The Neighbours Census

It’s been the quintessential TV street for more than 25 years, but who really makes up Neighbours’ suburban cul-de-sac?

TV Tonight takes a wander down Ramsay Street and asks the residents to fill out key questions on the Australian Census form. How representative are they of the wider community in income, ethnicity, religion and occupation?

Neighbours, as its iconic theme song has always told us is where “you can find the perfect blend.”  In fact there are many blended families.

Just one of the six houses comprises anything close to a nuclear family unit of mum, dad and child by natural birth. Contradicting Peter Costello’s 2004 decree of “one for mum, one for dad and one for the country,” the rest of the street is a mix of blended, single-parent families, shared households, foster and adopted children. Some of this is a result of the rigors of soap and cast members who exit.

22 Ramsay Street (Robinson house)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
1 male parent Paul Robinson (divorced), 1 dependent Andrew Robinson = 2
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
2 Australian (1 Scottish), Anglican
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$1,200,000, 1 full-time self-employed (hospitality & media), 1 part time (hospitality) student

24 Ramsay St (Ramsay house)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
1 single female Kate Ramsay, 2 single males Lucas Fitzgeral & widower Lou Carpenter, 1 dependent Sophie Ramsay= 4
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
4 Australian, 3 Christian, 1 no religion
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$80,000, 1 full-time self-employed (mechanic), 1 part time (hospitality) student teacher, 1 retiree.

26 Ramsay St (Share house)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
2 single females Jade Mitchell, Michelle Tran, 1 single male Kyle Canning = 3
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
2 Australian, 1 Vietnamese ancestry , 1 Anglican, 1 Buddhist
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$150,000, 2 full-time self-employed (fitness & landscaping), 1 full-time (florist)

28 Ramsay St (Kennedy house)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
1 married couple Karl & Susan Kennedy, 1 married male Mal Kennedy, 1 dependent Summer Hoyland= 4
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
4 Australians , 3 Christians, 1 Catholic
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$180,000, 2 full-time (doctor & journalist)

30 Ramsay St (Toadie’s house)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
1 de facto couple Jarrod Rebecchi & Sonya Mitchell, 1 dependant Callum Jones = 2
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
2 Australian, 1 Italian ancestry, 2 Anglican, 1 Catholic
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$160,000, 1 full-time (lawyer), 1 self-employed (garden nursery)

32 Ramsay Street (Williams House)
Residential Status / Relationship / Marital Status:
1 single male (widower) Michael Williams, 1 dependent Natasha Williams = 2
Nationality / Ethnicity / Religion:
1 Australian, 1 Serbian ancestry, 2 Anglican
Household Salary / Occupation / Full or Part Time:
$95,000, 1 full-time (school principal)

The show also has other characters with other backgrounds, but are not resident on Ramsay Street.

Executive Producer Susan Bower told TV Tonight she was passionate about effecting ethnic change in Erinsborough and that after three and half years at the helm these were slowly coming through. It has begun with extras, bit players and supporting characters seen in Erinsborough Hospital, Charlie’s Bar, and Erinsborough High School.

In the Shared House at 26 Ramsay Street, ‘Michelle Tran’ is played by Vietnamese-Australian actress HaiHa Le (Bed of Roses).

Natasha Williams at 32 Ramsay Street will soon be joined by her Serbian mother. Another upcoming storyline involving local councillors will see characters of Indian descent, following on from 2010’s Dr. Doug Harris, played by Mahesh Jadu.

Bower says effecting such change in the show is a slow process, but one that is close to her heart.

“In the past that when we have looked at new neighbours it’s best that they are attached to the street in some way, because that’s been the culture of Neighbours. There is some difficulty in getting different ethnicities and actors of different cultures across the line as far as casting approvals are concerned,” she says.

“I’m very proud that after three and a half years I’m getting some of this across the line. It’s not for lack of trying, it’s not for lack of enthusiasm or anything else.

“The show has many masters who come and go and that’s always been the case. It’s a matter of juggling. This year it could be because I’ve driven them all mad.”

She remains pragmatic about what lays ahead.

“I think we’ve still got a long way to go. I’m not going to say we’re doing a great job, but we’re doing better than we were,” she says.

“It’s like turning the QEII around in so many ways.”

Six years ago Ramsay Street had characters of Italian, Byelorussian and Tibetan ancestry, with religions including Salvation Army, Russian Orthodox, Church of England. The top household income was $560,000.

Now it is home to Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic faiths and household incomes that range wildly from $80,000 per annum to $1.2m.

Twenty five years ago the houses were aspirational to Australian audiences. Such has been the success of the long-running show that ironically, now they are barely middle class.

Dramatic license is needed to justify that a successful businessman such as Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) would not upscale to a more luxurious abode.

“Stefan answers that question a lot and says it’s where he has great family ties. But he travels the world when he needs to and affords great cars. But it’s just one of those things,” admits Bower.

Bower also defends the show’s track record in representing blended families in an Australian neighbourhood. She once stood up at a school meeting to question a teacher’s phrase about children coming from ‘broken families.’

“I’m a single parent but our family isn’t broken,” she says.

“We are looking at 2012 at bringing in a new family. We do want mum, dad and a couple of kids.

