Henry Gibson Dan was, in his quiet, unassuming way, one of the most remarkable men I've met. A proud Torres Strait islander who worked at many things across northern Australia. His nickname "Seaman" comes from his many years diving for pearl shell, in the old-fashioned pressure suit and helmet, breathing through a hose running down from a boat.
Seaman Dan was a "deep water man", one of the saltwater cowboys who made a living when pearling was a lucrative pursuit in our northern tropics, for those with the courage and luck such dangerous work required. And he would perform in pubs, at parties, that rich "crooner" voice delivering everything from Nat King Cole to calypso, hula, jazz. Island style music - like Torres Strait - has a little bit of everything and everywhere.
By age 70, Uncle Seaman Dan could have opted for a quiet life back in Torres Strait. But visiting music scholar Karl Neuenfeldt heard him sing, and invited him to make an album. They went on to make eight albums that put Torres Strait music on the map, and won Seaman Dan fans and admirers across the world. He won two ARIA awards, he's in the National Indigenous Music Hall of Fame, all sorts of honours, including an Order of Australia.
He kept performing well into his 80s, sharing his music and life story with characteristic generosity. Seaman Dan died in late December. He was 91.
Listen to my ABC Radio tribute to Uncle Seaman Dan
Find yourself a copy of his biography - Steady Steady: The Life and Music of Seaman Dan
Richard is a writer, podcaster, radio and TV broadcaster, an editor, and a lover of music. He tells the stories of how great songs are made, and of the people who make them.