BLAIR, HAROLD (1924-1976), singer and Aboriginal activist, was born probably on
13 September 1924 at Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve, near Murgon, Queensland, son of
Esther Quinn. She gave him the surname Blair in gratitude to the family who had
'adopted' her. Six months after his birth, he and his teenage mother were
transferred to the Purga Mission near Ipswich; when Harold was aged 2, Esther was
sent away to take a post as a domestic servant. Harold remained at Purga under the
care of the Salvation Army mission staff until he was almost 16: he worked on the
dairy farm and received a limited education, designed to enable him to gain
employment as a farm labourer. He entertained visitors by mimicking Richard Crooks
and John McCormack whose records he frequently played on an old, wind-up
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Australian Dictionary of Biography
Harold Blair, Aboriginal tenor and activist, was born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Mission near Murgon in Queensland. He began working among the cane fields in Childers but his vocal potential was noticed by local businessmen who gained him an audience with the famous soprano Marjorie Lawrence. She encouraged him to pursue singing and her public support brought him to the attention of the media. Blair went on to enter the national radio variety show Australia's Amateur Hour, where he became the first Aboriginal musician to sing on national radio and won with the highest number of audience votes in the show's history.
Blair then commenced studies at the Melba Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne and overcame his inability to read or write music or where he graduated with first class honours in 1949. He travelled to the United States to continue his musical studies, first with Todd Duncan and later with Sara Lee.
Upon his return, Blair joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission's 1951 Jubilee tour. The demanding recital tour placed a strain on his voice which eventually curtailed his career as a performer. He moved into the field of teaching, joining the staff at the Melbourne Conservatorium in 1956 and also began work as a small businessman, running a milk bar and service station.
Blair's observations of the racial climate in the United States increased his awareness of issues facing Aboriginal people in Australia. In 1957 Blair represented Aboriginal Australians at a Moral Re-Armament conference in the United States and subsequently worked for the group at their headquarters in Switzerland, during which time he gave a number of recitals in Europe. He started the Aboriginal Children's Project in 1962, which provided home holidays in Melbourne for Mission children, and stood as the Labor candidate for the seat of Mentone in the 1964 Victorian State elections, losing on preferences to the sitting member.
Blair began working as a music teacher in the Victorian Education Department in 1967 and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1976. He died in Melbourne at the age of 51. The Queensland constituency of Blair is named for him.