“Bringing about change on Ramsay Street is quite a slow process for a myriad of reasons. But what are you going to do –kick out the Kennedys? I don’t think so.”

Nuclear families have had mixed success on Ramsay Street. Since famously moving in the Scully family in 1999, other family units have not fared so well.

“Everybody hated the Parkers and they kept on hating the Parkers until we got rid of the Parkers. And the Timmins. There was a furore about the Timmins. But now it’s ‘Oh the good ‘ol days, we loved the Timmins.’ So the fans’ views are very interesting,” Bower explains.

“You don’t want to jump the shark. You’ve got to slowly introduce people. The share house this year has been a great opportunity to bring in young singles, who reflect where a lot of our audience is living.

“That opens up the possibility of characters from different cultures.”

Since moving to ELEVEN the soap has managed to bring many of its audience with them, regularly topping the night on digital channels, and matching ratings for 6:30 with George Negus.

“It was a bold move and to be very honest we all held our breath,” she admits.

“We’re quite often the number one show on Five (UK) too.”

“So we’re the reigning show on digital channels on both sides of the globe.”

Neighbours airs 6:30pm weeknights on ELEVEN.

22 Comments:

  1. It’s great Neighbours is finding it’s feet again.I haven’t watched that many episodes since they moved it to Eleven except for the time I was in the UK in June and it’s a good show.I would so like to one day visit Melbourne and do the tour

  2. I have to agree – kudos, David, for such a detailed piece. Can we expect H&A, come next census time?

    I also have to agree with many of the comments. Amid a sea of current affairs, the show has kept its small audience – but the figures are nothing to be proud of.

    Is the producer that delusional, or is it spin? I kinda fear the former. Especially when she makes those kinds of remarks about families. Viewers love them. Poor casting & poor writing are the only turn-off factor – and there has been a lot of both in recent times.

  3. I know and I accept that, David, but it nevertheless illustrates a fair point, don’t you think? We can make the figure an average of say 350k if you like but the facts remain the same. I personally find the decline of Neighbours a very sad thing.

  4. Great idea to do a Ramsay St census. Just wanted to point out the ratings in 2008 were an average of 700,000 (conservatively) At the time the new producer was hired she said in an interview those numbers were not good enough. The end of 2010 on the main channel they reached an average of 500,000. It has steadily built since moving to 11 from 200,000 up to 400,000 +, but would love to hear their opinion on why the figures have gone south and now stabilised. Ms Bower driving them crazy doesn’t give away much information.

  5. I think Stefan Denis has been miscast in Neighbours, he’d make a great Lex Luthor in the new Man of Steel movie. Unfortunately he’s a bit short to be Darth Vader but he could be a great Green Goblin.

  6. Ms. Bower might like to have a quick reality check. Just last Friday the once-mighty
    Neighbours attracted a total audience of 283k – a mere fraction of the audience
    she inherited some three and a half years ago.

  7. Hilarious David, loved the Ramsay Street census. Great interview with Susan Bower too. It seems like every couple of years there’s a media beat-up about Neighbours not having enough diversity. Hopefully this will shut them up for a while! As you alluded to, there is also a permanent teenage character of Greek descent who is gay. I’d say that’s more diverse than any other Australian drama in recent years.

  8. I don’t think it has ever been definitively said that Tash’s mum is dead just that she is not around.

    I must say there is a lot of un-religious behaviour going on in a street where everyone bar 1 person claims to be religious.

    They obviously missed the Census No Religion campaign.

    @ Earthquake – Libby is away at the moment as the real life actress was being treated for health issues.

  9. Whats this about everybody hating the Parkers and the Timmins? Gosh, I never did. The Timmins were funny and the Parkers I had no problem there, either. Thought it was a bit sad when both went.

    @Earthquake – yes, I too have wondered what happened to Libby. I do watch Neighbours, but at times I’m not paying very close attention. I just remember that she and Lucas were pretending to be a couple, then all of a sudden I’m just not seeing Libby anymore. Would have been good to see her with Malcolm again. I’m guessing she isn’t there due to being sick in real life but, I have no idea where Libby the character is and what her last scene was.

  10. I always laugh at the apparent fortune of Paul Robinson, he’s clearly not to interested in showing it to anyone with his small open plan kitchen, dining room & lounge its almost like a small flat. Also isnt his media empire just made up of a community newspaper and a community/student radio station.

  11. Loved the article, David. Although, I thought Paul would be earning more than $1.2m – but maybe that’s just his salary and not the earnings from owning Lassiter’s and the newspaper.

    Also, I thought Natasha’s mum died? And what happened to Libby at the Kennedy’s?

  12. Tim Kingston

    Top article David ! I have been a fan and avid watcher for probably 12 years now, only started watching when the Kennedys moved in I think that was about 12 years ago now I could be wrong. I am not an usual audience I guess as I am in my 60’s, and I do a radio show on community radio, and when Neighbours had its celebrations I played the theme and gave a few facts about the show. I got a lot of phone calls after I said that ” Neighbours is the thinking man’s Home And away”

  13. So Paul is on a cool 1.2mil for self employed media and hospitality. Compare that to one David Knox, apparently self employed in the media field.

    Seems like you might make a decent amount of scratch, David. How ’bout a loan? 😀

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