‘ POWER COUPLE’ FINALLY AT HOME
After 26 moves in 37 years of marriage, Lt Gen (Ret’d) Ash Power and wife Narelle are proud to call the North East home.
After 26 moves in 37 years of marriage, Lt Gen ( Ret’d) Ash Power and wife Narelle are proud to settle in the North East.
IT’S the stuff of a romantic movie… Aboard a cruise ship, a young army cadet is captivated by the sight of an attractive fellow passenger, who asks his help in using the ship’s phone.
Determined to win her heart, he asks her to the movies on board, and the pair enjoy their first date watching... maritime disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure. (Cue an abrupt cut to the building orchestral soundtrack). Wangaratta couple Ash and Narelle Power tell this story of their first meeting with the relish of a comedy team unleashing its latest routine.
Uproarious laughter, cocked eyebrows, a knowing glance and a wry grin convey more than just the anecdote; they speak volumes for the strong team the pair has become since their marriage 37 years ago – indeed, something of a ‘Power couple’.
Following Ash’s retirement from one of the most senior roles in the Australian Defence Force, the Powers have become closely linked with the RSL sub-branch since settling in Wangaratta, the city where Ash spent most of his school years.
The sub-branch is now all the richer for having installed the duo as its president and women’s auxiliary president.
They are appointments set to benefit not just the rural city, but the wider North East region, as the sub-branch acts on its long-held plan to relocate to a more accessible, visible site.
A retired Lieutenant General, Ash will oversee the relocation to the site of the former Sydney Hotel, while Narelle has been instrumental in energising an auxiliary that was on the verge of folding.
Wangaratta has been lucky to welcome the Powers as residents, but it’s a relocation that almost didn’t happen.
“We were going to retire to the tropics; we were going to walk along the beach and drink coffee,” Ash said.
“But while I was in Afghanistan, as well as sending me WeetBix, Dad (Bill) was sending me The Chronicle’s real estate guide, and I started to think, ‘Actually, this doesn’t look too bad’. “So we visited and had a look at a couple of blocks.” After deciding on a location in one of the city’s burgeoning estates, Narelle was charged with the project managing the build from Canberra.
“We knew what we wanted, having lived in lots of houses; and most importantly, our house fits our family (daughters Renee and Jessica, and their husbands and children) perfectly,” Ash said.
And for the first time in their married life, the Powers have settled in to what they see as home.
In more than 26 moves, Ash said he had “never sunk roots deep enough to call a place home”. “But I’m quite comfortable to call this home now,” he said. And with Narelle, he’s enjoying the chance to further explore the city he left as a young man.
The Powers’ arrival in the North East, where they have been welcomed with open arms, is a far cry from their first base in Townsville (the couple were married at the Royal Military College - Duntroon soon after Ash graduated from his four year army cadet course).
The pair remembers arriving in their Datsun 180B in Townsville on Anzac Day in 1979, where they encountered protesters holding placards and chanting, ‘Get the army out’.
“We had rubbish bins dropped on front lawns, and were squirted with hoses,” Narelle recalled.
“Townsville was a garrison town, and we arrived with the memories of the Vietnam War still raw and vivid, and the Vietnam veterans were not treated well; we copped a bit of that.”
It would have been an eye-opening experience for a new army wife, but Narelle’s “just get on and do it” approach was made to order for the role.
She accepted, also, that it was “difficult to have two careers going at the same time”.
“I’d be in a job, Ash would get a promotion, and soon after we were gone,” she said.
Narelle said it was interesting to return to Townsville later in Ash’s career and witness the change in attitude towards the military.
“We went from people not liking us, to having them see the vital role defence plays in the community,” she said.
The Powers’ first stint in Townsville lasted until 1981, and they welcomed Renee while stationed there. >>
“The birth was induced because I had to go away on an exercise, and in those days there was no time off,” Ash said. “So I disappeared two days after Renee was born.” But the camaraderie which drew Ash to the army came to the fore during his absence, as Narelle took to life as a new mother.
“While I was away, blokes were turning up at the hospital saying they were the father,” he said.
Narelle smiled: “Because they knew I was there by myself, they came in to check if I was okay, and in those days only the father was allowed in to the maternity ward.
“Mateship is something they do very well in the military, and that rubs off on the family too.”
Ash agreed: “I’ve served with soldiers on operations who have put their lives on the line for you, and you respect that.
“I know a couple who have deliberately exposed themselves on the field of battle and taken a bullet to allow others to get out of harm’s way.”
Two years after Renee’s arrival, with Ash promoted to captain and spending a short time as an instructor at the School of Artillery in Manly, the Powers completed their family when Jessica was born during a posting at Duntroon.
The family’s next move was to Point Cook, and then to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the British Army’s initial officer training centre south-west of London.
A return to Townsville followed, with Ash promoted to the rank of major.
He then spent a year at the Thai Command and Staff College in Bangkok (having studied Thai at the School of Languages at Point Cook), followed by two years as Brigade Major for Brigadier Peter Cosgrove in Brisbane.
