Mar 262018

Today is the birthday (1909) of John William Pilbean Goffage, generally known by his screen name, Chips Rafferty. Back when I was a boy Chips was the archetypical movie bush Aussie, much as Crocodile Dundee became a generation later. I remember him from a TV commercial for Pope refrigerators in the late 1950s. The commercial was set in Marble Bar – “hottest little town in Australia” – with the opening lines:

“What’s it like out there Chips?”

“Hot, mate, hot.”

The slogan at the end from Chips was “You can depend on Pope.” Not exactly Shakespeare, but has stuck with me all these years, as has the image of Chips chugging a cold beer in the blazing Outback.

Chips was born in Broken Hill, New South Wales, to John Goffage, an English-born stock agent, and Australian-born Violet Maude Joyce. He attended Parramatta Commercial High School, where he got the nickname Chips, and after that worked a variety of jobs, including opal miner, sheep shearer, drover, RAAF Officer, and pearl diver.

He made his film debut in the comedy Ants in His Pants in 1938, as an extra, produced by Ken G. Hall. At that time, he was managing a wine cellar in Bond Street in Sydney. He then got another unbilled role, as one of several inept firemen in Hall’s Dad Rudd, M.P. (1940). Chips gained international fame when cast as one of the three leads in Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), directed by Charles Chauvel. Chauvel described him as “a cross between Slim Summerville and James Stewart, and has a variety of droll yet natural humour.” He played a laconic, tall (he was 6’5”) bushman. Forty Thousand Horsemen was enormously popular and was screened throughout the world, becoming one of the most-seen Australian films made to that point. Although the film’s romantic leads were Grant Taylor and Betty Bryant, Rafferty’s performance received considerable acclaim.

Rafferty married Ellen Kathleen “Quentin” Jameson on 28 May 1941. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force the next day and entertained troops. During the war, Rafferty was allowed to make films on leave. He appeared in a short featurette, South West Pacific (1943), directed by Hall. He was reunited with Chauvel and Grant Taylor in The Rats of Tobruk (1944), an attempt to repeat the success of Forty Thousand Horsemen. Rafferty was discharged on 13 February 1945, at the rank of Flying Officer.

Ealing Studios were interested in making a feature film in Australia after the war, and assigned Harry Watt to find a subject. He came up with The Overlanders (1946), a story of a cattle drive during war time (based on a true story) and gave the lead role to Rafferty who Watt called an “Australian Gary Cooper.” Rafferty’s fee was £25 a week. Ealing were so pleased they signed Rafferty to a long term contract even before the film was released. The film was a massive critical and commercial success and Rafferty became fully established as a film star.

Chips went to England to promote The Overlanders, and Ealing put him in The Loves of Joanna Godden. While promoting the film in Hollywood he met Hedda Hopper who said Rafferty,

created quite a stir. They call him the Australian Gary Cooper, but if he were cut down a bit he would be more like the late Will Rogers. I don’t know how they’ll get him on the screen unless they do it horizontally… He is as natural as an old shoe.

Ealing and Watt wanted to make another film in Australia and decided on a spectacle, Eureka Stockade. Rafferty was cast in the lead as Peter Lalor, the head of the rebellion, despite pressures in some quarters to cast Peter Finch. The result was a box office disappointment and Rafferty’s performance much criticized.  He was meant to follow this with a comedy for Ealing co-starring Tommy Trinder. Instead, Ealing put the two actors in a drama about aboriginal land rights Bitter Springs (1950). The film was not widely popular and Ealing wound up their filmmaking operation in Australia.

Subsequently he was cast by 20th Century Fox in a melodrama they shot in Australia, Kangaroo (1952). The studio liked his performance enough that they flew him (and Charles Tingwell) over to Los Angeles to play Australian soldiers in The Desert Rats (1953), a war movie. By that time film production in Australia had slowed to a trickle and Rafferty decided to move into movie production. He wanted to make The Green Opal, a story about immigration but could not get finance. However he then teamed up with a producer-director Lee Robinson and they decided to make movies together. Their first movie was The Phantom Stockman (1953), directed by Robinson and starring Rafferty, and produced by them both. The film was profitable. It was followed by King of the Coral Sea, which was even more popular, and introduced Rod Taylor to cinema audiences. Rafferty and Robinson attracted the interest of the French, collaborated with them on the New Guinea adventure tale, Walk Into Paradise (1956). This was their most popular movie to date.

Rafferty also appeared as an actor only in a British-financed comedy set in Australia, Smiley (1956). It was successful and led to a sequel, Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), in which Rafferty reprised his role. In England he appeared in The Flaming Sword (1958). He also participated in cinema advertisements that were part of an Australian Government campaign in 1957 called “Bring out a Briton” (the year my family migrated). The campaign was launched in a bid to increase the number of British migrants settling in Australia. Rafferty and Robinson raised money for three more movies with Robinson. He elected not to appear in the fourth film he produced with Robinson, Dust in the Sun (1958), their first flop together. Nor was he in The Stowaway (1959) and The Restless and the Damned (1960). All three films lost money and Rafferty found himself in financial difficulty.

Rafferty returned to being an actor only. He had a small role in The Sundowners (1960), with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr and played a coastwatcher in The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960) with Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson. He was in the Australian-shot TV series Whiplash (1961).

He was then cast as one of the mutineers in MGM’s Mutiny on the Bounty, with Marlon Brando. The filming of Bounty dragged on – meant to take six months in Tahiti, it would end up taking 14. However, the money Chips earned (he called the film The Bounteous Mutiny) restored his finances after the failure of his production company. His income enabled him to buy a block of flats which supported him for the rest of his life.

In the 1960s Chips played parts in a great number of English and US television series including, Emergency-Ward 10 (1964), The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1965) Gunsmoke (1966), Daktari (1966), The Girl from UNCLE (1967), Tarzan (1967) and The Monkees, as well as the Elvis Presley movie Double Trouble (1967) and the adventure tale Kona Coast (1968). Back in Australia he guest-starred in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Adventures of the Seaspray (1967), Rita and Wally (1968), Woobinda, Animal Doctor (1970) and Dead Men Running (1971). His final film role was in 1971’s Wake in Fright, where he played an outback policeman. (The movie was filmed mainly in and around his home town of Broken Hill.) In a review of the film, a critic praised Rafferty’s performance, writing that he “exudes an unnerving intensity with a deceptively menacing and disturbing performance that ranks among the best of his career.” Chips collapsed and died of a heart attack while walking down a Sydney street at the age of 62 shortly after completing his role in Wake in Fright. His remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered into his favorite fishing hole in Lovett Bay.

Instead of giving a recipe today to honor Chips I am going to give a plug for a website that sells bush tucker.  Here you can find:

Aniseed Myrtle
Bush Tomatoes
Davidsons (Rainforest) Plum
Forest Berry Herb
Finger Limes
Lemon Myrtle
Lilli Pilli
Mountain Pepper
Native Mint
Hibiscus (Rosella) Flowers

After that it’s up to you what you do with the ingredients, or you can order prepared foods using native ingredients.