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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Top of the pops to golden guitars

Of the six musicians who have been named as Australians of the Year, The Seekers (AoY 1967), John Farnham (AoY 1987) and Lee Kernaghan (AoY 2008) have had phenomenal popularity as contemporary balladeers of Australian life.

The 20-year intervals separating these three Australians of the Year showcase significant changes in Australian musical taste and technology: from folk pop and vinyl for The Seekers’ 1960s chart-toppers to the pop-rock and CD Walkmans for John Farnham’s The Voice to contemporary country and MP3 players for Lee Kernaghan’s Pass the Hat Around rural drought-relief tours. The ubiquity of music web sites has since made these performers most memorable live concerts captured on video, as well as most of their musical output available to new audiences.

The nomination and selection of The Seekers, John Farnham and Lee Kernaghan as Australians of the Year also reflects the changing criteria for Award recipients; the focus of the Victorian Australia Day Council’s selection in the 1960s favoured international acclaim which The Seekers won for Australia as the nation’s first international super-group. Their record-breaking crowd of over 200,000 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in March 1967 still stands as the highest attendance at a concert in the Southern Hemisphere. The selection of John Farnham and Lee Kernaghan, in succeeding decades, was in response to Australian acclaim. Having acknowledged John Farnham as the 1987 Australian of the Year, the Award ceremony was held on the Bicentennial Australia Day of 1988 where Farnham sang his popular anthem ‘You’re the Voice’. Lee Kernaghan continues to give voice to the Australian drama of life on the land and his swathe of Golden Guitars is proof of his ongoing popularity. 

5 portraits

1 Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings. © Ian Jennings. 2 The Seekers reunite 50 years on, 2011 Helen Edwards. © Helen Edwards. 3 John Farnham, 1996 Polly Borland. © Polly Borland.

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The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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