Judith Durham, Australian singer and vocalist of The Seekers, dies at 79

Durham released a number of solo albums but was best known as the voice of folk music group The Seekers, who she performed with from 1963 until 1968, when she left to pursue a solo career.

The band quickly rocketed to worldwide success and sold more than 50m records, with a number of international hits including I’ll Never Find Another You, The Carnival is Over, A World of Our Own and Georgy Girl.

Durham died in palliative care on Friday night after a brief stay in The Alfred hospital in Melbourne, Universal Music Australia and Musicoast said in a statement.

Her death was a result of complications from a longstanding chronic lung disease, according to the statement.

The Seekers management team member Graham Simpson said: “This is a sad day for Judith’s family, her fellow Seekers, the staff of Musicoast, the music industry and fans worldwide, and all of us who have been part of Judith’s life for so long.”

Her bandmates in The Seekers – Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley and Athol Guy – said their lives had been changed forever by losing “our treasured lifelong friend and shining star”.

“Her struggle was intense and heroic, never complaining of her destiny and fully accepting its conclusion. Her magnificent musical legacy Keith, Bruce and I are so blessed to share,” they said.

Tributes flowed for the beloved singer, with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, hailing Durham as “a national treasure and an Australian icon”.

“Judith Durham gave voice to a new strand of our identity and helped blaze a trail for a new generation of Aussie artists,” he said on Twitter. “Her kindness will be missed by many, the anthems she gave to our nation will never be forgotten.”

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, paid tribute to Durham as someone who “gave voice to more than one generation of Australians through words of universal appeal, carried by melodies that, once heard, became fixed in our memories”.

“Durham demonstrated in song after song, concert after concert, how the human voice can reach, and move, every one of us,” Dutton said in a statement. “Her language was uniquely Australian, and her voice a gift of universal beauty.”

The arts minister, Tony Burke, called Durham “an icon of our music”. “Once, the best known Australian voice was Judith Durham’s,” he wrote. “What a contribution. What a loss.”

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said the Essendon-born musician “went on to conquer the music world both here in Australia and overseas”. “With her unique voice and stage presence leading The Seekers, the band became one of Australia’s biggest chart toppers.”

Durham received a number of accolades during her career including the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to music in 1995, particularly as an entertainer and composer, and the Centenary Medal in 2003.

She was also named the Victorian of the Year in 2015.

Born in Melbourne, Durham recorded her first EP at the age of 19 and rose to international fame after joining The Seekers. They disbanded in 1968, a year after becoming joint recipients of the Australian of the Year award, but reunited in the 1990s.

In 1969, Durham married the British pianist and musical director Ron Edgeworth before a brief stint in the UK and Switzerland. The couple survived a car crash with their tour manager in 1990 in which Durham sustained injuries including a fractured wrist and leg.

The huge outpouring from fans encouraged Durham to reunite with other members of The Seekers for a Silver Jubilee Show, at which time Edgeworth was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He died four years later.

In 2013, Durham suffered a stroke that impacted her ability to read and write but not her singing. Her last album, a previously unreleased collection of songs titled So Much More, was released in 2018 to celebrate her 75th birthday.