Sydney couple Ross and Sandra Buckton had no idea Australia’s highest-rating TV show, Packed to the Rafters, was based on their family – until halfway through the first series!‘I held off telling them for a while because I didn’t want them to feel invaded,’ close family friend and Rafters creator Bevan Lee admits sheepishly. ‘I’d go to family functions and there was this essence about them that was so decent. They’re
a force for good, and no matter what troubles come along, love gets them through.
‘Rafters is my love poem to an institution I’ve never been able to buy into because of my gay lifestyle. If I’d had a wife and family then I would have wanted them to be like the Rafters’ family,’ Bevan says.
Retirees Ross, 70, and Sandra, 68, say they’re both honoured to be played by Erik Thomson and Rebecca Gibney, but they don’t feel famous because of it.
‘Imagine Rebecca Gibney playing me?’ says Sandra, who lives with her husband on Sydney’s northern beaches. ‘Aren’t I the lucky one? I think she’s delightful, while we’ve loved Erik since his days on All Saints. He’s very similar to Ross.’ Like the Rafters, the Bucktons have two sons and a daughter, but are quick to point out their sons Anthony, 44, and Jamie, 42, are only vaguely like their on-screen counterparts Ben and Nathan.
‘Anthony looks like Ben and they’re both into computers,’ grins Ross. ‘But to be frank, Ben irritates me occasionally because he comes across as so weak, while our son has much more direction in his life.’
‘I’m proud that our normal Australian family has been parlayed into a TV show that people really love,’ adds Jamie. ‘I was brought up in the kind of house where if there was a spare room and I asked someone to stay, the answer was always “yes”.’
‘We had the perfect upbringing,’ concurs sister Tina, 39, aka Rachel Rafter, who was played by fellow blonde Jessica Marais before Jessica took off to pursue her Hollywood dreams.
‘Jess is gorgeous, though sometimes the similarities are embarrassing because I didn’t have half as many boyfriends as Rachel!’ laughs Tina.
As with the Rafters, Ross and Sandra’s offspring have returned back like boomerangs since moving out of home.‘We were often packed to the rafters,’ Sandra says. ‘I remember Jamie had a friend who came to live with us, then Tina brought a friend home for the night and five years later he left! We took in my foster brother for 18 months and there were many sleepovers.’ ‘My parents ended up giving Anthony and Tina a “move on” notice in their late 20s,’ Jamie adds. ‘They would have stayed forever.’
The popular series begins its fourth season this week and self-confessed TV drama junkie Sandra will be screen-side.‘It’s so nice to sit down and have a laugh with the family,’ she says. ‘We trust Bevan and never feel violated about him watching our lives. We’re our normal, uncomplicated selves in his company and Ross and I are both happy with how we’re portrayed.’
Adds Ross, with a wink: ‘We have a bit in common, but I don’t have a cupboard full of skeletons like Dave Rafter. We’re both electricians who got retrenched and became househusbands for a while. We love our families and sharing a beer in the garage and he’s a blokey man, not a ponce, which I like!’
And like Julie, Sandra plays the family matriarch with aplomb, solving all life’s problems over a nice cup of tea.‘She walks on eggshells trying to keep everyone happy all of the time, just like me, and has a lovely relationship with her daughter,’ Sandra says. ‘We’re also both strong and feisty.’But what about the hangers-on? Do ‘Carbo’, Ted Taylor and Jake Barton actually exist? ‘Not really,’ Ross pauses, in thought. ‘Though Jamie’s
best mate is a larger-than-life, dark-haired, part-Egyptian, part-Maltese character and he could pass as [Carbo].’
As the series unfolds, the Bucktons are noticing the Rafters storylines are going off on a tangent. ‘It’s because we’re just not interesting enough,’ jokes Ross. ‘But seriously, no family could go through the amount of dramas that they do – it only happens on television.’
‘But there are a few family secrets that haven’t been given oxygen, thank goodness,’ shoots back Anthony, cheekily.By Natalee Fuhrmann
Photos: Nigel Wright