Stephen Powles grew up in Latham Avenue, Chatham in a State Government Housing Commission rental in the 1950s and 60s. His parents, Kildare and Jacqueline, were British immigrants who came to Australia after World War II bringing with them Jacqueline’s mother Ethel. When the family first moved to the Manning region they rented a little house on a dairy farm at Hannam Vale which had no electricity or running water.
In 1954 Kildare secured work in a factory in Sydney and would make rare weekend visits back to his family. One weekend his father failed to arrive home and the family never heard from him again. It is supposed that he found family life too difficult and deserted. Four years later Jacqueline, Ethel and five young children moved to Chatham.
Although a student with ability, Stephen decided at the age of 15 to drop out of high school to find full-time employment. While working at Tamworth he had a fortuitous meeting with Bill Kennedy the then Mayor of Taree. Kennedy convinced Stephen to work for him as a clerk at his produce store Permewans in Taree and this decision changed the trajectory of Stephen’s life. Working in agriculture at Permewans inspired and launched Powles to pursue higher education in agriculture, ultimately resulting in him becoming a Professor and world recognised research leader.
Now living in WA, Stephen is a highly accomplished plant scientist focusing on herbicide resistance. He has received both national and international accolades for his research. Stephen acknowledges that education transformed his life and his success is testament to his hard work and ability to strive for new goals.
Author: Janine Roberts based on Stephen Powles’ memoir “Poor to Prof – My Fortunate Career”, 2020.
1 Stephen Powles, “Poor to Prof: My Fortunate Career”, 2020, page 7.