Sergeant Tony Rafty
Date of birth: 12 October 1915
Place of birth: Paddington, NSW
Born Anthony Raftopoulos, Tony Rafty demonstrated an interest in art from an early age. Encouraged by his mother, he spent two years at Sydney Technical College, Darlinghurst; however he was largely self-taught. His first job as a cartoonist was with the sporting paper Referee, after which he joined the Sydney newspaper The Sun (Associated Newspaper group) in 1940.
Rafty enlisted with the Commonwealth Military Forces on 29 December 1941, and was transferred to the Australian Infantry Forces six months later. In early 1943 he was invalided from the Northern Territory and his drawings, done while a hospital patient in Darwin, were seen by the Director General of Medical Services. Rafty was brought to the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Treloar, and a few months later he was transferred to the Military History Section in Melbourne.
After joining the Section, Rafty was employed mainly in connection with the production of the Services Annuals the original drawings he produced for these illustrations are held in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. Although employed as an illustrator, Rafty was anxious to work in forward areas. Early in 1944 he was sent to New Guinea, landing at Port Morseby on 16 March. He volunteered to accompany official war artist William Dargie and the 57/60th Battalion on their push through from the Shaggy Ridge area to Bogadjim. At one point during their journey, Dargie and Rafty survived an ambush by the Japanese.
In July 1944 Rafty returned to Australia, landing in Brisbane. Having contracted malaria, he was discharged as medically unfit not long before the war ended. The works he produced in New Guinea, such as Planes dropping supplies, are complemented by drawings of Australian home front subjects following his return, including the Heidelberg hospital in Melbourne (see Recreation on the lawn, Ward 2, Heidelberg Hospital) and the Victory in Europe celebrations in Sydney (see The war ends in Europe).
Rafty returned to part-time employment with The Sun and was sent to Singapore and Borneo as a war artist correspondent, covering the post-war surrender period. In September 1945 he witnessed the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore and recorded the release of Australian POWs from Japanese prison camps, such as Kuching in Borneo. He then visited Java to cover Indonesia’s struggle for independence, and arrived in time to witness the battle of Surabaya; he also met and befriended President Sukarno.
During his employment in the Military History Section and later as an official war artist, Rafty created a large body of work for the National Collection. His strengths lay in his good humour and personable nature, revealed through his cartoons and his friendships with people from all walks of life. Later, he was president of the Australian Black and White Artists’ Club, the Sydney Journalists’ Club and the War Correspondents’ Association. He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1990 for ‘Cartooning in the media’.