Benito* Astoni (2017-present)
Occupation: Builder; Pier Owner/Surf Shop Manager
Ben was first seen searching for his daughter Ziggy in the city, briefly encountering Brody. When Ziggy got home, Ben told her he’d told the police that she was with him at the time she’d allegedly stolen a car, but was frustrated to learn she was actually guilty, blaming her boyfriend Jarrod. His wife Maggie then came home with their younger daughter Coco, who had been suspended from school over a cyber-bullying incident. Realising the family was having troubles, Ben reluctantly agreed with Maggie’s suggestion that they go and visit her mother. He insisted on stopping in Summer Bay for a surf, only for the car to fail to start afterwards.
Alf got them a caravan for the night but then Ziggy got in trouble for stealing Kat’s wallet. Ben decided they needed to leave straightaway, despite Ash warning him that although he had got the car going the clutch was faulty, and Ben promptly reversed into a water tank. Alf agreed to let him fix it but it meant staying in Summer Bay a week. He clashed with both VJ and Justin while surfing and, unaware Justin was Ash’s partner, accused him of stealing his car when he saw him driving it. They quickly sorted out their differences but Justin managed to damage the tail light forcing them to stay another week. The family eventually agreed to stay there for the rest of the school holidays.
Maggie then suggested to him that he buy the pier and she get the principal’s job at Summer Bay High. They were successful but had trouble convincing the girls to go along with it, with Ziggy taking off for the city for a short time. Ben was initially in favour of Ziggy getting together with Brody until he saw Brody being arrested and learned he had been an ice addict, at which point he banned Ziggy from seeing him. He discovered Alf and Leah had attempted to buy the pier and they and Irene, who were now their tenants, weren’t happy with their plan to redevelop it. He attempted to make peace by buying Alf some expensive beer and learned that VJ, who he had a couple of run-ins with, was Leah’s son. When he came home and found a shirtless VJ with Coco, he literally threw him out of the house. He was convinced to apologise but was less than sincere. However, when Leah revealed Coco had pretended to be older in order to date VJ, Ben made a proper apology and promised to share plans for the redevelopment with the tenants. However, he continued making plans for a shop and restaurant which Maggie asked him to cancel to keep the peace. He ended up only agreeing to lose the restaurant.
When Ziggy stole his credit card rather than get a job, it reminded him how bad things had got with her. He tried to talk with Coco about her being bullied by Jennifer Dutton and was concerned when Ziggy began spending time with Brody again. He discovered that his redevelopment plans had been blocked by a bid to have the pier given listed heritage status and accused Alf only to discover it was Nick Dutton, in response to Maggie suspending Jennifer from school. However, when he saw Nick with Leah he accused her of being behind it. He threatened Brody into staying away from Ziggy when she was nearly killed by his dealer William Zannis and pushed him away when he tried to help Ziggy with a panic attack, resulting in him nearly coming to blows with Justin. Still bitter about the development, he ended up blaming Alf, Leah and even Maggie until they turned over part of the bait shop to him so he could open up a surf shop.
However, he still felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the family. He was cautiously supportive when VJ started teaching Coco to surf then learned she had fainted. However, when he and Maggie found a used condom wrapper, they assumed VJ and Coco were sleeping together. Maggie had to stop Ben confronting VJ and they interrogated Coco who denied it…at which point they realised it was Ziggy and Brody. An argument resulted in Ziggy storming out of the house. Despite her threatening to move out and a plea from Brody, Ben refused to accept them together, so Brody broke off the relationship and Ziggy returned home.
Ben gave Maggie the first surfboard he made and she later suffered a panic attack on being reminded of an incident when she had been attacked at school. Ben began building a gazebo at the farm, roping Ziggy and Coco into helping him as a bonding exercise. However, Coco collapsed and turned out to have bulimia, while Ziggy ran away from home. After unsuccesfully attempting to search for her, he decided they should concentrate on Coco. He then found Ziggy with Brody in a distressed state and punched him, only to learn he had actually saved her from a man who had spiked her drink. Ziggy admitted she had been involved in the attack on Maggie and Ben was taken in for questioning for assault. When he refused to take the matter seriously, he was thrown in a holding cell and, when it was revealed he had a record for assaulting his brother when he was eighteen after he cracked onto Maggie, charged with assault. He apologised to Brody but told him he still wanted him to stay away from Ziggy. He threw Mick Jennings out of the house when he came home to find him arguing with Maggie, Ziggy and Olivia and, at Coco’s request, read Ryder the riot act when he tried phoning her.
