There aren’t too many actors who can be indentified by a couple of simple catchphrases.
But if you hear “Stone the flamin’ crows!” or “The flamin’ mongrel!” it’s a fair bet that many Australians would immediately know those as famous utterances from the mouth of television’s Alf Stewart from long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away.
Alf is the alter ego of 73-year-old veteran actor Ray Meagher, who holds a joint record for being the longest serving actor in an Australian drama series.
But had life turned out differently for Ray, he may have been a legend in a sporting hall of fame, as after leaving school he played Rugby Union football and represented Queensland in several games.
However, the lure of the stage and screen was too strong, and Ray appeared in many Australian films and television series in the 1970s and ’80s.
While he was always an excellent character actor in films like Breaker Morant, My Brilliant Career and The Odd Angry Shot, he became a household name after taking the role of Alf Stewart in Home and Away’s first episode in 1988, a role he has now played for 29 years. He is also the only original cast member, recognised by the television public with a Gold Logie for Most Popular Television Personality in 2010 and has also been nominated for Most Popular Actor.
An even more important award came his way earlier this year, when he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2017 Australia Day honours for his service to performing arts as an actor.
Yet Ray has managed to avoid becoming typecast, becoming a popular pantomime performer in England in the Home and Away summer break, playing roles like Captain Hook in Peter Pan in several English cities.
So where does the character of Alf come from? Ray told New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times that his creation is 70% Ray and 30% Alf, with that 30% being a quick-to-anger, slow-to-apologise, cranky old-school ocker. But he is keen to point out the difference between Alf and Ray.
“I hope I’m a bit more tolerant than Alf and I have a little bit more of a pleasant outlook on life… I see him as an archetypal knockabout Aussie bloke, and you could just about say that about me,” he muses.
Life is not always about Home and Away, as he has taken time off to play Bob, the Aussie mechanic with a heart of gold in the stage adaptation of the famous drag queen movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Away from the bright lights and television cameras, there is another side to Ray. He is a high-profile supporter of The Salvation Army, and was very visible during the 2017 Red Shield Appeal, visiting Sydney’s Street Level, where he helped serve meals, and the William Booth House rehabilitation centre, where he took the time to chat to clients and was genuinely interested in their stories.
“There’s been a lot of bad press for charities for various reasons, but when you see the money actually working in the Salvo environment, it’s fantastic,” Ray enthused on the Sunrise television show.
Ray is known for responding whenever the Salvos need a hand, “because the Salvos are an outstanding outfit.”
For Ray, his support of the Salvos is expressed in typically direct and down-to- earth words.
“If you can do something to help it’s fantastic, whether it’s talking to people or lending a hand. The Salvos do such a fantastic job.”
And who would ever argue with Summer Bay legend Alf Stewart?
Thank you, Ray, for always being there when the Salvos need a hand.