This International Women’s Day, St John NT paid tribute to the first female patron of St John NT and the first Dame of the Order in the Northern Territory, Dr Valerie Asche PhD, AM, DStJ. A highly respected academic and microbiologist, Dr Asche chose to challenge gender norms and forge a remarkable career in science and academia at a time when only 16.1% of university appointments were held by women*.
Born in western Victoria in 1927 and educated at several country schools before graduating from Ballarat High School, Dr Asche contracted Tuberculosis at the age of 19. Although this resulted in her living a restricted life for a few years, she was able to graduate from the University of Melbourne with a Masters of Science in 1955.
Working as a university tutor, Dr Asche completed her PhD in Microbiology in 1975. During this time, she met her husband Austin and they had two children, Harry and Wendy.
From 1975 to 1986, Dr Asche was Senior Microbiologist at the Queen Victoria Medical Centre – at this time an exceptional position for a woman and a scientist. She was also a Senior Lecturer at Monash University and those who worked with her in the laboratories and taught classes with her, speak of her excellent work and her great ability to interact with medical colleagues, scientists and students.
The Asches moved to the Northern Territory in 1986, when Austin was appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court. Once in Darwin, Dr Asche was appointed Senior Research Officer in the Microbiology Unit at the Menzies School of Health Research and Sessional Microbiologist at Royal Darwin Hospital. Dr Asche was national Treasurer of the Australian Society for Microbiology from 1978 to 1985 and her contribution to the field of microbiology was recognised by them with a Distinguished Service Award in 1991.
Under her leadership, the Microbiology Unit at Menzies conducted research into a broad range of diseases and Dr Asche authored more than 40 scientific papers. When she eventually retired from her position in 1994 she was awarded the Menzies School of Health Research Medallion for outstanding service to the school**.
St John NT CEO Judith Barker stated that “Dr Asche embodied the St John NT values of integrity, respect, quality, dedication and passion”.
“In 1993, Dr Asche became the first female patron of St John NT, and the first Dame of the Order in the Northern Territory. Together with Austin, she was a great supporter of St John NT. Her contribution to this organisation, and more broadly her contributions to the science community, have been greatly valued.”
Dr Asche’s mantel, which was kindly donated by the Asche family, was unveiled at the Casuarina Ambulance Centre by the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Her Honour the Honourable Vicki O'Halloran AO, as part of St John NT’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Also in attendance was Dr Asche's husband Austin, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Administrator of the Northern Territory and Dr Asche's two children, Wendy and Harry.
Image: Harry Asche, Her Honour the Honourable Vicki O'Halloran, Austin Asche and Wendy Asche stand with the mantel of Dr Valerie Asche.