Life On The Job

Indigenous Famous Person's Story

Harold Blair  AM - Musician (Opera Singer - Vocalist) and Aboriginal Activist
[13 September 1924 - 21 May 1976]


Harold Blair’s beautiful voice captured the imagination of the Australian public. His unprecedented achievement as the nation’s first Aboriginal tenor opened the door for future generations of Aboriginal artists, and he used his high profile to demand better treatment for his people.
(Source: Department of Premier & Cabinet)

Harold Blair, Aboriginal tenor and activist, was born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Mission in Queensland in 1924. Encouraged by Marjorie Lawrence he studied at the Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne, and in the United States. In 1949 he married Dorothy Eden, a fellow singing student at the Conservatorium, and went on to teach there from 1956. He was a very popular stage performer.

In 1962 Blair started the Aboriginal Children's project which provided Melbourne holidays for Mission children. He stood as the Labor candidate for the seat of Mentone in the 1964 Victorian Sate elections, losing only on preferences to the sitting member, the Minister for Transport. He died in Melbourne in 1976 at the age of 51.
(Source: National Library of Australia)

Introduction & Education: 

Blair was born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve, 5 km from Murgon in Queensland.

His mother was Esther Quinn, a teenage Aboriginal woman. His surname, Blair, came from the family that had "adopted" his mother.

He and his mother then went to the Salvation Army Purga Mission near Ipswich. His mother entered domestic service, leaving Harold, then aged two, at the mission, where he received an elementary education. Blair left school at age 16, gaining employment as a farm labourer. (Source: Wikipedia)

When he was 15 Blair worked on a dairy farm, filling any empty hours listening to recordings of Richard Crooks and John McCormack on a wind-up gramophone.

At the age of 17, he was working as a tractor driver at the Fairymead Sugar Mill. (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1944 his friend, union leader Harry Green, arranged for him to audition for the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence, who was singing in Brisbane. She advised him to study singing seriously. In 1945 he was one of the first Aboriginals to perform on national radio: his appearance on Australia’s Amateur Hour, broadcast from the Lyric Theatre in Brisbane, won him a record number of listeners’ votes.

A group of trade unionists, academics and musicians formed a Harold Blair Trust to sponsor his career, but his lack of education precluded his enrolment at the State Conservatorium in Sydney and the University of Melbourne Conservatorium. Eventually, on Margaret Sutherland’s recommendation, Blair was accepted by the Albert Street (‘Melba’) Conservatorium in Melbourne.(Source: Live Performance)

He entered the Melba Conservatorium in Melbourne in 1945 and earned a Diploma of Music with honours in 1949 - becoming the first Aboriginal person to achieve a Diploma of Music.

With Dorothy
Harold Blair with his wife Dorothy Eden

Dorothy and Harold had two children: Nerida and Warren.

On 30 July 1949 Blair married a fellow student Dorothy Gladys Eden at Camberwell with the forms of the Churches of Christ. Because she was White, their union provoked racist comment. Encouraged by Todd Duncan, the Black American baritone, Blair left for the United States of America to study singing; they could not afford a fare for Dorothy. In New York he took part-time work as assistant-choirmaster and also cleaned offices to earn an income. The Australian Society of New York organized a benefit concert at which he performed on 18 March 1951 in the New York Town Hall. (Source: ANU: Dictionary of Biography)

Blair studied at the Juilliard School, New York. While in New York he sang in a church in Harlem, and entered into the community life. He was impressed how people of all races participated at all levels of society.

Harold Blair obtained his Diploma of Teaching. (Source: ABC Speaking Out)


The novelty value of an Aboriginal opera singer meant that Harold attracted significant publicity. He began to make public appearances and perform recitals. He also attracted praise from a visiting American baritone, Todd Duncan, who invited him to study in the United States.

To raise money for his study trip to America, Harold toured Australia extensively, delighting audiences wherever he went. He went on to spend 18 months in America, where he was struck by the progress that had been made by the African American population compared to his own people. Following a triumphant performance at the New York Town Hall, he returned to Australia in 1951 determined to see change. He began to use his unique position to speak publically about Aboriginal disadvantage, as well as the importance of education for Aboriginal children.

Whilst in America, Harold accepted an invitation from the ABC to join a major national tour marking Australia’s jubilee. He saw the tour as an honour and returned home before his studies were complete. Harold received standing ovations night after night, in towns and cities around the country, but the gruelling schedule took its toll on his voice. Although his voice recovered, his ABC contract prohibited him from singing professionally for three years. With his appearances limited to private functions and occasional benefit concerts, Harold took a job at a hardware store.
(Source: Department of Premier & Cabinet)

Did You Know?

Harold's biography was written in 1975
by Kenneth Harrison and called "Dark Man White World"

Dark Man White World

Experiences & Opportunities:

When he returned to Australia he lived in Melbourne and, while continuing his singing career, became an Aboriginal activist, joining the Aborigines Advancement League and the Federal Council of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. (Source: Stolen Generations)

In 1956, Harold began teaching part-time at the Melba Conservatorium and released his first and only recording.

Despite positive reviews for a local production, Of Mice and Men, the momentum that should have propelled him to international stardom had waned. Increasingly Harold’s focus was on Aboriginal rights. He campaigned alongside other prominent community leaders and was regularly invited to speak on social issues.  (Source: Department of Premier & Cabinet)

In 1957, when the Victorian government established its Aboriginal Welfare Board, it appointed Blair one of two Aboriginal representatives. He served as a director for the next three years. (Source: Stolen Generations)

Upon returning from a year-long tour of Europe with his family in 1958, Harold became an active member of the Aborigines Advancement League.

