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.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Si­mone Ker­win pho­tos Marc Bongers | Power fam­ily

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.”


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.

“We’ve been mar­ried 37 years, to­gether for 38, and in that time we’ve sort of mor­phed into one another.” -Narelle­power

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.

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...

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