Australian music legend, singer of The Seekers, dies at 79

Joining Guy were Keith Potger and another publicist, Bruce Woodley, and soon Durham became a regular at his Monday night performances at a popular café. Potger in those days was also a producer for ABC radio, so on his lunch break he made a demo tape of the group, which became the first album, Introducing The Seekers, although Potger wasn’t supposed to have a second job, so he didn’t. t appears on the album cover. Durham also recorded two more songs with the Jazz Preachers, Muddy Water and Trombone Frankie (a cover of Bessie Smith’s Trombie Cholly).


Ready to see the world, in 1964 the group signed up to perform on the SS Fairsky to reach London. They planned to return home after 10 weeks in Europe, but got so many bookings in England that they decided to stay.

In November 1964, the group released I’ll Never Find Another You, and by February it was number 1 in the UK and Australia, and the Seekers were well on their way to stardom. Over the next few years, the group released the successful albums A World of Our Own, The Carnival is Over and Morningtown Ride.

Seekers’ biggest international seller was Georgy Girl (music by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom), which had originally been the theme song for the film starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and the single went to number 1 in the US.

In 1967, 200,000 people (about 10 per cent of Melbourne’s population at the time) saw the Seekers perform at the Myer Music Bowl. It wasn’t until 2020 that a full recording of the set was released that day, and at the release of the Hidden Treasures record, Durham, then 76, looked back in awe at what remains the biggest concert in the southern hemisphere.

Keith Potger, Judith Durham, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley during a promo stunt for The Seekers.

Keith Potger, Judith Durham, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley during a promo stunt for The Seekers.

“He had a dry mouth, he gets nervous at times, plus there was no air conditioning and it was Melbourne summer, typical March weather,” Durham said. “I will never find another. You had become number 1 in the whole world and that was a big turning point for us, but we hadn’t had the big welcome from the Australians yet. That’s what was so amazing when we put on that show in the bowl.”

It was part of a series of great moments for the band in 1967: The Seekers Down Under were rated sky-high on television, and the members were named Australians of the Year (the only time in the history of the award that a group has had the title ).

However, the following year, despite all his success with the Seekers, Durham decided he wanted something more and announced he was leaving the group. She also decided, in 1968, to become a vegetarian, and after that she lived a smoke-free, eco-friendly, decaffeinated, abstemious, drug-free and cruelty-free life.

Judith Durham launched a successful solo career after leaving the Seekers in 1968.

Judith Durham launched a successful solo career after leaving the Seekers in 1968. Credit:Fairfax

The decision to leave the Seekers paid off, he was inundated with solo offers and asked a London-based freelance musician, Ron Edgeworth, to be his musical director, pianist and arranger. Edgeworth had worked with many big names and was in constant demand, but signed with Durham.

His first solo album was For Christmas with Love, and he continued to tour, working in New Zealand and Australia, and was in constant demand for tours and nightclubs in the UK. In 1969, she and Edgeworth married in Melbourne.

Durham continued to work around the world, singing everything from folk to jazz, blues, gospel, ragtime, and classical music. In the 1970s, she recorded traditional jazz albums with Edgeworth and released a piano and vocal recording of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1978.

In the 1980s, Durham and Edgeworth settled on the Sunshine Coast, and she concentrated on writing and performing her own work. She and Ian Austin also wrote a musical, Gotta Be Rainbows.

The bad times came in the 1990s. In 1990, Durham, Edgeworth and their tour manager were in a car accident that killed the driver of the other car and left Durham with a broken wrist and leg. However, he was never intimidated. In January 1993, with the Seekers’ silver jubilee approaching, the group announced a reunion concert. This became a successful tour, but Edgeworth was then diagnosed with motor neurone disease and died in late 1994.

A better part of 1994 was the release of Durham’s authorized biography, Colors of My Life: The Judith Durham Story, by Graham Simpson. This was popular enough to be updated and re-released in 1998 and 2003. In 1995, the Seekers were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame, and Durham was made a member of the Order of Australia for his services to music.

After years without an album, in 1996 Durham released Mona Lisas. The following year, it was released again as Always There with Durham’s solo recording of Bruce Woodley’s I am Australian (with Air Supply’s Russell Hitchcock and Yothu Yindi’s Mandawuy Yunupingu).

For a few years around this time, Durham was harassed by an obsessed fanatic, who bombarded her with phone calls and faxes and started bogus legal cases against her. In 1998, the stalker was finally convicted of stalking and ordered to stay away from Durham.

In 2000, Durham’s album Let Me Find Love was re-released as Hold on to Your Dream, with the additional recording of his song Australia Land of Today. Durham toured Australia again in 2001 and, in 2003, she toured the UK to celebrate her 60th birthday. A film of her birthday concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall was released in 2004 as a DVD.

In 2006, Durham sang part of her song Seldom Melbourne Leaves My Mind in Melbourne and was invited by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund to record it for a fundraiser. Ultimately, Durham recorded her entire The Australian Cities Suite, which was released in October 2008 for charity. The suite includes Sydney Girl of My Dreams, Happy Years I Spent in Hobart, and Australia Land of Today.

Durham returned to the stage in 2012 with her 50th anniversary one-woman tour show, Colors of My Life, and her 1969 album Gift of Song was eventually released on CD.

Seekers lead singer Judith Durham before winning a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Australian Women In Music Awards in 2019.

Seekers lead singer Judith Durham before winning a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Australian Women In Music Awards in 2019. Credit: Paul Jeffers

Over the years Durham performed with the Seekers, usually for charity, and in 2013 they reunited for a 50th anniversary tour. Celebrations to mark the anniversary included the Australia Post presenting Durham with a 24-carat gold ‘seal’ as part of the ‘Legends of Australian Music’ series, and the group portrait of Helen Edwards hanging in the National Gallery of Portraits in Canberra.

Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley, Judith Durham and Athol Guy reunited for the Seekers' 50th birthday celebrations.

Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley, Judith Durham and Athol Guy reunited for the Seekers’ 50th birthday celebrations. Credit:Justin McManus

Then, after his first concert of the tour, at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, Durham complained of not feeling well and collapsed with a brain hemorrhage. The stroke affected her ability to read and write, and she spent months in rehab, but she didn’t lose her singing voice, as she told The Age in 2019. “The doctor said, ‘Can you sing me a song? ? ‘ and of course I sang Morningtown Ride.”

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