The long goodbye
The Rafters’ spirit shines in poignant farewell
Call it the longest goodbye – one that required those at its centre to maintain a year-long facade. Confirmation that Packed To The Rafters was to end with its sixth season came just weeks ago, finally letting actors Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson off the hook.
They, and the rest of Rafters’ central cast, had known since early last year that season six would be the last of Rafters as they knew it. Which made shooting the final scenes, just before Christmas 2012, especially poignant.
As they wrapped up on set, they had to stay non- committal publicly while rumours flew about the show’s end.
In late January, the veteran acting duo carefully chose their words as Rafters returned to our screens after the summer non-ratings hiatus. If it was to be the ending of the familial drama, they said, the season six finale was a fitting one.
On Tuesday night, Rafters leaves our screens with a heartfelt two-hour finale that features all of the humour and heartbreak that have made the show so loved by Aussie viewers. It’s a poignant farewell – tying up loose ends, taking a trip down memory lane and offering promise of new adventures.
Gibney, who played matriarch Julie Rafter alongside Thomson’s patriarch Dave for more than five years, says she’ll watch it at home and be in floods of tears all over again. “I cried filming it, I cried watching it, and I’ll cry watching it again,” Gibney tells TV Guide.
Rafters may have come to its natural conclusion – after all, laughs Gibney, “if the kids were still in the house at 35, there’s something a bit wrong” – but the goodbye was still heart-wrenching.
“At the end, when you’re hanging up Julie’s outfit and saying goodbye to the people you love … basically, I spent the week before Christmas in tears,” Gibney says. “Especially when I’d look at Erik, or I’d look at Michael Caton. They’d just start to flow.”
Gibney’s and Caton’s heartbreaking performance in the finale is one of the most memorable of the goodbyes.
All season the pair has showcased an emotional storyline as Caton’s Ted slips into the ravages of dementia.
“Michael and I have almost a reallife father-and- daughter relationship,” Gibney says. “So losing him in character and knowing I was losing him off screen as well was hugely emotional.”
Both Gibney and Thomson say farewelling their on-screen marriage was the biggest wrench. “We’re husband and wife on screen, but our relationship off is more brother-sister, or friends without benefits,” Gibney says.
“Erik and I had such a shorthand. It made a job I loved so much more endearing. We still catch up regularly. I’ve done a lot of drama in 30 years, but never had such closeness with the cast that developed on this show.” Thomson is similarly adamant. “We’re friends for life,” he says. “We had a very easy rapport. Working so well with someone, so naturally, for so long, allows you both comfort and vulnerability in your work. It was a gift.
“I got to play the spectrum: the cheeky rapport; Dave meeting his birth mother for the first time; the story arc which explored him suffering depression – the gritty stuff and the real stuff.
“The peak was probably the death of Melissa (Zoe Ventoura’s Rafters character, killed in a car accident in a closely guarded secret that left viewers reeling). To me that was when the show crossed to a new level, when Rafters came off the screen and into reality.
“We realised then the power and the traction that the show had, and how it
I cried filming it, I cried watching it, and I’ll cry watching it again
was getting into the social fabric.”
Both Thomson and Gibney treasure the smaller scenes and moments which made the Dave-Julie dynamic so real.
“It was little things – like when Dave went out and got drunk and came home, flopped on the lounge slurring, and they subtitled him raving drunk,” Gibney laughs. “That was incredibly funny – and Erik is a very funny man.
“Another storyline I loved was when Julie was menopausal, and she asked Dave if he still thought she was beautiful – they were the very real and small moments I treasure.”
Thomson jokes that when they found out that Rafters really was coming to its conclusion, he wanted the ending to be all about Julie and Dave.
“Of course all the kids were back, but I kept saying to them: ‘You’ve all had your fantastic farewell episodes, so back off – this one’s for us.’ ” Thomson jests.