Before He Was 'Whispering Jack'

BY MEL BONDFIELD

The NFSA is celebrating the career of John Farnham with a new online exhibition and two curated collections

John Farnham, or ‘Farnesy’ as he is affectionately known, is one of Australia’s most renowned singers from the 1980s, '90s and beyond. 

He dominated the Australian music charts in that era with albums like Whispering Jack, Age of Reason and Chain Reaction, and the iconic pop anthem, ‘You’re the Voice’.

But if you grew up before the Whispering Jack era, you probably knew him better as Johnny.

Here's Johnny!

Indeed, Johnny Farnham was once Australia's biggest teen idol. He won awards for Best Teenage Personality and Best Dressed Male Performer, had a string of top ten hits throughout the late 1960s and early '70s and was crowned TV Week's King of Pop five years running.

Here he is receiving his third crown in 1971 from none other than superstar entertainer Liberace:

Australia's Brightest Star

Through research for our online exhibition, John Farnham: The Voice, we unearthed rare interviews and many performances from his early career, when he was famous for that other iconic tune, ‘Sadie (the Cleaning Lady)’. 

What we found was an amazing selection of early music and variety TV show appearances from 1968 to the mid-'70s. It seemed during that period, Johnny Farnham was everywhere: from Uptight, Happening ’71 and Musical Cashbox to hosting his own shows, including It’s Magic with Colleen Hewett and the ABC’s Farnham and Byrne, with Debbie Byrne of Young Talent Time fame.

Audiences couldn't get enough of Johnny. So, with simply too many performances to show in their entirety, we’ve created the following compilation:

Teen Sensation

Another fantastic find from our collection is the earliest footage we hold of John. It’s from a Seven Network TV current affairs program from 1968 titled 7 Days, which tackled a different subject every week.

This episode, titled The Snap and Crackle of Pop, was a deep dive into the Australian popular music landscape and featured footage of many music stars of the era, including Col Joye, Doug Parkinson, Max Meteor and Little Pattie. 

In this excerpt from the show, a very young and seemingly shy Johnny Farnham is interviewed about his new-found fame. We also see him clowning around by a hotel pool and on stage singing to a crowd with the confidence of a seasoned entertainer. This clip is an engaging time capsule of the 19-year-old performer:

Find out more about John Farnham from our listicle, Thirteen Things We Love About Farnesy, and follow the links below to our online exhibition and curated collections.