Then his mother-in-law Diana turned up and he was horrified to learn Maggie had borrowed the money to bail him out from her. Attempts to get rid of Diana quickly failed when Coco blurted out all their problems to her. Ben began making plans for his and Maggie’s 20th wedding anniversary but Diana bought the earrings he was planning to get and hijacked his plan for a candlelit dinner at Salt by insisting they have a family meal at home instead. Ben responded by blasting her and calling her a controlling old witch. He later made peace with her, pointing out she was wrong that he and Maggie wouldn’t last, and with her help he finally gave Maggie an anniversary surprise: The beach wedding they had wanted in the first place, where he presented her with the engagement ring he had planned to give her before Diana insisted on buying a more expensive one.
He was confused to find Coco getting dressed up to watch movies with Ryder but managed to assure her she looked fine, although he was less than happy about Brody acting as chaperone. At Coco’s glow day, Ben outbid Ziggy to have Brody as a partner for the obstacle course, only to end up getting on well with him. Realising Diana was trying to avoid the subject of leaving, he spoke to her and learned her ex-husband Richard was remarrying to a 27-year-old, prompting him to invitie her to stay a bit longer. He was soon palming her off on Maggie and Coco however and was horrified when she planned to move to Summer Bay. He was relieved when he simply had to buy Ziggy a new iPad as part of a plan to send her to stay with Maggie’s sister Kate in London instead.
He tolerated Brody coming round to cook a meal for the family but, trying to get the gazebo finished, he was stuck with him as an assistant and frustrated by his lack of handyman skills, but told him that if he got his life in order then he’d accept him with Ziggy. Brody tipped him off to the fact Jarrod was in town but he was pleased when Ziggy showed no interest in getting back with him. He advised Jarrod to leave town on discovering he had no money and was holding on to false hope for another chance with Ziggy. He was bemused that Coco had turned into an eco-warrior during a stay with Diana, but considered it harmless. He attended the reopening of Salt where he gave Brody and Ziggy his blessing.
Ben was uncomfortable with Brody promptly spending the night but had more to worry about when he found Maggie collapsed and she was taken to hospital. Ben took her back in when she felt faint, after which they were told she might have cancer. He had to collect Maggie from school when she had a panic attack, then the tests confirmed it was cancer. He insisted they needed to tell the girls and was left with doing it when Maggie couldn’t face it. He supported Maggie during her first chemotherapy.
He had the job of removing Kat’s things from the Diner flat to make room for new tenants. When Maggie felt tired while helping him, he sent her home and got Ziggy, Coco and Raffy to help out but angrily ordered them away when Raffy talked about having to admit her mother was dying. He then holed himself up in the flat rather than coming home. On his return, he admitted to Maggie that he was scared of losing her and apologised to Ziggy and Coco. Brody applied to rent the Diner flat for himself and Ziggy but Ziggy got Ben to reject the application. He then agreed to rent it to Colby, with Robbo as his flatmate, so he could keep an eye on him while he was out on bail.
He planned an early morning balloon trip as a surprise for Maggie’s birthday only to have to spend the day away from her when he developed a cold while her white cell count was low. He stayed with Leah and confessed he was worried it would be Maggie’s last birthday, although he did manage to Skype her. He then received notification of a court appearance for the assault on Brody and decided to keep it from Maggie. His court appearance clashed with her scan results but he felt he could fit both in. However, he took longer to be called than expected and considered absconding from court to be with her but ultimately joined her for the results after being let off with a good behaviour bond.
