Elly Barton (Olivia Harkin) is eleven years old and the focus of the story. She's the only girl in a family with four children. Her parents are authoratative, making decisions that affect their children's lives without asking their opinion or considering their feelings. Her older brothers often tease her (although Paul only does so to impress Anthony); her younger brother is merely there for Elly to boss around.
She has two best friends: one is Anita McPherson, who lives just down the street. The other is the tree in the Barton's backyard, where Elly takes refuge from her family and life in general. It's also the perfect place to spy on the neighbourhood, especially her neighbour, Mister Laurie Jensen.
Not portrayed as the perfect daughter, as mostly American shows tend to do, Elly is a very realistic character. She has her moods, sometimes acting out.
Although she'd never admit it, Elly sometimes verges on being a bully; she doesn't shy away from manipulating others to get to the outcome she desires.
But she can also be caring, sweet and worried about others. Especially when others, like her brother Paul, have it rough or when people on the other side of the world are going hungry. Elly's also curious, bordering on nosy; she wants to know everything about everything and everyone.
But whatever Elly does, she does it because she thinks that's the right course of action at that time and she does it with a passion.
Olivia Harkin as Elly Barton, caught in the act of making fun of and rubbing salt in the wounds of her heartbroken friend Anita, who just minutes earlier found out her crush is in love with someone else.
Screenshot from the episode Half-time. Digitised by me, used under fair use.
Elly absolutely loves teasing Anita about her interest for boys and her latest crush. She doesn't understand why her best friend finds boys interesting. Boys are annoyances that have to be dealt with quickly, so Elly can resume what she was doing, and not be pondered on for too long. Let alone talk about their bodies, as Anita seems to enjoy doing. No, Elly reckons there must be something wrong with Anita.
In my opinion, the realism with which Elly is depicted, both by the writers and by her actress Olivia Harkin, is one of the aspects that makes COTB stand out from other series of the time (and still today).
Paul Barton (Matt Day) is Elly's fourteen year old brother and the only character besides Elly that gets his own in depth story line in the series. Even though he often sides with Anthony in teasing Elly, he's probably the closest to her of the entire family. He's soft-mannered, enjoys joining Elly's clubs, reading books and he strongly dislikes sports.
Paul feels a lot of social pressure to act like other boys his age do, especially in the areas of sports and girls. He fails at both, and this makes him "suspected" (of being gay) by other boys (especially Anthony). This being the eighties that is frowned upon. The show doesn't shy away from the struggle some boys go through in this aspect; appearance to other boys becoming more important and letting go of your personality in favour of one that's forced on you by peer pressure.
Sure, some boys roll into that social role naturally, but there's herds of them that don't. And unusually for '80s TV, Paul is one of them. And while he does succumb for about 20 minutes in the episode Suspected, he doesn't back off and quickly goes back to his own self. COTB shows that even when you don't act like you're apparently supposed too, you can still have lots of cool friends and girls will still notice you.
Anthony Barton (Michael O'Reilly), Elly's eldest brother, is sixteen, a jock and generally either ignores Elly's existence or teases her; there seems to be no inbetween. Anthony feels ashamed of Paul, his actions and every way Paul is not like Anthony, and dislikes him for that.
Anthony has his own troubles. Yes, he's the jock, good at sports, and very popular with girls. But he's secretly tired of dropping girls like they're wet bars of soap, and wishes he could have a more intimate relationship with one (like Paul seems to be able to do). He decides against a friendship with a girl he likes because she's disabled, presumably again because it doesn't fit in with the image he and his jock friends want to radiate. Although never explored, Anthony seems to be more like Paul than Anthony will ever admit.
Douglas Barton (Ben Toovey), is Elly's only younger brother, seven years old and still respects his parents to no end. He's best mates with Skinner (see further down this page). Elly plays with him, but the age difference usually means that Elly bosses him and his friends around.
Robert drives a Ford Falcon Wagon XD, which is a model exclusive to Australia.
According to the Internet Movie Car Database, Robert's Falcon is a bit of a Frankenstein's car, with parts of different Falcon versions mixed together.
Elly's father Robert Barton (Frankie J. Holden) works as an assistant manager at the local branch of a bank. Caught up in his job, he isn't very close to his children (with the possible exception of Anthony). His will is law, and he expects his children to fall in line, and is not afraid to (threaten to) use physical punishment to get them to do that. Elly and Robert have a special kind of 'friendship', one that only fathers and daughters can have, but there is a large gap between their understanding of the world. Robert seems to understand his daughter's opinions less and less because of it.
