Chips Rafferty

Chips Rafferty MBE (26 March 1909  27 May 1971) was an Australian actor. Called "the living symbol of the typical Australian",[1] Rafferty's career stretched from the 1940s until his death in 1971, and during this time he performed regularly in major Australian feature films as well as appearing in British and American productions, including The Overlanders and The Sundowners. He appeared in commercials in Britain during the late 1950s, encouraging British emigration to Australia.[2]

Chips Rafferty
Rafferty in 1943.
John William Pilbean Goffage

(1909-03-26)26 March 1909
Died27 May 1971(1971-05-27) (aged 62)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Resting placeRemains cast into his favourite fishing hole in Lovett Bay, Pittwater
Years active1939–1971
Spouse(s)Ellen Jameson (1941–1964; her death)

Early days

He was born John William Pilbean Goffage in Broken Hill, New South Wales to John Goffage, an English-born stock agent, and Australian-born Violet Maude Joyce.[3] Gaining the nickname "Chips" as a school boy,[3] Rafferty studied at Parramatta Commercial School before working in a variety of jobs, including opal miner, sheep shearer, drover, RAAF Officer[4][5] and pearl diver.[1][6]

Film career

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, Sydney.[7] Rafferty caught the acting bug and got another unbilled role, as one of several inept firemen in Hall's Dad Rudd, M.P. (1940).

Forty Thousand Horsemen

Rafferty leapt to international fame when cast as one of the three leads in Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), a film directed by Charles Chauvel that focused on the Battle of Beersheba in 1917. Rafferty had been cast after a screen test.[6] Chauvel described him as "a cross between Slim Summerville and James Stewart, and has a variety of droll yet natural humour."[8] He played a laconic tall bushman, a type similar to that which had been conveyed on stage and screen by Pat Hanna.

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 much acclaim.

War service

Rafferty married Ellen Kathleen "Quentin" Jameson on 28 May 1941.[9] 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, having reached the rank of Flying Officer.[10]

International fame

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."[11] Rafferty's fee was £25 a week.[12] Ealing Studios 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 was established as a film star.[13]

Ealing Studios were associated with Rank Films, who cast Rafferty in the lead of Bush Christmas (1947), a children's movie where Rafferty played the villain. It was very popular.

Ealing Studios signed Rafferty to a long term contract. He 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."[14]

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 was much criticised. [15][16]

Rafferty 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.[15][17]

Rafferty kept busy as an actor, appearing on radio in a show Chips: Story of an Outback. 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.


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.[15] [18]

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 introduce 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 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.

Later career

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 cast as one of the mutineers in MGM's Mutiny on the Bounty, with Marlon Brando. The filming of Bounty in Tahiti dragged longer than six months but it restored him to financial health after the failure of his production company; it enabled him to buy a block of flats which supported him for the rest of his life.[19] Rafferty dubbed the film The Bounteous Mutiny.

In 1962, the 6 foot 5 inch actor was socialising with fellow expatriates in a London club when one, who unbeknownst to Rafferty was a wrestler, claimed he was being ignored and started an argument. Rafferty was eventually provoked into accepting a challenge to 'step outside', where he was badly beaten. In addition to deep grazes to his face that may have cost him the chance of roles in two major film productions the incident brought on a heart attack.[20][21]

He was in the Australian TV series The Stranger (1964) then travelled to England and appeared in eight episodes of Emergency-Ward 10 (1964). While in England he was in The Winds of Green Monday (1965) on British TV.

He travelled to the US and guest starred in episodes of The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1965) (as a different character to the role that he played in the movie version). He played a Union soldier in The Big Valley (1966) with a noticeably Australian accent. He was also in episodes of Gunsmoke (1966) and Daktari (1966).

Back in Australia Rafferty had a good part in the Australian-shot comedy They're a Weird Mob (1966) a big local success. He returned to Hollywood to appear in episodes of 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)

Returning to 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). He continued to make films such as Skullduggery (1970).

Rafferty's final film role was in 1971's Wake in Fright, where he played an outback policeman. (The movie was filmed mainly in and around Rafferty's 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".[22]

His final performance was in an episode of the Australian war series Spyforce (1971).

Hours before he died, Rafferty was offered a prominent role in a film The Day the Clown Cried by Jerry Lewis which was never completed or released.[1]


On 27 May 1971, Rafferty collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 62, while walking down a Sydney street shortly after completing his role in Wake in Fright.[5][23] His wife Quentin had predeceased him in 1964 and they had no children.[9] His remains were cremated. His ashes were scattered into his favourite fishing hole in Lovett Bay.


In the 1971 New Years' Honours, Rafferty was made a Member of the Order of British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the performing arts.[24]

Australia Post issued a stamp in 1989 that depicted Rafferty in recognition of his work in Australian cinema, and in March 2006, Broken Hill City Council announced that the town's Entertainment Centre would be named in honour of Rafferty.

The Oxford Companion to Australian Film refers to Rafferty as "Australia's most prominent and significant actor of the 1940s–60s".[25]

Australian singer/songwriter Richard Davies wrote a song, "Chips Rafferty" for his album, There's Never Been A Crowd Like This.


He was also a talented artist, and as "Long John Goffage" was a leading light of the Black and White Artists' Club.[7] He was a Freemason.