He was concerned that Maggie was planning to return to work then found out that the pier needed rewiring after a blackout. Alf suggested he apply to a company that had a lot of council contracts; Ben was reluctant to go back to working for someone else but eventually applied. He took a job with Barry Johnson despite Barry being obnoxious all the way through the interview. After celebrating Ziggy’s 20th birthday, Maggie told him they needed to go to the hospital. There, they were told she had an aggressive lymphoma which had spread. Ben was tested as a stem cell donor but wasn’t a match so convinced Maggie to ask Ziggy. He divided his time between them during the donation, ignoring Barry’s requests to start work early. He was alerted by Roo to the fact Coco was skipping school and convinced her to go to a camp for children of cancer sufferers.
He began work for the building company and spent the evening after his first day’s work drinking with foreman Rick and the rest of the crew, unaware Maggie was making a special meal for him. After he turned up too late, Brody and Ziggy made them one the next day. He then found himself working on reconstruction work at the school and struggled to work close to Maggie. He asked her not to defend him to Barry but did stick up for her when Barry made some lewd remarks. He supported her when she shaved her hair off, helping her feel less self-conscious by taking her for breakfast on the balcony at Salt. When Barry wouldn’t let him leave work after Maggie was rushed to hospital with a chest infection, he resigned.
He spent a night with Maggie at a beach cottage but on his return, learned she had written letters to him and the girls in case she died. Ben initially refused to contemplate it, but after a chat with John he read his letter and was moved by it. He was accepting when Brody and Ziggy became engaged, despite being bemused by the suddenness of it, and when Brody worried that Ziggy was only doing it so Maggie could be there, convinced him she was sincere about wanting to marry him. He helped Leah and Roo pick out a wig for Maggie to wear to the wedding and was the one who realised Ziggy was agreeing with all Maggie’s ideas for the wedding to make her happy, convincing her to personalise it. However, as her ideas spiralled out of control, he worried about affording it until Brody assured him he could pay for it. However, Ben did arrange to make and sell five boards to help pay.
On being told her latest round of chemo had had no effect, Maggie decided to stop treatment. Ben was horrified and quickly gave it away to Ziggy, who convinced him they should wait until after the wedding and then try and talk her round. He worried about not being able to do the father/daughter waltz for the wedding and, after a failed attempt to learn off the internet, Maggie taught him. He attended Brody’s bucks party at Salt, where he ended up filming Brody with a stripper for future leverage. He gave a brief speech after the wedding, then saw Maggie collapse.
When it became clear Maggie’s cancer was getting worse, Ben told Coco about her stopping treatment. He had to rent a boat to collect Ziggy from her honeymoon after she messed up the engine of the houseboat she and Brody were staying on. After Maggie resumed treatment, Ben secretly called Diana. However, he soon had cause to regret it when Diana blamed him for keeping it secret and then planned to take Maggie to a trial in Europe and made his opposition to the idea clear. He took Maggie out for the day and got the news a donor had been found. He then convinced Diana to return to see her.
He asked Alf and Roo to have a word with Ryder on learning he was dating Coco again and confided in Maggie about his fears on her coming home. However, he cleaned up the house in anticipation. He later helped Brody set up a flat in the Morgans’ garden for him and Ziggy and bought Maggie some craft things to keep her occupied at the house. He also advised Brody and Ziggy over their first argument. He took Maggie down the beach but was thrown when she arranged a special dinner and tried to seduce him, pulling away. He was unable to give a proper reason why and Maggie told him she didn’t want to lose their intimacy. They received the news her cancer markers were down more than expected. Ben tried to get Ryder to go easy on Leah after he took his frustration at Alf and Roo being away out on her. When he noticed Maggie had a bruise, he convinced her to get it checked out and was left alone to support Coco prior to her exams.