Mum Clare Barton (Jennifer Jarman-Walker) became a stay-at-home-mum when her children were born. She's inititially happy with the situation, as raising four kids (of which one is Elly) really is a full time job. She wants to rejoin the workforce as the series progresses. Clare tries to force Elly into being more feminine, like painting her room pink against Elly's will and buying her dresses Elly doesn't want to wear, but secretly has already given up on it.
The Davies are a family that live on the other side of Banksiawood. Son "Skinner" (real name Mervyn, portrayed by Frank Webb) is Douglas' best mate, and even though only seven years old, a real street smart kid. He makes money by letting other children place bets on the outcome of certain events, or by making them pay to make use of the public playground. In the show it's hinted at that Skinner is being abused by his father.
Skinner's older sister Susan (Natasha Kenneally) is known as "The Lonely Girl" in school and around the neighbourhood. She's shy and apparently has no friends. During the course of the series she not only befriends Elly and Anita, but also becomes the girlfriend of Banksiawood's most popular boy, Vince Capaletti (Christian Pellone).
Miss Julia "India" Snoller (Maureen Edwards) and Tom Snoller (Alan Lovett) are brother and sister, and British immigrants.
Their mother used to live in the house where they live now and was strongly opposed to the suburb being built around her property. This alienated the family from the people eventually moving into the houses around them.
The Snollers lived a secluded life in their old house after their mother passed away, until Elly breaks that by befriending them. Miss India, as everybody calls Julia Snoller, becomes a close friend to Elly, although relations with Elly's parents remain cold.
Mr Jensen's dog, Max, was found at a pound by the production. He wasn't what they had in mind for Mr Jensen's dog, but they fell in love with him on first sight
If Elly has a nemesis, Mister Laurie Jensen (Robert Essex) is it. He's annoyed with kids and is disliked by most people in the neighbourhood.
Mr. Jensen especially dislikes Elly, because of her spying on his property from her tree, and wants her tree cut down. He thinks of himself as an accomplished gardner, but in reality knows very little about plants and trees (judging by the way he prunes various plants throughout the series).
He is shown to have a softer side, even helping Elly out in an episode or two, but all amiability is out the window again by the time the series ends. Yet, in his final shot in the series (pictured here), he's seen smiling in his own way after Elly tells him they're not moving (and the tree's staying too). So maybe he secretly doesn't dislike Elly after all, or maybe Elly has proven herself in his eyes over the course of the series.
Pippa Smith and Rosemary Smith (Yvonne and Anita McPherson) are sisters in real life too.
Anita McPherson (Rosemary Smith) is Elly's best friend. She's by far the most developed character after Elly and Paul.
Just weeks before we meet her in the series, Anita starts to go "boy crazy" (in Elly's words; mentioned in the book) and develops a crush on Vince Capaletti, the local football team's captain. She fantasises about marrying him and takes every opportunity to change the subject matter to Vince when talking to Elly (again, more so in the book than on the television series).
Anita's crush on Vince makes way for true love in episode three, and Paul's the lucky man. He just doesn't know it yet, and Anita spends the next nine episodes building up the courage to tell him. She's eventually forced to do so by events in the final episode.
Anita aspires to be a real lady. This is extra difficult when you have a tom-boyish friend like Elly. She's a so called "Brownie" (young girl scout) when the series starts and becomes a "Girl Guide" (older girl scout) somewhere between the events of the episodes The Barton League of Bird Lovers and Beautiful Beetroot (as she's already a Guide in the flashbacks in that episode).
Other than being a Guide, Anita likes embroidery, wearing dresses, have her hair done and experiments with make-up. In short; she's in some ways the complete opposite of Elly. When Elly's not around, she initially prefers to hang out with the younger kids in the neighbourhood, with her younger sisters Yvonne and Simone acting as a gateway. Later this changes to Susan, who's also a Guide.
She's prone to nosebleeds, which is used as a plot device in two episodes.
Although Anita sometimes gets bossed around by Elly, and often gets dragged into whatever Elly is plotting, she certainly can stand her ground when it comes to it. Often challenging Elly, or even opposing her. But in the end, Elly and Anita are best friends through and through.
Yvonne McPherson (Pippa Smith) is one of Anita's younger sisters (the other one is Simone McPherson; played by Laura Noonan) and her partner in crime when Elly's not around. Yvonne is friends with Douglas and looks up to her big sis and Elly.
Vince Capaletti (Christian Pellone) is a class mate and friend of Paul's and the captain of the Banksia Blues, the Australian rules football team where Paul plays/played. Vince is Anita's first crush until she finds out Vince and Susan Davies are in love with each other.