Remembering David Wolstencroft

On a Tuesday evening in February this year I received a call from a mutual friend, Damien Williams, to let me know that David Wolstencroft had died tragically that day.

David was an editorial assistant at Overland between 2004 and 2006, while I was editor or co-editor. He provided much help to me. More than anything I appreciated having him there to discuss issues facing the magazine and whatever ideas I had for it. He would also read manuscripts and provide intelligent assessments of them. He wrote reviews, and generally helped out. And he was one of the main organisers of the conference we put on to mark ten years of the Howard government near the end of 2006.

Everyone who knew David at Overland liked him a lot: he was kind, considerate, helpful, uncomplaining, always so interested in what was happening, and full of interesting stories himself. I met him when I was speaking at one of those weird festivals (the ‘This is not art’ festival? the ‘Unpopular culture’ festival?) that about five people would go to. He was one of the five; and he kept going to small, esoteric, cultural, intellectual and artistic events and always seemed to have accounts of meeting the most strange and interesting people. There was something about him and his calm, friendly, unthreatening manner that encouraged people to open up.

By the time I left Melbourne for Perth in April 2007 David was deeply engaged in a major project to create a documentary. With his almost childlike, wondering fascination, and lack of concern for conventional ways of getting things done, he’d turned himself into a film producer and director and, against quite astonishing odds – financial, logistical and then medical – eventually realised Acting Out, a full-length film about a youth-based community arts project.

In 2008 I was a referee for David for a job he was going for, and subsequently got, as a lecturer in public relations at Monash University. I was surprised by the strength of his CV and the range of initiatives that he’d been involved with, including the setting up of his own successful communications consultancy company.

Acting Out won a Bronze Palm Award in the Mexico International Film Festival. It stands as a great tribute to David’s vision, organising ability, compassion and artistic talent. But it is far from his only significant professional accomplishment. He also wrote and published stories and poems, and was a valued and popular teacher and colleague, as demonstrated by the number of Monash people at the memorial for him.

David had been sick for some years with chronic fatigue syndrome and also had some tough personal issues. He was nonetheless so capable of taking pleasure in life, and maintaining strong friendships.

The funeral was very difficult, as such events are. My heart went out to David’s sister Penny and to his closest friends, particularly Damien, who (David had always told me) was such a kind and generous and loyal ally over the years.

I will always remember David’s gentle, high-pitched voice (a child soprano’s voice, we heard at the funeral), the frequent wholehearted laughter, and the very earnest entreaty that he so often greeted me with: ‘How are you mate?’

Only the good die young. You were certainly one of them David.

Nathan Hollier

Dr Nathan Hollier is Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of Melbourne University Publishing and a past editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

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  1. This is a terrific and very accurate reflection on a talented and good-hearted person who left us too early.

    I knew David on-and-off between 1990 and 2010. I was shocked and saddened to hear of his passing several months after the fact. His was a welcome presence in my life, and the lives of others. His absence is keenly felt.

  2. I worked with David on Acting Out, alternating between the roles of cameraman and boom operator as required, not long after I moved to Melbourne in 2006. (I was a recent film school graduate, but also Penny’s housemate: a convinient crew member as much as a qualified one!) It was a great time, endlessly rewarding. I remember being consistently awed by David’s commitment, not only to the project, but also, more importantly, to the people it was about. He strongly believed in giving a voice to the voiceless and that remained his primary concern for the period that I knew and worked with him. I was deeply saddened to learn of his death.

  3. David and I “met” as penpals back in our teens and stayed in intense contact for years until we eventually drifted apart into our seperate lives half a world apart. He was amazingly talented and passionate then and as heartbreaking as it was to learn of his passing (a year after the fact unfortunately) it is so comforting to know that he continued to follow that passion throughout his life – I truly believe he filled his life with more meaning in his too short time than many of us do in twice as many years.

  4. Beautiful tribute Nathan. Hard to believe it was so long ago. He was one of my undergraduate students at Melbourne and how you describe him is exactly as I remember him. He had a gentle sartorial style and curious interest in all sorts of culture and I remember his communications practice well. I’m glad I came across this very moving remembrance years later.

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