Maggie was given the all clear and returned to work but she and Ben struggled to spend time together, with both of them falling asleep during a dinner. Maggie admitted she no longer felt fulfilled in her job and Ben was concerned when she began brainstorming ideas which didn’t include him. However, they managed to defuse the tension by coming up with the most crazy ideas they could, such as becoming astronauts. He supported Maggie in her plans to raise funds for cancer research. He initially refused when Ziggy asked him to employ Dean at the board shop, prompting Ziggy to tell Dean he had a job anyway. Ben eventually agreed to employ him on a commission basis. He soon became impressed with Dean when he came up with ideas to attract business.
He spent time organising prizes for Maggie’s fundraiser and was the model of efficiency at the fundraiser until he overheard Justin yelling at Ziggy for interfering in his relationship and gave him a serve, also criticising Brody for not sticking up for her. However, he then reminded Ziggy of the danger of criticising someone else’s family. With the board shop expanding, he considered evicting Alf from the bait shop so he could have the premises to himself but ended up agreeing he should go. Alf suggested he set up in a corner at the surf club but John was against the idea. However, Ben won the rest of the board over by offering to supply and maintain the surf club’s boards free of charge. John proceeded to micromanage his alterations and Ben almost gave up until Alf gave John a ticking off. Ben then had to put up with John hindering him by “helping out”, so finished for the day and then went back during the night to finish off.
Ben was left handling the launch on his own with Dean distracted helping Colby and Bella. After initial frostiness, he and John agreed to help each other out. He tried to read Brody the riot act after Dean suspected there was something between him and Simone Bedford but accepted his explanations. He and Maggie had a date night at Salt.
He helped convince Maggie to let Coco go when she was offered a scholarship in Cairns. To save Colby and Bella moving out of the Diner flat, he volunteered to convert a walled over storage area into a bedroom for Bella. He tried to act as a go-between for Brody and Ziggy and had to deal with Dean’s erratic attendance at work after he kept oversleeping. He was shocked when Ziggy arrived to announce that Brody had been cheating on her with Simone and also fell out with Justin on learning he had known about it, although he accepted Mason had been unaware. He tried to convince Maggie to fire Simone from the school but accepted he had overstepped the mark. He tried and failed to cheer Ziggy up on her birthday, eventually accepting help from Dean. This ended in Willow bringing Ziggy home drunk and Ben and Maggie witnessing a shouting match between Ziggy and Dean. Ziggy admitted Dean had turned her down when she made a drunken pass at him.
He was hired by John and Marilyn to make adjustments to their house for Jett and his wheelchair and gave Dean time off work to keep an eye on Ziggy when she started hanging out with a group of visiting youths. Next morning, he found Dean wandering injured in the bush having been beaten up by the youths and ended up taking him back to the form, hoping it would confront Ziggy with the consequences of her actions. He vetoed Dean’s attempt to get Ziggy into quad biking but approved of him getting her to do up an old car. He talked Ziggy into speaking to Brody about the divorce settlement, pointing out she hadn’t had much say in anything so far. He discovered Dean and Ziggy were together but accepted it was her choice and refused to respond to Brody’s attempts to warn him about it. He made very little response to Brody leaving.
When Dean tried to sneak out after spending the night with Ziggy, Ben insisted he stay for breakfast and told him not to sneak in through the window again, but also started paying him a proper wage at the board shop. Despite Brody’s departure, he refused to make peace with Justin until Maggie convinced him to share a beer with him and they quickly put things aside. He was stunned to get a phone call wanting a hundred boards in four weeks from Mick Scowell, an acquaintance of Dean’s, who had been putting the word round. He realised he couldn’t afford the outlay and decided to turn the order down but Dean offered him $20,000. Suspicious that Dean couldn’t explain where he got it from, Ben initially turned him down but eventually agreed to trust him. Ben managed to sneak the board blanks past John into the surf club with help from Dean and Mackenzie. He was left somewhat stressed by having to make the boards at the farm with everything taking longer than he wanted as he was soon left with no room while the first batch of boards were curing.
