Melbored? – Ramsay St

This article first appeared in Farrago (Issue 5, 2013).

As a lifelong Forest Hill resident, I’ll be the first to admit my suburb doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions. It’s hard enough to locate my small municipality on a map, let alone include it in one’s travel itineraries.

Yet when Spice Girl Mel C recently touched down in Melbourne, a visit to my eastern suburbs community was at the top of her agenda. Indeed, she is just one of thousands of international visitors who make Forest Hill a travel priority. They just don’t know it as Forest Hill; they know it as Erinsborough.

Not actually Ramsay St

Not actually Ramsay St

A Neighbours cast member recently confirmed to me something I’ve always suspected: that 99% of Australia’s most iconic soap is filmed within a three-kilometre radius of my home. Having lived in Neighbours heartland all my life, it’s been difficult to avoid the soapie. Every now and then, I receive a letter from Grundy Television, informing me that they are filming two doors away and don’t want any disruptions. Meanwhile, at my local shopping centre, one can try playing Spot the Neighbours Star – a game I find difficult given all the characters I still recognise have been killed off.

Global Television’s studio in Forest Hill is where most of the magic happens, but remains the town’s greatest enigma. A fence and a strategic line of trees mark the perimeter of the 18-acre property, enabling the studio to shield production secrets from Neighbours muggles. For all their efforts to protect their plotlines, however, the studio feels little shame in their hundred-metre-tall television tower. For years this behemoth has been overlooking Forest Hill residents, improving their Channel 10 reception while increasing their susceptibility to cancer.

Keen to know the secrets behind this local landmark, I decided to jump aboard the Neighbours official tour bus. Ironically the only way of catching the Forest Hill-bound vehicle was to first make my way into the city, an inconvenience worthy of its own Neighbours subplot. But given that most of my fellow passengers had made the trip from Britain, I had no reason to complain.

When the bus made its first stop at Pin Oak Court, the secret alias of Ramsay Street, I had to feign enthusiasm. As much as I take pride in the proximity of this cul-de-sac to my own hood, I couldn’t muster up the care factor to pose with a phony Ramsay Street sign. For the Brits on my bus, however, this was to them what Abbey Road was to me.

I had a chat to a few of my new Pommy friends, keen to know their motivations behind embarking on this tour. One of them enthusiastically told me this was her second such tour in a week, having had such a ball the first time around. Another lady revealed she hadn’t watched Neighbours in years, but was convinced that a trip to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a detour to Erinsborough.

I can’t say I get too many thrills from living next door to the world’s most recognisable – not to mention dysfunctional – neighbours. What does excite me, though, is the knowledge that people from over 50 countries find my living quarters exciting. As I write, there are kids from Kenya, Iceland, and Vietnam looking wide-eyed at their televisions, wishing they were in Forest Hill.

Of course, they’re not looking at the real Forest Hill; as my tour guide repeatedly pointed out, Neighbours is all a big lie and nothing is what it seems. The interiors and exteriors of buildings reside five minutes away from one another. The local university shares the same building as the community centre, the police station, and the cafe. Moreover, all of this takes place within the cordoned-off Global Television headquarters, removed from the day-to-day lives of real Forest Hillians.

These realisations somewhat took the wind out of my sails, forcing me to concede that the Erinsborough of the airwaves and the Forest Hill of my childhood were not the same place.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that the real Mel C has visited my suburb. She may not have performed a live set at our local aquatic centre, or signed autographs beside the remnants of Wobbies World, or even took a selfie beside our exquisite forested hills. But a real Spice Girl has visited my neighbourhood. And that alone should put Forest Hill on the map.