Remembering Judith Durham of The Seekers

When Keith Potger remembers Judith Durham, he thinks of her generosity and strength.

Potger, one of the founding members of The Seekers, spent much of the 60s making music and touring with Durham as the frontwoman of the band.

The musicians shared many surreal moments, like knocking the Beatles off the No.1 spot in the UK charts and performing to screaming crowds.

But reflecting on Durham’s life after her death aged 79, Potger most remembers her advocacy work.

four people sit around a couch.
Judith Durham, Athol Guy, Bruce Woodley and Keith Potger reunited in Melbourne in March 2019. (Australian Story: Darren James Photography)

After Durham’s husband, Ron Edgeworth, died from motor neurone disease in 1994,  she worked tirelessly to raise money and awareness to fight the degenerative disease.

“It made quite a difference to the awareness of that issue, and to see her unfailingly help to raise funds… that was quite remarkable in her generosity of spirit,” Potger told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“She was heroic.”

Durham is being remembered by people across the globe for her kindness, distinctive voice and contribution to music.

‘We did always share the music’

Durham was born Judith Mavis Cock in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon in 1943.

She changed her name to her mother’s maiden name at the age of 19.

Durham’s sister, Beverley Sheehan, said they grew up surrounded by music.

“We used to sing together in the morning and it used to wake up our parents,” she said.

“We did always share the music, but she was the one who always applied herself and didn’t have to be told to practise.” 

Sheehan recalled that when Durham was about nine years old, she expressed the desire to be a world-famous musician.

“Proved to be true.”

a woman with brown hair and a gray cardigan.
Beverley Sheehan says her little sister always loved music. (ABC News)

Durham’s tryout sent crowd ‘up three levels’

The Seekers was formed in 1962 and originally comprised four men, but one member left the group when he got married.

The remaining three members, Potger, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley, decided to find a female lead singer who suited the style of their music.

Athol Guy had met Ms Sheehan through the local music scene and she suggested Durham might be a good fit for the band.

Guy eventually met Durham on the first day of her new job at an advertising firm, J. Walter Thompson.

“I’m sitting in the office one day… and this little head poked itself around the corner and said, ‘Hello… I’m Judy Durham, you were going to come and hear me sing’,” he said.

a man with glasses wearing a gray jumper.
Athol Guy can vividly recall the first night Durham performed with The Seekers. (ABC News)

After Durham pointed out his unfulfilled promise, Guy invited her to perform with the band as a try-out that night, at a coffee lounge called The Treble Clef in South Yarra.

“After we’d hit the last note our little crew in the coffee lounge went up three levels. We went ‘that felt good’, and obviously it sounded good,” he said.

“From then on, everything just went the way fate decreed that it should, and I’ve always said you could never manufacture anything that happened to the band.”

In a 2016 interview with One Plus One, Durham described that first performance as “the birth of The Seekers as we now know”.

Durham joined The Seekers in 1963 and the band moved to the UK a year later, where their first three releases topped the British charts.

The Seekers would go on to achieve worldwide recognition, selling more than 50 million records.

A black and white image of three young men and a young woman
The Seekers in 1965: Athol Guy (left), Judith Durham, Bruce Woodley and Keith Potger. (Supplied: Bruce Woodley)

A familial bond between bandmates

Potger said he regarded the other members of The Seekers as being like his siblings.

“It was really quite extraordinary how that bond developed so quickly and strongly,” he said.

He said their strong connections helped them deal with the pressures of fame, as the band became increasingly successful throughout the 1960s.

“We felt that we were sharing the whole ride together,” he said.

During the four years they recorded, their songs often reached No.1 on the UK charts and they managed to crack the US market with Georgy Girl.

They had the highest-selling record of 1965, which achieved more sales than releases from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Judith Durham and Bruce Woodley never imagined they would become household names
L-R: Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Judith Durham and Bruce Woodley never imagined they would enjoy fame with The Seekers. (

But in 1968, Durham, who had always wanted to return to a solo jazz career, decided to leave the group.

“I found artistically that I wasn’t quite on the same page as the boys … I just found that I really need to do my own thing’,” she told Australian Story in 2019.

Durham returned to Australia and forged a solo career as a jazz singer, though she would return to performing with The Seekers in years to come.

‘It’s really sad for the entertainment industry’

Many notable figures from the music industry have expressed sadness over Durham’s death and paid tribute to her achievements.

On social media, Singer Dusty Springfield described Durham’s voice as “distinctive and endearing”.

Springfield said she met Durham in 1964 and that led to her brother, Tom Springfield, meeting The Seekers and writing many of their early hits, including I’ll Never Find Another You.

Normie Rowe, another Australian musician who achieved international success in the 1960s, said that despite Durham’s long battle with ill-health, she managed to perform in recent years the same way she always had.

“The Seekers were the definitive professional entertainment unit, it was wonderful to see them. They dressed impeccably,  they performed impeccably,” he said.

“There was no one else who could sing those songs the way that Judith sang them. It’s really sad for the entertainment industry, it’s really sad for the people of Australia.”

a man with gray hair wearing a blue shirt.
Normie Rowe has fond memories from his youth of spending time with Durham and the other members of The Seekers. (Supplied)

‘Magical’ performances live on in people’s memories

In 1967, The Seekers set an Australian record when a crowd of more than 200,000 watched their performance at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

RockWiz host Julia Zemiro said the crowd made up about one-tenth of the city’s population at the time.

Zemiro described a show at the Bowl in 2009 celebrating the iconic venue’s 50th anniversary and the artists who had performed on its stage.

“The dream was, could we get Judith Durham to sing there again?” she said.

“At the end of the show …  Judith just came out on her own… With that voice that just cut through, right up to the back of that space, people were so moved and in tears. It brought back memories people were taken aback by.

“She was kind of magical… we were so lucky to have that opportunity.”

The Seekers reunite decades later

The Seekers came together again in 1992 for a reunion tour, 25 years after they broke up.

Producer Michael Cristiano said no one expected Durham to rejoin the group.

“When they all broke up, there was a bit of a hiatus and everyone went their own ways… They just thought ‘that was it’, maybe,” he said.

a group of four men wearing suits and a woman wearing a red dress.
Producer Michael Cristiano with the members of The Seekers after their reunion. (Supplied)

The group played sell-out tours across Australia and overseas, including shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Their final concert was in Melbourne for the band’s 50th anniversary, where Durham told Australian Story in 2019 she knew it was time to bid farewell to performing.

“You could just feel it. Everybody was happy. They had got what they wanted. They had seen us for the last time. And for me it felt like a rounding out of everything,” she said.

Durham will receive a state funeral

Durham’s family have accepted the offer of a state funeral in Victoria, to honour her life and contribution to music.

Durham died in palliative care at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital due to complications from chronic lung disease.

Sheehan said Durham was able to say goodbye to all the members of The Seekers and her close family members.

Details of the funeral will be released in coming days.

© 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
ABC Content Disclaimer

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -