Having clocked up more than three decades on Home and Away, Ray Meagher has probably seen it all – until 2020 hit.
No one could've predicted how widespread and volatile the global pandemic would become, and upon reflection, the actor jokingly says he "may need another year" to think and answer how it changed him.
"It's been an incredible year for all sorts of reasons," Ray, 76, who plays the iconic Alf Stewart, tells TV WEEK.
"The biggest dent in our year was when Home and Away were shut down for eight or nine weeks and couldn't work. But in hindsight, how lucky were we? A lot of people suffered a lot worse and are still."
Georgie Parker, 55, who is often multi-tasking, adds that she quietly enjoyed the downtime.
"It's hard with the amount of time we work in the schedule, but I was able to evaluate how I spend the time – and there's no way I would've taken that time off without being forced too," she says.
"I'm so thankful for the career I have but forced timeout allowed me to adjust my way of thinking. I took up ocean swimming, which was extremely exhilarating. I loved the experience of it. Once I managed the fear of being in open water, it was so rewarding."
Coming back onto set, Ray, who plays the iconic character Alf Stewart, says that he quickly adapted to the new normal of masks, temperature checks and sanitising.
But re-joining the fray with his co-stars felt like coming home.
The same goes for Georgie, who celebrates her tenth anniversary playing Roo, adds that she and Ray share a close bond both on and off set.
"Time has flown by! I love this character; she's so spirited," she says.
"Playing Alf Stewart's daughter, I'm also tethered to a much-loved man. I adore Ray, we get along so well and he's truly the beating heart of the show."
Ray adds that his highlight for the year is working with the small group of cast members who live in the fictional Stewart household.
"The likes of Emily Symons, Ada Nicodemou, Georgie Parker and Belinda Giblin have all lived in my house," he says.
"It's a pleasure to work with them every day."
The co-stars, who play father and daughter, are hoping they will be fortunate enough to see their actual family this Christmas but understand that for many, it will be very different this year. Ray is a born Queenslander and will aim to get there, if he can.
"Both [his wife] Jilly and I have family up in Queensland – which is basically Christmas isn't it?" he says playfully.
"If we can get there we will, but at our age – I think I'm 92 or 102 these days [laughs] - that time of year is more for the kids as they rip open their presents with big smiles. I'm hoping we get to see some of that action but will take it as it comes."
Georgie Parker, meanwhile, adds that she's incredibly lucky to live close by to her parents.
Her husband Steve Worland works from home as an author and her daughter, Holly, is a budding artist making it easier to all be in the one place.
"I'm fortunate that their only five minutes away from me – it's invaluable," she says.
"I just want to be with my family this Christmas. Everyone will come over for lunch and for me, that's I need."