A lot has been said about the much loved and highly respected Seaman Dan from the Torres Strait Islands in North Queensland, but when he strikes a chord on his guitar and sings, especially in traditional language, all becomes quiet.
Henry Gibson Dan or Seaman Dan as he is affectionately known, was the ripe age of seventy when he released his first album with music producer, Karl Neuenfeldt. A decade and six albums later, now eighty four, Seaman Dan is probably Australia’s oldest ‘gigging’ musician and recording artist.
His life is full of colourful stories, and the world renowned singing trio also from the Torres Straits, the Mills Sisters, recall the weekend parties at the Batch on Thursday Island where Bala (Brother) Seaman was always there with his guitar singing.
Australian bush legend and fellow musician, Ted Egan met Seaman Dan in the 1950s in Darwin, and they could often be heard singing the night away together at gatherings at 118 Parap Camp.
"He was the genuine article and the blue water man to us and given he was a pearl diver whenever he arrived at a party, you could hear people crying out, stand back you shallow water mob, make way for the deep sea diver.
"He knew all the pearling songs and those marvelous traditional songs of the Torres Strait, he was a beaut, good looking bloke," Ted recalls affectionately. So it makes sense that the story of Seaman Dan steeped in saltwater tradition from the Torres Strait Islands surrounded by never-ending deep blue seas, be told.
And so, began another collaborative journey with his good friend Karl Neuenfeldt, who together wrote Seaman Dan’s autobiography Steady Steady, the Life and Music of Seaman Dan published by the AIATSIS publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press. Steady Steady is more than the story of Seaman Dan, it also encapsulates the history, the lifestyles and the cultural traditions of the people on the Torres Strait spanning decades - these are the stories he tells through his music ‘ailan style.’
Ted Egan reckons Seaman Dan’s musical career, his entire life has been nothing short of remarkable and that Australia is indeed a lucky country. As for Seaman Dan, he is humble in his success and recognition late in life and when encouraging young musicians, he quietly advises, "If this old fella can make it, you can too. Just take things steady, steady."