Ray Meagher has appeared on our televisions for more than 50 years, so one could suppose that acting was always in his future. However, the TV veteran claims that it was the furthest thing from his thoughts in the 1970s when possibilities started knocking and others were dwindling.
Ray confesses in our exclusive conversation with him that his work has nothing to do with unrestrained ambition and everything to do with the never-ending search of happiness. Ray’s trip down memory lane will be featured on a special edition of This Is Your Life.
Ray, who was born and raised in Roma, Queensland, on a cattle ranch, used his talent to play rugby union for Brisbane City and the Queensland Reds.
Despite his passion for the sport, he had very little opportunity to play professionally. He “was coaxed into it by a man in a football club” and gave amateur theatre a shot one day. But something prevented him from moving forward.
“There was a person in an amateur play I performed, perhaps the second or third performance I had ever given, who had just received their degree in acting from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts and was being paid to do this thing [act]. I pondered, “This guy must be making a life off of this; is that really possible?” To TV WEEK, Ray, 78, recounts.
“I talked to my eldest brother about it because I thought, ‘He’s the one I’ve got to get it past,’ and because this was Australia in the 1970s, where views weren’t quite as broad as they are now, I figured I’d better talk to him about it before I try to make a go of this funny old stuff they call ‘acting.'” Yes, we [Australia] are creating a little bit of stuff, so if you want to try it, go ahead. That is amazing, I said. Obtaining his approval was significant because of how much I loved and admired him. After landing a part on Matlock Police in 1973, Ray went on to star in more than 50 productions both domestically and internationally.
The script for Home And Away was then given to Ray between 1987 and 1988 when he was filming two miniseries, Spit MacPhee with Sir John Mills and True Believers.
At first, the idea of having a regular job appealed to him, but after 34 years and more than 7000 episodes with H&A, the cast and crew have won him over. “Jeez, it’s great to be in my own bed again. I hadn’t been at home frequently in a while.
Additionally, you spent the entire run of Home And Away in your own bed. It was nearly like having an actual job, he exclaims. The Home And Away cast as a whole, some of whom are still around, were simply outstanding.
Ray currently holds the title of “Godfather of Australian TV” and a Guinness World Record for being a cast member in an Australian drama for the longest period of time. He also received a TV WEEK Gold Logie Award.
Chris Hemsworth, a well-known actor and former member of the H&A ensemble, gave him the moniker to honour Ray’s legacy in the film This Is Your Life.
Host Mel Doyle unexpectedly made a trip to Sydney’s Palm Beach, where actor Ray, who has played Alf Stewart in H&A since 1988, was hard at work filming. She prepared him for a star-studded evening with notable guests and memorable moments while holding the distinctive red book.
Ray reconnected with John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones, former rugby players who recounted a funny incident in Wales, as well as current and former H&A stars Judy Nunn, Kate Ritchie, Bec Hewitt, Julian McMahon, Ryan Kwanten, Ada Nicodemou, Lynne McGranger, and Georgie Parker.
He thinks the likes of Judy Nunn, Vanessa Downing, Roger Oakley, etc., were amazing to watch. “And of course, there are those who remain. They are all wonderful folks, and they all had such sweet things to say. I started crying as a result of that. Since Ray has played Alf since the beginning of the series, his no-nonsense remarks like “Strewth” and “Flamin’ galah!” have entered Australian slang. He even has a wax replica of himself in Sydney’s Madame Tussauds. Ray attributes his success to the hard effort of those that surround him.
He states, “I simply go to work and try to do the best I can every day. What other people think of you, whether favourably or unfavourably, is up to them.
“There are probably 10 or 20 fellas who could have done the role; it’s about the show and character, not the specific actor,” Ray told TV WEEK earlier this year.
The most touching scene on This Is Your Life may be when Ray talks about his family. He discusses his rough upbringing as an orphan fostered by his sister-in-law Pat while attending boarding school. Ray is overtaken with emotion when she comes on stage with him.
She was to him “like a mother.” “I was the youngest of four kids by a fair way and it was fantastic to have her there.” Then, in a rare public event, Ray is also joined by his wife Gilly and stepdaughter Rebecca. The pair, who tied the knot in 2010, look back on their quiet marriage and reveal never-before-seen wedding images.
And, as at every reunion, his family, friends, and coworkers praised his strong, loyal, and humble demeanour. It would appear that Ray’s quest of happiness is based on how happy he makes others, from those closest to him to those who merely have a vague impression of him.
Ray declares, “I feel quite well right now. And I plan to continue for a sizable amount of time.