After struggling further, he decided to take up Maggie’s suggestion of subcontracting a factory to make the boards to his designs. He and Alf were roped into cheering up John, and soon came to regret it when he reverted to his old self. He planned to take Maggie to Italy once the money from the boards came through and things seemed to go well with the boards being shipped but then he found himself arrested for drug trafficking: The boards had been checked at customs and found to contain drugs. Ben told the police what he knew but the factory had been cleared out and the details of the owner he had been given turned out to be false. He also hadn’t paid a deposit so, unable to prove his story, he was charged with drug exportation: The board shop was closed down and his accounts frozen. He was released on bail but had no idea how to clear his name. Unable to afford a barrister, he considered pleading guilty to get a lesser sentence and began drinking heavily, especially after learning the surf club wanted to cancel his lease. Ryder ended up having to cut him off at Salt and get Alf to drive him home. He was furious when Maggie began arrangements to sell the pier without consulting him and worried that they would be left with nothing if they spent all the money on a lawyer and he was still convicted, but decided to talk to the estate agent. However, he was left feeling like a failure, especially with the board shop lease officially withdrawn.
He did work around the house but was left feeling lethargic and said nothing he did made a difference. Alf and John hired him to do odd jobs but he ended up walking away from the work and collapsing in tears. He suggested he make Ziggy a new surf board but only just got through a meal with Leah, Justin and Roo, although he slept with Maggie for the first time in a while afterwards. However, when Ziggy fell off the new board, Ben blamed his workmanship and smashed it. Maggie told him to either get professional help or move out and he chose the latter, moving to the caravan park. He tried to keep his location secret but Dean saw him and told Ziggy, although Ben told her he needed space. He only had a perfunctory conversation with Maggie when they sold the pier, then met Dean’s mother Karen, who he accompanied to the farm house for a family meal, relaxing in her company. Afterwards, Maggie and Ziggy came to the caravan park to spend time with him without pressure. He attempted to get answers from his lawyer and was allowed to speak to the AFP, who believed his story. Alf invited him to dinner so Roo brought Maggie along. Ben gave her a lift home afterwards but refused an invite to stay the night. Alf convinced him not to let things fester with her and he told her he couldn’t think of anything other than the case. He received news that the person who planted the drugs had been arrested and was warned by Karen not to distance himself from his family.
He was asked by Alf to keep an eye on the bait shop while he was away but felt insulted when it turned out John was keeping an eye on him. He was then asked by Dean and Ziggy to take a surf lesson but, when he learned it was a free lesson, felt like he was being given charity and stormed out of Salt in a huff. Maggie insisted he get some help because she was through. Ben then told Dean and Ziggy not to bother with him before camping out in Salt. However, he then moved back to the farm saying he knew he needed help. He went to hospital where Alex Neilson diagnosed him with severe depression. He agreed to counselling but was reluctant to accept medication, although Dean convinced him to give it a try. However, the medication left him nauseous and he threw it away, feeling it was only making him worse. Dean convinced him to talk to his psychologist and he helped Dean out with the surf lessons again.
He then received the news that the charges against him had been formally dropped and prepared to reopen the board shop. John managed to get him the lease back, albeit with a $100 a month rent increase, but Ben began to feel overwhelmed. He hid on the beach while Ziggy and Dean got things ready and decided to go back on his medication. After initially being down during a slow start, he was pleased when he got his first board order and also got things back on track with Maggie, taking her out for dinner at Salt. When Ziggy was given a trial working with a race team pit crew, Ben did his best to reassure Dean and convince him the relationship could survive. He was one of the first to learn Ziggy had the job and made an attempt to keep Dean on track when he got drunk and missed a surf lesson. After visiting Ziggy with Maggie and trying to get her to call Dean, he witnessed Dean being arrested for being drunk and disorderly and tried to convince him he was still worth something. He accompanied Maggie to hospital for her cancer check-up and asked Dean to run the board shop while he took her out to celebrate getting the all-clear, although this was derailed when Ziggy returned having quit her job. He watched the news of the siege at the hospital with Maggie, having left there minutes before it started.
*Ben’s full name was originally intended to be Benito, however dialogue later named him as Benjamin. Inconsistent continuity with props has seen his written name switching between Benito and Benjamin on numerous occasions. As of 2020, Ben has been referred to as Benito in dialogue.