a British tourist apparently jumped up onto one of the balconies, and urinated off it (classy bloke!).
After the street tour, we were able to head over to the studios, which were closed for the Christmas period. We hadn’t paid for this, but we got in for free. We quickly got to see Greese Monkeys, and the same building that doubles as a hospital and school (the tricks TV can play on you!) We saw the Lassiter’s hotel and the lake area. It all seemed very real by that stage.
On return to the centre in Melbourne, we got to meet and got the autograph of Sam Clarke (Ringo Brown), who was one of the last cast members I remember.
In the evening, we went to the popular Neighbours Trivia night. Held at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow pub in St Kilda, a replica British pub, this night highlighted how heavily the night was targeted to people from the UK.
We were told to get there for 6.30/7pm, but when we arrived, the doors didn’t open until 7.30pm. A total ploy for us to eat and drink in the pub (which was expensive for pub food … $16 for a pint of cider, I almost died!)
The night was hosted by some dude dressed up like crocodile Dundee (Pete was his name, I think). At the start of the night, we were all put together into teams for the Trivia night. Our team came 3rd, which wasn’t bad, considering most of the quiz was general knowledge (with a few neighbours questions).
We then had the chance to meet three ex stars, have a Q&A session with them, and have photos/autographs. We met Anne Charleston who played Madge Bishop, Ben Nicholas who played Stingray (Scott Timmins) and Carla Bonner who played Steph Scully. They were all so lovely. I had a huge crush on Stingray and so enjoyed my brief hug with him.
After this, there were opportunities to win some travel prizes through Bunyip tours, by doing ridiculous things such as a dance off, sing off etc. I didn’t participate (though should have … prizes included a trip to Uluru and the Great Ocean Road).
After this, Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson) came and sang for us. This was by far the best part of the night (after my wee cuddle with Ben). I had no idea that he sang the 80’s tune ‘don’t it make you feel good’. I had heard it before, and later found this out when I googled it. Classic 80’s music video!
The night overall was a but cheesy, but worthwhile.
If you’re in Melbourne, and are a neighbours fan, I’d definitely do the night, but if you want to save some money, just rock up to Pin Oak Court in Vermont South to see the houses. The commentary is cool along the way, but Its not worth the $50 on its own.