CHRISTINE Nikolic bought her first house in Launceston when she was 17, more than 30 years ago.
``It was quite challenging getting a loan as a 17-year-old female,'' she says, laughing, master of the understatement.
If her husband, Bass Liberal candidate Andrew Nikolic, is elected at the September 7 federal election, Mrs Nikolic will finally make it back to live full-time in the Launceston suburb where she grew up.
It won't be for want of trying.
The quietly spoken, fine-framed Mrs Nikolic gives an impression of fragility that belies her capabilities, strengthened during 29 years as an Australian army soldier's wife.
Her early foray into Tasmanian real estate was on the advice of her father, Riverside taxi company proprietor Peter Symons.
``My dad was a great believer in bricks and mortar,'' says Mrs Nikolic.
``I'd been working as a nursing assistant at the Royal Derwent Hospital near Hobart while I was waiting to get into my [nursing] training and he said to me one day, `how much money have you got in your bank account?'
``I told him and he said, `you probably should go out and buy yourself a property then.' ''
Mrs Nikolic and her husband have tried several times during their marriage to base themselves full-time in Launceston, preferably not far from Mrs Nikolic's mother, Margaret Symons, who still lives in the same house that she and her husband built when they married more than 50 years ago.
``We'd come home as often as we could during the year and always for the whole of the summer,'' says Mrs Nikolic.
``But in the end it was too difficult - our plans kept changing. Andrew kept getting promoted in the army.''
In the end it has been the ``difficult'' one who has led the family back to Northern Tasmania.
Mr Nikolic and his mother-in-law, whom he calls ``the Mother'', have kept each other company in the two years since he moved home full-time to concentrate on getting to know the issues of the community that he hopes to represent in Federal Parliament after September 7.
He says Mrs Symons has become his secret weapon - his political adviser on things Launceston and universal issues such as dealing with mud slinging by election opponents.
``She said `don't dignify it with a response which is good advice,' '' he said.
Mr Nikolic's term of endearment for his mother-in-law has allowed him to easily separate the two women elders in his life - Mrs Symons and his mother, Helen, who lives in Adelaide.
Mrs Nikolic's easy Launceston upbringing was in stark contrast to that of her high-achieving husband.
``I was born in the former Yugoslavia,'' says Mr Nikolic.
``I came to Australia with my parents when I was four, in May 1965.
``Dad came here looking for a better life - he was a boilermaker-welder by trade.''
The family - father, mother, Andrew and his two younger brothers - landed in Melbourne after sailing from Europe on the Marconi.
They lived at east Coburg for a couple of years where Andrew started school.
``Then Dad didn't really find the work he needed so we moved to Andamooka [in South Australia] where he became an opal miner,'' says Mr Nikolic.
``It's a very remote part of Australia - we lived in dug-outs.''
They were there for seven years until his father left.
``I think that the combined effects of not finding work in Melbourne and not finding any opals wore him down,'' says Mr Nikolic.
His mother, still speaking little English, managed to secure a Housing Commission home for her family in the tough Adelaide suburb of Kilburn.
The young migrant boy scraped through school and joined the army when he was 17.
``It was the second great shaping influence in my life,'' he says.
``Coming to Australia was the first because everything that followed has come from citizenship of Australia.''
He has stayed loosely connected to the Catholic Church because of the kindness the organisation showed when he was young.
``Mum got really sick for quite an extended period of time in Adelaide - I can still remember at 14 or 15 being put in St Joseph Home for Boys,'' he says.
``The three of us were there and the Catholic Church, despite the wrap they get today, showed great kindness to us.''
After two years as a private soldier he was encouraged to apply to become an officer.
``What followed was a 31-year career in uniform,'' he says.
He met Christine whom he describes as ``the rock'' of the family in Sydney at a friend's engagement party.
``She has pretty much followed me around the world - I've had 21 postings, we've had about 17 in our married life,'' he says.
Mrs Nikolic says she decided early in their marriage that the best way to make the family work was to operate as though she was a single parent.
``If Andrew was home that was a huge bonus and he would take the pressure off for a while,'' she says.
She would volunteer at each of the children's many schools as they moved between postings so that she always knew the system and filled in the education gaps between education systems.
``The children always knew that they could ring Andrew wherever he was - he was always accessible,'' she says.
Their eldest daughter Julia, 23, is a lieutenant in the Australian army on her second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Amanda, 22, is a doctor at Melbourne's St Vincents Hospital and Matthew is at university in Canberra.
Former defence minister Brendan Nelson first suggested that Mr Nikolic should consider a political career when he visited Iraq with prime minister John Howard in 2005.
Mr Nikolic was Australia's first national commander of forces in southern Iraq during the Iraq war.