In his mid-30s, Ash was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and spent two years as a staff officer in Sydney before becoming the regimental commander in Townsville, and then a staff officer in Headquarters 1st Division in Brisbane.
In 1998, he was deployed to Bougainville as Chief of Staff, and six months later was promoted to Colonel back in the Divisional Headquarters.
He then found himself as Colonel Operations for the International Forces in East Timor, now working for Major General Cosgrove.
Ash was then posted back to Thailand as the defence attaché, and on his return two years later, he studied at the Australian Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies in Canberra.
He was then promoted to Brigadier, and assumed command of the First Brigade in Darwin, comprising 4000 soldiers.
Heading overseas again, to Tampa in Florida, he worked with United States Central Command as Director of the Combined Planning Group.
Back in Australia, he was promoted to Major General in command of 1st Division, which at the end of his command totalled approximately 26,000 soldiers. He and Narelle then spent time in Sydney, where Ash was the General Officer Commanding Training Command, before a stint in Canberra as the Head of Military Strategic Commitments, directly advising the Chief of Defence Force.
Ash then spent a year in Afghanistan before being promoted to Lieutenant General.
After this final promotion, Ash was appointed Chief of Joint Operations and Commander of Headquarters, Joint Operations Command.
In this role, he was in command of all Australian Defence Force operations conducted both domestically and overseas.
Narelle said it was “sometimes better not to know” what Ash had experienced in his eventful army career.
“If you thought about it too much, you’d go bonkers,” she said.
“For instance, a shell exploded 40m from him in Afghanistan, which I didn’t know at the time.
“He’d been talking to me on Skype, when I heard something, and the screen went blank; I didn’t hear back from him again for 48 hours.”
Ash said: “As you get more senior in the army, you deal with more sensitive issues, and it was frustrating for both of us that I couldn’t talk about what I was doing”. But they found a way to make it work. “We’ve been married 37 years, together for 38, and in that time we’ve sort of morphed into one another,” Narelle said.
Ash’s esteemed career saw him named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), upgraded to an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), and awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC).
Post-retirement, Ash promised Narelle he would do nothing for six months.
“We were going to use Wangaratta as a base, catch up with friends and family, and trip around.
“But people were asking me to be on committees and speak at various events.
“It wasn’t really surprising that the RSL asked me to get involved, and I was happy to do so if I could assist the younger vets, and Narelle was asked if she would like to help in the women’s auxiliary.
“It became obvious to me that the sub-branch also needed to get the relocation happening, and as a senior officer in the army, I opened a door and refused to let it be closed.
“With a fantastic committee, we have been able to continue all that hard work done over the last several years by our predecessors.” Narelle said she felt “somebody had to do something” about the threat to the proud tradition of the Wangaratta sub-branch women’s auxiliary.
“The best thing is it’s given me an opportunity to get to know the community,” she said.
The sub-branch, currently situated in its outgrown Reid Street premises, plans to be settled in its new home in Templeton Street as soon as possible in 2017.
And Ash is eager to ensure the move gives the RSL a greater presence in the rural city and becomes a drawcard for veterans and their families, and “a great venue for the community”.
“We’ve got to change some people’s perceptions of the RSL, to make it more prominent and a venue of choice; we don’t want to be seen as an old men’s club. This is a club for everyone.
“In particular, I want to attract our younger veterans, as well as young families who live in and around Wang.
“We want to make the RSL their first point of call if they need to have a chat to someone about their service, or to socialise with their friends.”
And on a personal front, Ash and Narelle are looking forward to spending more time with their three grandchildren, and getting a chance to travel.
“We want to do some more holidaying, perhaps go back to Europe,” he said.
And, with the North East as their base, add to the amazing life they’ve already created together.
“... a shell exploded 40m from him in Afghanistan, which I didn’t know at the time. He’d been talking to me on Skype, when I heard something, and the screen went blank; I didn’t hear back from him again for 48 hours.”
POWER COUPLE / Narelle and Ash Power at home in Wangaratta; ( inset) on board the cruise ship which brought them together; and ( below, right) following their marriage at Royal Military College – Duntroon on December 16, 1978.
“We’ve been married 37 years, together for 38, and in that time we’ve sort of morphed into one another.” -Narellepower
AWARDED / Quentin Bryce, then Governor of Queensland, presented Ash with his Order of Australia in 2006, and also presented his Officer of the Order of Australia when she was Governor General in 2012.
HONOUR / Ash with James Tanis, at one time the president of Bougainville, with baby Power, who was named after Ash.
PROUD PARENTS / Ash and Narelle at daughter Renee’s christening in 1981.
ESTEEMED CAREER / Ash Power at his promotion to Colonel, with wife Narelle nd Major General Peter Cosgrove. FAMILY OCCASION / Jessica, Narelle, Ash, Bill and Nancy ( Ash’s parents), and Renee Power gathered when Ash received the Conspicuous Service Cross in 1998.