POLITICS

Aspiring country singer from Canada dies while camping in Australia

06/10/2015 03:14 EDT | Updated 06/09/2016 05:59 EDT
A Winnipeg-raised aspiring country singer has reportedly died of carbon monoxide poisoning while camping with his partner in Australia.

The Daily Telegraph in Sydney reported Derek Kehler died on Monday along with his companion, Helena Curic of Australia, while they were sleeping in a makeshift cabin in the Blue Mountains northwest of Sydney.

A music lover who released two albums under the name Steel Audrey, Kehler performed traditional country music that could be described in much the same terms that friends used for Keller himself on Wednesday: gritty and genuine.

"He was one of those rugged people with a heart of gold," said Matthew Rogers, a good friend of Kehler's who produced both his albums.

"He'd probably be the first to tell you that he didn't call himself a trained musician or anything like that, but he had a very genuine spirit to his vocals and to his songwriting," he added.

"The mirror of the genuineness of his songs with the genuineness of his personality is very true."

The couple reportedly died in their sleep after taking a pot of hot coals from a bonfire into a converted steel container they were staying in.

Hawkesbury Police Det.-Insp. Suzanne Rode-Sanders said the deaths were not being treating as suspicious.

"It appears they had some sort of makeshift heater inside in the cabin and there was not any ventilation, and as a result they may have asphyxiated with carbon monoxide poisoning," she told the Sydney newspaper.

Curic's sister Natalie, who owns the property and was staying in an adjoining container with her family, reportedly made the discovery early Monday morning.

The newspaper says Kehler, 32, and Curic, 31, began dating after they met while working at an IT firm in Vancouver a couple of years ago and later transferred to the company's Sydney office.

Marie-Eve Fast met Kehler years ago while volunteering at a youth centre. Later, they were neighbours in Grunthal, Man., when Fast lived with Kehler's sister and he lived with her future husband.

Together, they attended many of his shows.

"He was a very funny guy with a unique sense of humour," she said via email from South Africa. "A wonderful guy (and) a great artist beyond just a singer."

Aside from handling production, recording and mixing, Rogers also contributed guitar, organ and banjo to Kehler's most recent record. It was made when Rogers's son was two and frequently hung out in the studio, playing with Kehler.

Kehler later thanked Rogers in the liner notes for "helping to make this album better than I could have imagined."

When they first met, Rogers said Kehler was more interested in roots music but his fascination with country gradually grew.

"On our last record, his Manitoba roots and his farm, small-town upbringing, he really wanted that to shine through," he said. "Country music was a really big part of his earlier years, and the music his parents listened to."

When Kehler left for Australia, Rogers and the friends they shared in Vancouver figured his stay would be brief.

But then Rogers kept hearing how happy Kehler was in his new home.

"When he left ... it was just like: 'OK man, I'll see you in six months. We'll get back and we'll have a beer and write some songs.'"