LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE
By ANDREA CROTHERS
RAY Meagher was at the rear end of a horse when something struck him.
Admittedly, it was an odd place to stand for a man virtually raised riding the animals in western Queensland.
But this was like no horse he’d ever encountered.
It was a kids pantomime production in Brisbane and he’d scored the role of the pony’s back half after somebody had pulled out.
As the then promising rugby player’s confidence on the stage grew, the thought crossed his mind that maybe he could consider acting as a career.
Flash forward almost half a century and Ray graces television screens around the world as one of Australia’s best exported characters – Home & Away’s Alf Stewart.
It’s a role that earned him the Guinness World Record for the longest continuing performer in an Australian television role as the only original actor still with the serial since it hit screens in 1988.
It also scored him the 2010 Gold Logie Award for most Popular Personality in Australian Television.
“I tried to keep a line through [Alf] in that he walks like me, he talks like me,” Ray explained of his approach to the role.
“Physically there’s a lot of me in Alf’s character, but there’s probably 25 per cent that the writers put in there.”
He adds with a laugh: “I’d like to think I’m not as grumpy as him.”
Though Ray started boarding school on the Gold Coast at age nine and worked as an actor in Sydney for 16 years before Home & Away came along, his upbringing on the sheep and cattle station near Dirranbandi would have more influence on Alf’s character than anything else.
So much so, his first battle with the show’s producers after scoring the role was to convince them Alf was a man who wore moleskins and RM Williams boots – beach or no beach.
The trademark “flamin’” added into any workable sentence to leave Alf’s mouth was a doing of the scriptwriters, but other expressions such as “Stone the flamin’ crows” were borrowed from characters from his childhood.
“Not borrowed, stolen!” Ray corrects, with a hearty laugh.
He goes on to describe a Dirranbandi stock and station agent, Dick Backhouse, who had a particular love for the saying.
“I just remember him after a few days in the sale yards and after few rumbos he could fit the flaming crows into the one sentence about 25 times…maybe a bit of an exaggeration,” Ray said.
“But the more rums he had, the more times the expression was used.”
Another one, “Strike me roan”, was adopted from grazier Bill Keen of Ingie, near Dirranbandi.
“Most people would say ‘Strike me lucky’ or ‘Strike me pink’ in difficult moments, but he used to say ‘Strike me roan’; so I took that one,” Ray said.
“I would think ‘Strike me roan’ would be a Bill Keen original.”
Beneath the expressions and rural wear, Alf Stewart is a passionate family man who’s become the loveable grandfather of Australian television.
The character resonates with audiences just as much as cracking open a cold beer with mates after a summer scorcher or tucking into lamingtons on Australia Day.
“[Alf’s] the sort of bloke who still at his age would have a go rather than not have a go, even if it was impossible for him to win,” Ray said.
“If he had a point, he’d prosecute it to the best of his ability.”
This year Ray Meagher will return to his hometown of Dirranbandi to open the 94th Annual Agricultural Show on Saturday, April 2.
It’s no ordinary show this year, with a mega open-air concert featuring to provide some relief to the drought-stricken community.
The perennial James Blundell and international country music star Mick Lindsay will headline the concert, which will also feature performances by the Ayers Rockettes and Missy Lancaster.
It’s been 10 years since Ray’s last visit and he couldn’t think of a flamin’ better reason to go back.
*For more information about the Dirranbandi Show & Drought Concert visit the Facebook Page.
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