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Features > Only A Footstep Away: Memoirs of a Neighbours Night by Claire

The Date: Monday 19th May 2004
The Time: 7.00pm
The Venue: The Elephant and Wheelbarrow, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
The Price: AUD 35.00

During my recent trip to Australia, I was determined to attend a Meet Your Neighbours Night in St Kilda, an event organised by the Backpacker King in Melbourne. My partner Scott and I bought our tickets from the YHA in Fitzroy Street early, as we had been fore-warned that tickets sell out quickly.

We walked into the Elephant and Wheelbarrow an hour after the doors opened, the atmosphere charged with excitement. Three hundred mainly British backpackers sat at tables chatting, queued at the bar or stood watching a big screen over the stage which showed Neighbours clips. There was standing room only, so we bought our drinks and chose a spot next to the dance floor.

As the music faded, the compere George took to the floor to loud applause. He got everyone drunkenly singing the Neighbours theme tune. After some humorous banter with the audience, it was time to introduce the Neighbours one by one.

First out was Toadie (Ryan Moloney), a huge crowd favourite, dressed in a striped shirt and ripped jeans. The cheering was as loud as at any concert, as punters clapped their eyes on this TV legend for the first time. Chants of 'Toadie is a legend' rang out. Next to emerge into the limelight was relative newcomer Izzy (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) who made her way through the baying crowd to the sound of yet more cheering and whooping. Dressed in a black top and blue jeans, she charmed the crowd with a big smile, dispelling any reservations that she is anything like the objectionable character she portrays. Last but not least to be introduced, Dr Karl - as the posters refer to him - (Alan Fletcher), dressed in shirt and jeans. Like Ryan a long-standing member of the Neighbours cast, Alan received rapturous applause and football chanting to the tune of 'There's only one Karl Kennedy....'

George then proceeded to ask the stars some questions which had been requested by audience members earlier in the evening. This gave them the chance to speak directly to the crowd, to show their own personalities and to thank all the fans for coming along.

Due to recent romantic storylines involving Karl and Izzy, Alan and Natalie played it up for the audience, edging closer to each other on the stage. This prompted a group of lads behind us to start shouting "We love Susan!" (in defence of Karl's neglected wife) over and over as loud as they could, which added to the humorous atmosphere.

Eventually it was time for the pub quiz to begin, and another part of the bar was opened up so that we could all sit down at tables. The three Neighbours each made their way around to all the tables in turn, chatting informally to everyone and having plenty of photos taken with their fans. Scott and I sat with two girls from London, Lauren and Clare, and for pub quiz purposes we called our team 'Four Beers' as we had all just received our free half pints which came inclusive with the price of our entry ticket.

The first Neighbour to come to our table was Alan. Having already met him once before at a Neighbours Night, I asked him to suggest a different pose for our photo, and he suggested the Charlie's Angels pose, which made for a great picture. He was on great form that night, bubbling with energy and full of enthusiasm, no doubt building himself up for later in the night when he would take to the stage with his band.

Next to find her way to our table was Natalie, who in person is a lot smaller than she seems on television. She was lovely to talk to, very friendly and personable, and I felt like she really had time for me. We had our picture taken, and then Scott posed with her too, and I think I can safely say that she found a new admirer in Scott from that night on!

Ryan was the last to make his way to us. Again, I had met him at previous Neighbours Nights, and so I requested a different pose with him for a photo. He politely asked Scott if he could lift me up, which he then did, and this also turned out to make a great picture.

One thing that struck me is how willing these guys are to make your photo, and your night, as perfect as possible. They showed remarkable patience with us considering some people had been drinking heavily and had a tendency to be rowdy. The best thing for me was being able to give them a hug and tell them how great it was to meet them.

All the while on the dance floor, dancing and singing competitions were being held for travel type prizes such as coach tours and holidays to the Whitsunday Islands. All this as well as the pub quiz meant that this night was much more than just a chance to meet the Neighbours. It is perfectly aimed at the backpacking fraternity, with so many British and Irish travellers choosing to visit Melbourne.

Ryan was the first to leave, and this was announced so we could all cheer him once more before he left. Natalie was next to go, again to more applause. This left Alan, who was to round off the night in true rock star fashion, singing with his band. This was only the second week that he'd played this particular gig, but he was a natural on stage with a microphone, obviously a well-accomplished all-round entertainer.

Alan obviously loved performing on stage for his fans just as much as they enjoyed watching him. He sang pop songs from the past and present, and also sang Happy Birthday for any people celebrating that day. He played well into the night, much to the delight of all concerned.

The 'Four Beers' only came 9th in the pub quiz. But we'd had a great night anyway, and the four of us went for a drink, a snack and a chat at Topolino's late night Italian restaurant just a few doors away. Even Scott, a sceptical Australian, agreed that he'd enjoyed himself, and we were happy to have also made a couple of new friends in Lauren and Clare.

I had already been to Neighbours Night a couple of times before a few years ago, but no two nights here are the same. For anyone who's ever been a fan of Neighbours, this night is a 'must-do' during a visit to Melbourne. According to Backpacker King, this is 'The Best Night You'll Have In Australia!' I would have to agree with that.

For more information, check out the Backpackering King Website. To find the Elephant & Wheelbarrow, catch tram 16 from Swanston Street in the city, down St Kilda Road and then right into Fitzroy Street. The venue is just a few stops down on the left.