Olivia Newton-John’s Friends and Neighbors Remember Late Grease Star in Her ‘Happy Place’

Music industry legends and lifelong friends shared their memories of Olivia Newton-John and the many years she lived in the rivers of Northern New South Wales.

The screen and music star first bought a property in the Ballina outback in 1980, two years after the film Grease was released.

Her friend Jillian McGrath, who was at her side on the purchase, said Newton-John called the Northern Rivers “his happy place”.

“She said, ‘I just need to have something where I can put my foot on the floor and call it home,'” Ms McGrath said.

“[The real estate agent] had no idea who she was because she was incognito with a scarf and sunglasses.”

The childhood friends walked past a property adjacent to a nature reserve on Victoria Park Road, Dalwood and knew it was the one.

“She stood under the avocado tree and just said, ‘This is it, this is where it needs to be,'” Ms McGrath said.

In 2005, Newton-John and three of his friends bought a dilapidated tourist property near Bangalow and renovated it to create the exclusive Gaia Retreat, which last year sold for $30 million.

Ms McGrath said Newton-John knew straight away she had found her “happy place”.(Provided: Jillian McGrath)

Always an Aussie

Australian artist Normie Rowe, who worked closely with Newton-John, said she was part of the “cashew mafia” in the United States.

“There was always this wonderful connection she had with her home country and she was very, incredibly representative of us – she never let us down,” he said.

“Physical was the biggest selling record in the world until Michael Jackson released Thriller.

“Like Peter Allen, she has always called Australia home too.”

An old photo of two smiling young women.
Newton-John and Mrs. McGrath had been good friends since childhood.(Provided: Jillian McGrath)

Byron Shire resident and former Mi-Sex keyboardist Murray Burns met Olivia Newton-John by chance in the area in the early 1990s.

He said a few months she called and asked him to record her album.

“It was a magical moment for her because she had never been able to record songs – she had always been forced to do other people’s songs,” he said.

“She didn’t play an instrument, but she had a perfect ear – she could sing melodies beautifully.

“She taught me a lot about humility.

“She cooked for us and when we stayed with her in LA she treated us like family.”

Two women in London in the 1960s, smiling by a Queen's guard.
Newton-John and Mrs McGrath in London in the late 1960s, when the singer was 19.(Provided: Jillian McGrath)

Many Northern Rivers residents remember meeting Newton-John and being touched by his warmth, generosity and humility.

Rous resident Eoin Johnston said Newton-John in her daughter Chloe’s school community.

“She got involved in the school a bit, came to the school concert,” he said.

“She was just very down to earth and easy going.”

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