If you ever visit Torres Strait (and you really should) you’ll hear people say “steady steady” – in response to a “how you going” or as advice on how to proceed. It’s a saying from the old pearl diving days, describing how the boat might be handled to give the diver a smoother time down deep, searching for pearl shells.
And Steady Steady is the name of the just-published biography of a man who spent a fair amount of his life diving for pearls – Henry Gibson Dan, better known these days as Seaman Dan, the ARIA award winning singer-songwriter who released his first album in 1999 at the age of 70.
Uncle Seaman was born on Thursday Island in 1929. He lived at Coen, on Cape York Peninsula, as a young lad, and then in Cairns during World War Two. Just after the war, he began diving for trochus shell on the Great Barrier Reef, and later became a pearl diver in Torres Strait and the seas off northern Australia. Seaman Dan loved music since his youngest days, and started to perform with bands during the 1950s in Darwin. He’s had many jobs over the years, diver, drover, ice man, gold prospector, taxi driver – but he always made time to enjoy and perform music.
In January 1999, music producer and academic Karl Neuenfeldt met Uncle Seaman by chance on Thursday Island, resulting in an invitation record in Cairns. A mix of original compositions and traditional Torres Strait songs became the award-winning album Follow The Sun. Over the next decade, Uncle Seaman made five albums, won two ARIA awards, and he’s performed for audiences all over Australia and overseas.
At age 83, Seaman Dan is one of Australia’s oldest active musicians. He still plays two gigs a week at home in the Torres Strait. Music, he says, is the main reason he gets up in the morning.
Steady Steady tells the story of a remarkable and adventurous life – and there are many Torres Strait folk of his generation who lived similarly adventurous lives. But there is only one Seaman Dan, a master of island style music and a true gentleman.
Listen to the music and stories of Seaman Dan.
Steady Steady – the Life and Music of Seaman Dan is published by Aboriginal Studies Press http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/asp/aspbooks/steadysteady.html