A Seeker who found international fame
Ready to see the world, in 1964 the group signed on to perform on the SS Fairsky to get to London. They planned to come home after 10 weeks in Europe but got so many bookings in England they decided to stay on.
In November 1964, the group released I’ll Never Find Another You, and by February it was No. 1 in the UK and Australia, and the Seekers were on their way to stardom. Over the next few years, the group released the hit records A World of Our Own, The Carnival is Over and Morningtown Ride.
The Seekers’ biggest international seller was Georgy Girl (music by Dusty Springfield’s brother, Tom), which had originally been the title song for the movie starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and the single made No.1 in America.
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 that day was released, and at the launch of the Hidden Treasures record Durham, then 76, looked back in wonder at what is still the biggest concert in the Southern Hemisphere.
“I had a dry mouth, you do get that sometimes with nerves, plus there was no air conditioning and it was a Melbourne summer, typical March weather,” Durham said. “I’ll Never Find Another You had become No. 1 all over the world and that was a big turning point for us, but we hadn’t had the huge welcome from the Australian people yet. That was what was so mind-blowing when we performed that show at the bowl.”
It was part of a series of big moments for the band in 1967 – The Seekers Down Under rated through the roof on television, and the members were named Australians of the Year (the only time in the award’s history that a group has had the title).
However, the following year, despite all her success with the Seekers, Durham decided that she wanted something else and announced that she was leaving the group. She also decided, in 1968, to become a vegetarian, and after that lived a life that was non-smoking, environmentally friendly, decaffeinated, teetotal, drug free and cruelty free.
The decision to leave the Seekers paid off, offers for her to sing as a solo artist flooded in, and she asked a London-based freelance musician, Ron Edgeworth, to be her musical director, pianist and arranger. Edgeworth had worked with many big names and was in constant demand, but he signed on with Durham.
Her first solo album was For Christmas with Love, and she 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 were married in Melbourne.
Durham continued to work around the world, singing anything and everything from folk to jazz to blues to gospel to ragtime and classical. In the 1970s, she recorded trad jazz albums with Edgeworth and released a piano and voice recording from 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 fractured wrist and leg. However, she was never daunted. In January 1993, with the Seekers’ silver jubilee approaching, the group announced a reunion concert. This turned into a successful tour, but then Edgeworth was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and died in late 1994.
A better part of 1994 was the release of Durham’s authorised biography, Colours 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 Record Industry Association’s (ARIA) Hall of Fame, and Durham was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to music.
After years without an album, in 1996 Durham released Mona Lisas. The following year this was released again as Always There with Durham’s solo recording of Bruce Woodley’s I am Australian (with Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply and Mandawuy Yunupingu of Yothu Yindi).
For some years around this time, Durham was stalked by an obsessed fan, who bombarded her with telephone calls and faxes and started spurious law cases against her. In 1998, the stalker was eventually convicted of stalking and ordered not to approach Durham.
In 2000, Durham’s album Let Me Find Love was re-released as Hold on to Your Dream, with the extra recording of her song Australia Land of Today. Durham toured Australian again in 2001 and, in 2003, she toured the UK to mark her 60th birthday. A film of her birthday concert in 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 as a fundraiser. In the end, Durham recorded her entire The Australian Cities Suite, which was released in October 2008 in aid of charity. The suite includes Sydney Girl of My Dreams, Happy Years I Spent in Hobart and Australia Land of Today.
Durham went back on stage in 2012 with her 50th anniversary one-woman touring show, Colours of My Life, and her 1969 album Gift of Song was at last released on CD.
Over the years, Durham performed with the Seekers, usually for charity, and in 2013 they got together for a 50th anniversary tour. Celebrations to mark the anniversary included Australia Post presenting Durham with a 24-carat gold “stamp” as part of the “Legends of Australian Music” series, and the portrait of the group by Helen Edwards hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
Then, after their first tour concert, at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, Durham complained about not feeling well and collapsed with a brain haemorrhage. The stroke affected her ability to read and write, and she spent months in rehabilitation, but she did not lose her singing voice, as she told The Age in 2019. “The doctor said, ‘Can you sing me a bit of a song?’ and of course I sang Morningtown Ride.”