Following a run in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1962, Harold arranged for a group of Aboriginal marching girls from Cherbourg to perform at Melbourne’s Moomba festival. The success of the visit led to the creation of the Harold Blair Holiday Project. For more than a decade, hundreds of Aboriginal children from country areas of Australia were treated to trips to Melbourne.

In the 1964 Victorian state elections, he stood for the Australian Labor Party in a campaign he ran partly on Aboriginal issues: the poor state of their welfare, housing, health and education. He came first in the poll but was defeated when the pre¬ferences of the Democratic Labor Party went to the Liberals. He nonetheless put Aboriginal people onto the political agenda at a time when their plight otherwise attracted little public attention. (Source: Stolen Generations)

Following a brief period in South Australia, Harold returned to Victoria and became a music teacher. He taught at schools in Sunshine and Ringwood, earning praise for his “near genius as a choirmaster.”

Harold returned to the stage in 1973 for a performance of the Aboriginal opera Dalgerie at the newly opened Sydney Opera House. (Source: Department of Premier & Cabinet)

Harold with Marjorie Lawrence
Opera singers Harold Blair and Marjorie Lawrence singing Maranoa Lullaby
(Source: John Oxley Library)

His work for Aboriginal children

In 1962, after years of preparation including fund-raising from personal singing appearances, he founded the Harold Blair Aboriginal Children's Project in Queensland.

Since then more than 2,500 children from outback reserves and missions have been given home holidays in Melbourne. Mr Blair, a former footballer, was a music teacher in the Victorian
Education Department.

His biography, "Dark Man, White World", was published last August [1975]. The Prime Minister,
Mr Fraser, said yesterday that Australia had lost a great Australian in Harold Blair.

"Mr Blair was perhaps best known by thousands of Australians for his fine tenor voice", he said in a statement issued in Canberra. "However, it was his work with Aboriginal children that will be
missed most and will assure his place in Australia's history.
" Mr Blair spent much of his extraordinary energy bringing young Aboriginal children from outback Australia to foster homes in Melbourne and Sydney during school holidays and at Christmas. "His death will be sadly felt by the Aboriginal community and by all Australians of good will".
(Source: Trove)

Harold Blair with Cherbourg Marching Girls 1962
Harold Blair with Cherbourg Marching Girls in Melbourne in 1962
Cherbourg Memory)


Blair was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours of 1976. He died in May 1976.

Celebrating his Order of Australia
Celebrating his Order of Australia with Francis Bond
(Source: Courier Mail)

The Australian Electoral Division of Blair in Queensland, created in 1998, is named after him. (Source: Wikipedia)

He was posthumously inducted to the Live Performance Australia Hall of Fame. In addition, each year the Melba Opera Trust awards an Aboriginal student the Harold Blair Opera Scholarship. (Source: Department of Premier & Cabinet)


YouTube Video: Harold Blair with the choir of The Dutch Choral Society - "How Great Thou Art"




bullet.gif (981 bytes)The Koori History Website

Koori History website
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Dictionary of Biography

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Live Performance Australia: Harold Blair

Live Performance Australia

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Message Stick: Harold Blair

ABC's Message Stick
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Screen

Australian Screen
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Vimeo (a longer version of Australian Screen video)

bullet.gif (981 bytes)National Portrait Gallery:
Harold Blair AO

National Portrait Gallery
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Trove: Aboriginal tenor Harold Blair dies

bullet.gif (981 bytes)National Museum Australia

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Harold: A Portrait of Harold Blair

Harold: a Portrait of Harold Blair
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Wikipedia

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Maranoa Lullaby (Audio clip)

Maranoa Lullaby
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Department of Premier & Cabinet

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Queensland Times 20 September 2015

Queensland Times
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Video of Harold Blair singing

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Music from the ABC TV Documentary

bullet.gif (981 bytes)ABC Speaking Out (Audio file: 30 mins)

Speaking out
bullet.gif (981 bytes) The Cherbourg Memory

Cherbourg Memory
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Federation Story

Federation Story
bullet.gif (981 bytes)NITV: A short, black history of Indigenous opera singers




bullet.gif (981 bytes)Harold's Timeline


NumeracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Numeracy

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culturesAustralian Curriculum: Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

1. Divide into pairs. Each pair is to choose one website about Harold to research from those listed above.

2. List all the dates and what happens on those dates in an excel database. Order them by date.

3. Incorporate all the class results of your research into one document - showing all the dates relating to Harold Blair.

4. Create a timeline of these important dates and add photographs and art work to each event.

For example, here is a timeline of bicycle design...



bullet.gif (981 bytes)Talent Shows: Let's profile our young Indigenous stars

MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culturesAustralian Curriculum: Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

1. We have seen that Harold Blair won one talent show in 1945. In 2016, Isaiah Firebrace won the X Factor while in 2004 Casey Donovan won Australian Idol. In 2006 Jessica Mauboy was runner up in the same reality TV show.  

2. You and your partner are to use the information from the websites provided to create a new and exciting "Fakebook" site for one of these Australian Talent Show stars using one of the following templates from "3 Awesome Facebook Templates for your class". You can investigate their Facebook sites but they are to be very different.



Isaiah Firebrace

Isaiah Firebrace

His website
X Factor
Bendigo Advertiser
She Knows

His Facebook site
Casey Donovan

Casey Donovan

Her website
Herald Sun
Her Facebook site

Jessica Mauboy

Jessica Mauboy

Her website
NT News

Her Facebook site

3. What will you put on your Fakebook? What details will you provide about your chosen artist? Share with another pair. What interesting things/ideas did this other pair come up with?

4. With your partner, create an online video advertisement using Biteable encouraging other young Indigenous singers to explore new opportunities.




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