A pearl of northern Australia’s music scene, Henry ‘Seaman Dan’ Gibson, has died at 91, his family has confirmed.
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of a person who has died. Permission has been granted by the subject’s family to use the image of the deceased person.
An ARIA award-winning musician and National Indigenous Music Awards Hall of Fame entrant, the Torres Strait Island singer and guitarist was best known for his albums of sweet, seaside ballads.
His songs all ring with the tropical rhythms of Thursday Island — or “TI” — his beloved home on the island archipelago off the tip of Far North Queensland.
In paying tribute to his long-time collaborator, academic Dr Karl Neuenfeldt said Seaman Dan’s musical legacy was “eight albums and a lot of smiling people”.
“That’s what he always said was, ‘If people are smiling, then he’s doing his job,'” Dr Neuenfeldt said.
In spite of his long list of accolades and repertoire of songs, sung in both English and Torres Strait Creole, Uncle Seaman entered his recording career relatively late into life, at age 70.
Before his musical career, he worked as a pearl diver across the northern Australian coastline, from TI to Darwin and Broome, always with his guitar on lap, and always eager for a party.
Music throughout his life
Uncle Seaman was born on Thursday Island in 1929, where he attended a convent school and learned to sing in the school’s choir.
His parents had a wind-up gramophone and played Hawaiian, Jamaican, jazz and country music to their son — elements which all feature in Seaman Dan’s distinctive songwriting style.
Seaman Dan won the ARIA award for Best World Music twice, in 2004 and 2009, as well as the prestigious Red Ochre Award in 2005 for outstanding contributions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music.
He was inducted into the National Indigenous Music Awards hall of fame in 2013.
“[He helped] put Torres Strait music on the map,” Dr Neuenfeldt said.
“That was important for people, culturally, just to be recognised that they have their own music traditions — and they’re lovely traditions.
“Very eclectic music. That’s what Uncle Seaman was all about.”
Seaman Dan continued playing live, in pubs around Thursday and Horn Islands, well into his eighties.
His youngest daughter, Elvianna Dorante-Day, paid tribute to her father on social media.
“My father Seaman was my hero, he never stopped contributing to society until he died,” Ms Dorante-Day wrote.
“RIP father & thank you for everything you did for me whilst you were alive.”
Seaman Dan is survived by a large extended family, including his son, well-known Torres Strait rapper and musician, Patrick ‘Mau Power’ Mau.