Every weeknight when I see the time nearing 7pm, I still think “Oh, Home & Away’s on”. For years the tumultuous lives of the idyllic beachside township of Summer Bay brought my country household closer each day. I loved it. Part of me still does, despite the widening gap between me and the target audience.
I’ve been pretty disengaged lately, but I never felt such emotion than when I saw the Bay’s newest lezzos dominating prime-time ad breaks. As much as I was walking on air at the thought of Willow and Alex continuing a meaningful, consensual connection on one of Australia’s longest-running and most-successful soaps, I was also full scepo.
And us queers have every reason to be.
If the past is anything to go by, Home & Away is bound to let young queers down, yet again. So let me be the one that you turn to, someone you can rely on for a solid history lesson on all the times the show has 100% cooked it.
There’s been eleven total queer remnants in the 31 years since the show aired, all of which quickly skipped town or died, depicted as deceitful outliers, rejects of heteros, or as fresh meat for the next Summer Bay sweetheart of the opposite sex. I couldn’t clock the air-time, but I’d bet these storylines combined wouldn’t make up even half of a leading character’s contract.
In 1994, Shannon Reed (played by Isla Fisher no less) was the first non-straight-esque character to land bay-side. She was bisexual, noted only by the unreciprocated crush she had on her mentor Mandy Thomas. Shannon had relationships with men for three years, and although her parting storyline implied that she had moved away with a female partner, it was never directly stated. In the years since, queers haven’t been any more worthy of positive portrayals.
A notable effort from the writer’s room came in 2009, between Joey Collins, the troubled deckhand, and Charlie Buckton, the hot local cop. But it was only two weeks before kissing scenes were cut after 100,000 viewers tuned out and the network became inundated with complaints. It took six weeks for Joey to disappear out to sea forever, and not long after Charlie shacked up with her cop-shop mate Angelo Rosetta. FFS.
Then Ty Anderson arrived in the Bay in May 2018, five months after Australia’s same-sex marriage legislation came into effect. It seemed like Home & Away was finally shaping up for us, but we swiftly bowed our glitter cannons. By August, Ty had legged it after finding himself a beard in his gal-pal Raffy and making a pass at his unwilling male friend Ryder. While Ty coming out was met with support from Summer Bay residents, it was nothing but an empty, recycled storyline for viewers.
Remember Christopher Fletcher, Pippa and Michael’s son? His short return-visit to the Bay in 2003 saw him heralded as the first openly gay male character, if only because old-mate Alf Stewart gave his sexuality the grand Akubra hat-tip of approval. But it wasn’t long before Chris tried to kiss his straight mate Seb Miller, flipped out and ran back to life with Pippa.
Much like a commitment ceremony, Ty’s story was same-same but actually wildly non-inclusive and another signal that we’re too different to be valid.
In Summer Bay, you’re more likely to face a natural disaster, a crazed stalker or murderous gang lord than you are to have a gay friend, let alone your own questioning feelings about your sexuality. And if you were to have these feelings, you’d be right to expect a lifetime of misfortune and disappointment. Are we really that unloveable?
When our neighbours in Erinsborough have openly gay stars like Joel Creasey playing fabulously gay characters, a gay wedding officiated by iconic lez hero Magda Szubanski, and young trans activist Georgie Stone playing the role of the rival soap’s first trans character, it’s hard for us to see Willow and Alex as anything other than a tired try, another wasted opportunity. Heck, Home & Away is one of our biggest media exports, sold to over eighty countries around the world. What kind of message are we sending?
I really hope that Willow and Alex’s relationship isn’t one more weathered narrative beaming into lounge rooms without any consideration for the power it holds. Because a show like Home & Away can help young queer people feel seen. These storylines can spark necessary and often hard conversations with families, and be the difference between a kid in a small town thinking they’re worthless and feeling like they’ve got a positive future to live for.
Home & Away, you know we belong together. You and I, forever and ever. So hold me and people like me in your arms, don’t let us go. We want to stay forever. Because queer relationships can be just as exciting, complex, successful and wondrously real as the rest of them. And we deserve to see our whole selves in the stories we love.