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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Tweed Valley identity exits the stage in Cambodia

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David Johnstone pictured recently after visiting friends.

Longtime Uki and Murwillumbah identity David Johnstone died last weekend in Cambodia after a battle with cancer.

His death was recorded by a local Cambodian newspaper in Siem Reap where he lived for the past three years.

David, 79, had moved there after selling up his home in Murwillumbah and retiring to the developing south-east Asian country where he supported local blind, disabled (landmine victims) and village education causes.

David spent almost 50 years in the Tweed since he moved from Sydney following the counter-culture Down to Earth movement festivals before the historic Aquarius Festival in Nimbin in 1973.

In his Sydney career, David was a promising television producer but was soon fed up with the argy bargy of Australia’s clone-like commercial networks and decided to use his energy for better outcomes.

He established a gay-friendly commune ‘Mandala’ near Uki in the 1970s, and organised major theatrical musical events for the Tweed Valley community which cemented bonds between the local alternative culture and established pioneering dairy and timber families.

For his research into the production of ‘1915’, David interviewed surviving World War I locals to learn of the songs of the era. The ‘Uki Space Follies’ and ‘Genghis Khan’ musicals were local blockbusters with huge casts of local amateurs but keen performers and crews. He also produced ‘The Women’ and ‘Too Smart for Sydney’ for audiences at the Murwillumbah Civic Centre.

After selling Mandala, David moved to Murwillumbah where he renovated an old home he lived in as a sustainable-home project which he called ‘The Greenhouse’.

Facing illness and deteriorating health, he made his move to Cambodia where he was also a keen follower of local politics and the struggle for real democracy.

The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA) in 2014 interviewed David and received a substantial collection of his personal papers.

The ALGA Bulletin of June 2014 says the papers largely documented Mandala, ‘one of the earliest and most notable gay male communes, and was the location for various notable events, including the first Radical Faerie gathering in Australia in 1982’. The papers also included material from David’s music and film career, community theatre and the Greens Party in the northern rivers.



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  1. Goodbye David you were an amazing community member during your time in Uki and Murwillumbah I remember the fabulous shows you put together so vividly, many of which I performed in and the Space Follies which I produced alongside your directecting. It was an amazing era!!
    Can the writer please let me know if there will be a rememberance ceremony as I would like to attend.
    Suzie Mylecharane

  2. Vale dear David… You were a lovely lovely friend… I treasure those days at Mandala and grand times our paths crossed around the rainbow region… See you in the sky with big love…


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