1939Come Up SmilingMan in CrowdFilm also known as Ants in His Pants, Uncredited
1940Dad Rudd, MPFireman
Forty Thousand HorsemenJim
1944The Rats of TobrukMilo Trent
1946The OverlandersDan McAlpine
1947Bush ChristmasLong Bill
The Loves of Joanna GoddenCollardFilmed in Britain.
1949Eureka StockadePeter LalorReleased as Massacre Hill in the United States.
1950Bitter SpringsWally King
1952KangarooTrooper 'Len' LeonardRafferty's first Hollywood-financed film, though shot in Australia.
1953The Desert RatsSgt. 'Blue' SmithFilmed in Hollywood.
The Phantom StockmanThe SundownerRafferty also produced and helped write the script. Released in the United States as Return of the Plainsman.
King of the Coral SeaTed KingRafferty also produced and helped write the script.
1956SmileySergeant Flaxman
Walk Into ParadiseSteve MacAllisterRafferty also produced. Released in the United States as Walk into Hell
1958Smiley Gets a GunSergeant Flaxman
The Flaming SwordLong Tom
1960The SundownersQuinlan
The Wackiest Ship in the ArmyPattersonA comedy, with Rafferty as an Australian Coastwatcher on a secret mission, and Jack Lemmon in charge of the ship
1962Mutiny on the BountyMichael ByrneRafferty was in financial difficulty after the failure of some of his producing projects, but he got out of it with all the overtime he earned during the production of this film.
1966They're a Weird MobHarry Kelly
1967Adventures of the Seaspray
Double TroubleArchie BrownFilmed in Britain.
1968Kona CoastCharlie Lightfoot
1970SkullduggeryFather 'Pop' Dillingham
1971Dead Men Running
Wake in FrightJock Crawford
SpyforceLeon RielleyEpisode: Reilley's Army, (final appearance)

Unmade projects

Rafferty tried to make the following projects but was unsuccessful:


  1. Hooper, K. "Chips was denied comeback chance", The Age, 29 May 1971, p. 2.
  2. Australian Geographical Society.; Australian National Publicity Association.; Australian National Travel Association. (1934), Walkabout, Australian National Travel Association, retrieved 24 March 2019
  3. Pike, A. (1996) "Goffage, John William Pilbean [Chips Rafferty] (1909–1971)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press.
  5. "Obituary: Chips Rafferty, Australian film actor", The Times, 29 May 1971.
  6. ""TL Things Just Happen to Me and I Like It"". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 22 October 1940. p. 5 Supplement: Women's Supplement. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  7. "The Mercury (Hobart)". 13 April 1946. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  8. "Australian Films in the Making". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 11 June 1940. p. 9 Supplement: Women's Supplement. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  9. Legge, J. (1968) Who's Who in Australia, XIX Edition, Herald and Weekly Times Limited, Melbourne.
  10. "Goffage, John". World War II Nominal Roll. Retrieved 27 January 2008.
  11. "LATE NEWS Australia Could Be Film-making Centre". The Sydney Morning Herald (33, 696). New South Wales, Australia. 21 December 1945. p. 1. Retrieved 5 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  12. "TO CONFER ON ACTORS' PAY". The Sydney Morning Herald (33, 980). New South Wales, Australia. 19 November 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 5 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  13. Vagg, Stephen (18 August 2019). "Australian Movie Stars". Filmink.
  14. Hopper, Hedda, "European Filmland", Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 June 1946, p. 12
  15. Philip Kemp, 'On the Slide: Harry Watt and Ealing's Australian Adventure', Second Take: Australian Filmmakers Talk, Ed Geoff Burton and Raffaele Caputo, Allen & Unwin 1999 p 145-164
  16. "English Critic's Coo-ee To "The Overlanders"". Worker. 57, (3098). Queensland, Australia. 2 December 1946. p. 17. Retrieved 5 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  17. "AUSTRALIAN COMEDY FILM TO BE MADE". The Argus (Melbourne) (31, 809). Victoria, Australia. 13 August 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 5 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  18. "ACTOR CRITICISES RULING ON FILMS". The Sydney Morning Herald (35, 595). New South Wales, Australia. 22 January 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 5 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  19. Thomas, Kevin (27 February 1966) "Mr. Rafferty ... a Chips Off the Old Block", Los Angeles Times. pg. B6
  20. The Age, "Chips Rafferty attacked by London Thugs", 10 September 1962, pg. 1
  21. "Charles "Bud" Tingwell – Interview Transcript tape 7". Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  22. Sherlock, J. "Wake in Fright". Jim's DVD Review and Selections. Archived from the original on 25 November 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  23. "CHIPS RAFFERTY, ACTOR, 62, DEAD: Australian Film Star Had Appeared on U.S. TV", The New York Times, 29 May 1971: 26.
  24. "List of Awards in Full", The Times, 1 January 1971.
  25. McFarlane et al., B. 2000 The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, Oxford University Press.<!-ISSN/ISBN needed-->
  26. "You've Got To Be Lucky To Do What Barry Did". Truth (3072). New South Wales, Australia. 5 December 1948. p. 2. Retrieved 14 March 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  27. "Q'land Location In New Rafferty Film". Morning Bulletin (27, 251). Queensland, Australia. 25 October 1948. p. 1. Retrieved 14 March 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  28. "Character part for Chips in next film". The Mail (Adelaide). 37 (1902). South Australia. 13 November 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 14 March 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  29. "Actor Criticises Ruling on Films". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 22 January 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  30. Martin, Betty (1 November 1968) "Movie Call Sheet: 'Paradise Island' Rights Bought" Los Angeles Times, p. f22
  31. "Entertainment: Miss Funicello Stars With Sands Film Is 'Babes in Toyland'; Presley Sets Four for Metro" Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times, 26 January 1961, p. B10
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