Dave Lanning meets Judith Durham in 1967
ON a rustic bridge, in the Springtime sylvan splendour of Regent’s Park, London, isn’t the likeliest locale to talk about Charlie Charm Pucks, Anzac Tiles and the Gloria Sarah Titch of Australian slang.
But that’s how it is: Miss Judith Durham, girl singer of The Seekers, and I. We outfit to be talking about poetry, blossom and what every young man’s fancy turns to in this sort of setting.
But the subject is Strine (Australian slang). And Judith, pert, articulate, seven subjects at “O” level (including languages) is doing the interpreting.
◉ Charlie Charm Puck: is how a true-drawling outback Aussie says “jolly jum-buck” (you know, the sheep in “Waltzing Matilda”).
◉ Anzac Tiles: are cracker biscuits. This goes back to the trenches of the First World War. Don’t hear it often these days.
◉ Gloria Sarah Titch: hmmm, that’s “glorious heritage.” Read it again quickly. Now you’re getting with it.
Just like I am this lunchtime. It’s break time during rehearsals for Tuesday’s The Des O’Connor Show. Judith (without the rest of The Seekers) is this week’s guest. She has just been rehearsing a song called “Somethin’ Stupid” with Des. And that mood has carried over. It’s that sort of day.
Not that Judith (she hates to be called Judy) goes around talking slang. On the contrary. She retains only a trace of Australian dialect in her speech. Born, bred and educated on the right side of the tracks in staid Melbourne, she has acquired a veneer of sophistication during her three years in England.
But she is still Aussie enough to know that Emma Chisat isn’t a girl but an inquiry about costs. And that Baked Necks hasn’t the slightest connection with sun-stroke, but is how a bushman might order a breakfast of bacon and eggs.
“Actually, there’s a Cockney influence in Strine,” she says. “You can’t live in Australia without coming into contact with it: right from the nursery, Dave. From the day you learn Chair Congeal and Lilma Smarfit…”
Hey, hold on now. Let’s take that slowly. That must be Jack and Jill and Little Miss Muffet?
“Right,” replies Judith. “Yer catching on fast, mite.” And she laughs.
She has fascinating dimples and brown eyes that crinkle happily when she’s smiling. A great sense of humour. I have a suspicion that she’s putting on the Strine strictly for my benefit. Aussie slang is rip-roaring, honky-tonk and Judith is neither. She is very, very feminine.
Judith is 23, and 5ft. 3in. tall and trim. She has lost 1st. in weight recently. Writes shorthand at 100 words per minute, types at 70 w.p.m., and writes long letters home to Mum two or three times a week, just like any other girl 12,000 miles from home. Courting… an English boy.
A big star with a sensational voice. But she prefers simplicity to glitter; sincerity rather than glamour. Her favourite piece of jewellery is a single pearl, set in marcasite, on a thin gold chain. A parental present and it is rarely missing from the Durham neck.
If Judith likes something or someone, it’s for keeps. She cares little for high fashion. If she likes a dress she wears it, regardless of whether it is “in” or not.
There’s no nonsense about the girl. She’s a bright conversationalist, but a good listener. Brainy, too. Won a prize at school for biology. Put it to practical use while dieting. “You know, all the facts about digestion,” she adds.
We stroll together through the trees to a shaded, typically English pub for refreshment. Like any Australian worth the name, petite Judith will go a beer, and “front up” when it’s her round. But today she is working. So it’s only orange juice. I order a classic Australian lunchtime dish — Hoppine Saws. Rough translation: hot pie and sauce.
She admits to getting nerves before shows. Judges herself harshly. “If I know I’m not singing well, I can’t understand why people are clapping,” she says, very earnestly. “And I know I can’t be singing well if I’m not enjoying myself.”
In March, The Seekers wowed an incredible audience of over 200,000 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl during a triumphant homecoming in Melbourne.
That must have been quite a moment? “Yes, but I didn’t start enjoying my singing until our last number,” she says. “I don’t think that Melbourne concert can compare with The London Palladium Show we did recently. That was terrific: the audience, the orchestra, the atmosphere. That was show business magic all right. That was a sense of achievement.”
Now you would have expected an Aussie to have slipped in the expression “it was a real beaut.” But Judith doesn’t slip into the vernacular very often. You’ve got to melt the exterior to get through to these delightful Strine expressions. And then you’re never sure when she’s coming the raw prawn (pulling your leg).
Yes, she’s a splendid lunchtime date, and once you get her talking, she admits she misses Australia. The little things. Drive-in movies, Australian beer, cicadas (no, this word isn’t Strine, cicadas are a sort of winged cricket, which make a dreadful, persistent chirping noise). And she adds: “Funny, but you don’t seem to see so many rainbows in Britain, either.”
Maybe that’s because you’re not chasing so many any more, Judith.