Maryborough-born man Ashley Johnston (right) was killed in Syria fighting with the Kurds against Islamic State.
Maryborough-born man Ashley Johnston (right) was killed in Syria fighting with the Kurds against Islamic State. Contributed

M'boro-born man wanted to help 'awesome' Kurdish people

"THE Kurdish people are awesome. That's why I want to help them."

With these few words, Maryborough-born man turned freedom fighter Ashley Kent Johnston tried to explain to a journalist what put him on the path to Syria to take up arms against Islamic State in December.

Mr Johnston was killed while fighting with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) against Islamic State earlier this week.

From the interview, recorded in January in a makeshift hospital in Sinjar city in Northern Iraq, it was clear that Mr Johnston wanted to return to Australia eventually, but feared he could be sent to jail if he did.

James Harkin, the Vanity Fair journalist who did the interview, said Mr Johnston was "deeply annoyed" when he talked about the threat of a jail sentence in Australia, which applied equally to him as it did to others choosing to fight for Islamic State.

Among his likes were the TV shows Game of Thrones, South Park and How I Met Your Mother, while his favourite books included classics such as Catch-22, Moby Dick and The Hobbit.

The photos on his page show scenic views, the beach, clouds, perhaps someone who appreciated beauty.

The quotes he has shared to his page hint at an idealism that point to why he decided to make the ill-fated trip to Syria in the first place.

From William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."

And Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."

A post to the Lions of Rojava's Facebook page shared a comment from Bejan Dagli, a fellow fighter who wrote about the Australian soldier.

Ashley Johnston, 28, was described by his aunt, who lives in Hervey Bay, as being a
Ashley Johnston, 28, was described by his aunt, who lives in Hervey Bay, as being a "lovely man". Contributed

He told her that ISIS was a world problem.

Ms Dagli said other men who were with Mr Johnston when he died told her he had sacrificed himself to save them.

Mr Johnston's family left Maryborough before he started school, but some family members still live on the Fraser Coast.

His Hervey Bay-based grandmother said Mr Johnston was a generous person and a loving grandson.

His aunt, who also lives in Hervey Bay, described him as being a "lovely man".

It is believed Mr Johnston had spent seven years in the Army Reserve but had only experienced peacekeeping missions.

A statement from the People's Defence Units said Mr Johnston, who they called Heval Bagok Serhed, had a "revolutionary soul that drove him to join the fight beside this humane revolution".

According to the group, Mr Johnston had joined the frontline at Shingal, Sere Kaniye and then Tel Hamis in Syria, where he was killed.

Jordan Matson, an American man who fought alongside Mr Johnston, said the Australian was killed by small arms fire during an ISIS attack on February 23.

He was quoted by other media describing Ashley as a good man who "never complained and was always positive".

"We came to defend his country even when his country labelled him a criminal for doing so and before his country was willing to defend itself," Mr Matson said.

"I consider it an honour to have known and served with him."


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