A musical legend
Henry Gibson Dan or Seaman Dan as he was affectionately known, was the ripe age of seventy when he released his first album with music producer, Karl Neuenfeldt. Undoubtedly Australia’s oldest ‘gigging’ musician and recording artist, Seaman Dan continued to delight audiences well into his eighties.
Of Melanesian, Polynesian and African-American heritage, Seaman Dan’s music combines blues, hula and jazz with the traditional music of his Torres Strait Islander culture. His combination of ‘ailan’ style music and beautiful baritone voice takes you to a place where you can feel and smell the saltwater breeze.
Seaman Dan led an adventurous and sometimes dangerous life working as a pearl shell diver, boat skipper, taxi driver and mineral prospector. It was during his time working as a diver that he acquired his lifelong nickname ‘Seaman’ Dan.
The world renowned singing trio the Mills Sisters, also from the Torres Straits, recall the weekend parties at the Batch (the Batchelor Pad) 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, the centre of social and athletic life in those days.
‘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 Egan
His career was an exceptional one, from singing on the veranda in Far North Queensland to featuring at major award ceremonies at the Sydney Opera House. He has netted two ARIA Awards for best world music album, a Red Ochre Award for his contribution to Indigenous music and was still winning major music awards into his eighties.
Ted Egan remarks on Seaman Dan’s musical career, his entire life has been nothing short of extraordinary and that Australia is indeed a lucky country. As for Seaman Dan, he was humble in his success and recognition late in life and when encouraging young musicians he quietly advised, ‘If this old fella can make it, you can too. Just take things steady, steady.’
You can read more about Seaman Dan’s life and music in his book that he co-authored with Karl Neunfeldt Steady Steady: the life and music of Seaman Dan available from Aboriginal Studies Press.