From the very first glimpse of a horse-drawn carriage making its way through the cobblestone laneways of The Rocks in Sydney, viewers were transported to another world.
The year was 1953, World War II was over and nurse Sarah Adams had just returned after 20 years in Europe. Arriving with two suitcases in hand, her air of mystery suggests she's carrying far more in emotional baggage.
And so began A Place To Call Home, set largely in the fictional country town of Inverness, where majestic Ash Park housed the wealthy Bligh family, whose stories – and secrets – ran far deeper than what you'd expect from the well-to-do.
Captivated by a narrative that wove memorable tales of love, loss and loyalty, audiences quickly latched on to the lavish period drama. And it was lauded for its outstanding production and consummate cast and crew.
Now as the sixth and final chapter airs, the stars of A Place To Call Home reflect on their fondest memories with TV WEEK Close Up, before farewelling a show that's carved its way into the hearts of audiences and cemented its place in Australian television history.
The brainchild of series creator Bevan Lee, the melodrama's depiction of life from decades gone by immediately struck a chord. From the privileged to the everyday folk and farm workers, this was a snapshot of 1950s Australia and all the attitudes attached to the time.
"It set out to show us what has been, but also what still is," Craig Hall, 44, who initially thought he'd landed the role of George Bligh over doctor Jack Duncan, having auditioned for both, says.
"It was a measuring stick for how either far we've come, or how little we've travelled."
And by tackling intolerance, bigotry and homophobia – poignantly explored through David Berry's character, James Bligh (for which he scored a Logie nomination) – it's done just that.
"I could see it was about issues that are often taboo in families and we know we've opened people's minds – and that's powerful," Noni, 64, of what drew her to the show, says.
It's a sentiment echoed by Marta Dusseldorp, who, as composed yet fearless Sarah, has carried the series from its very first frame.
"I still relish that first season," the 45-year-old reveals. "I've never read anything like it. I felt so excited to be a part of that."
It evokes a sense of nostalgia, too, Craig says.
"It represents a time when we think, 'Ah, those were the days,'" he explains. "In the first two seasons, you think, 'It'd be nice to live in this world.'"
That is, until destructive family secrets begin to unravel for all to see.
"I've learnt a lot about the damage caused by secrets and by not being who you are – they are the strong themes of the show," Noni, who dominates the screen as the dogmatic Elizabeth Bligh, says.
But secrets are titillating, and vocal viewers are to thank for saving the series when it was dropped by Channel Seven after season two. In a plot twist of its own, the show was saved by Foxtel – a turn of fate not lost on its stars.
"We were all devastated when it ended on season two; there was unfinished business," David, 34, says. "And now that there's a definite ending, there's a sense that we get to define it – that's empowering and exciting."
This feeling of gratitude extends to Brett Climo, who, in playing George, was afforded the opportunity to realise a dream.
"This allowed me to portray a man who I'd wanted to see on Australian TV for a long time," the 53-year-old says.
"Qualities of decency and manners that I think we need to see more of these days. He's a nice role model for younger men to look up to."
Marta agrees she's been part of something special.
"This is a life-changer; this certainly was a very big ship in my life," she affirms. "A Titanic."
For more from our exclusive chat with the cast of A Place To Call Home, pick up a copy of the new issue of TV WEEK Close Up.