March 2014

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Chips Rafferty & The Monkees

He’d been a drover, a shearer, a roo shooter, a timber cutter, a fisherman and a boundary rider. He could surf, write poetry and paint watercolours. But when John William Pilbean Goffage began to be noticed as an actor, he though he should get himself a better name. He considered Slab O’Flaherty but settled on Chips Rafferty. It had the right larrikin ring.

Rafferty might have stepped straight out of a Russell Drysdale painting. Born in 1909 at Billy Goat Hill near Broken Hill, he was lean and lanky with a lopsided grin – the very picture of the uncomplicated, cigarette-rolling bushman of national legend. His first role was a non-speaking part in a Dad and Dave film, but when Charles Chauvel cast him in the wartime features Forty Thousand Horsemen and The Rats of Tobruk, Chips won fame as the embodiment of the unassumingly heroic digger. Postwar, he rode into Australian iconography in The Overlanders and the Smiley films.

Local work dried up during the long cinema production drought of the 1950s, and Rafferty took his acting skills to Hollywood. In 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty, he was the ship’s blind fiddler. Between “arrgghs”, he played languid games of chess with Marlon Brando. Mostly he played character roles in television series, westerns like Gunsmoke and The Big Valley.

In October 1967, hey hey, it was The Monkees. Season two, episode 12.

Known as “the Prefab Four”, The Monkees were created to be the instant stars of a sitcom about an imaginary band that wanted to be The Beatles. The episodes were chaotic, absurdist frolics targeted at teenage girls. The songs were merely a way to cash in on the television audience’s enthusiasm. Only after the series went to air and they were allowed to play instruments did The Monkees become an actual band.

In ‘Hitting the High Seas’, the boys get deckhand jobs aboard a pirate ship captained by a demented Rafferty. Chips takes to his role with scene-chewing gusto that culminates in a madcap cutlass fight with Davy Jones to the strains of ‘Daydream Believer’. Soon after, Rafferty returned to Australia permanently to live in the house he’d built on a bush block at Sydney’s Pittwater.

The Monkees was cancelled after 58 episodes. Jones, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith went on to make Head, a movie about “the nature of free will, conceived and edited in a stream-of-consciousness style”. Chips Rafferty died of a heart attack in 1971, aged 62. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing spot.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.


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