Focused on Australia’s Royal Australian Air Force and Army garrison communities in Malaysia from the late 1950s, this article probes the creation and management of a complex power dynamic between the hosts in a postcolonial nation and an expatriate community modelled along colonial lines. These overseas military communities comprised Australian service personnel, their family members and schoolteachers. Thousands of locally employed civilians worked on Australian military bases, or for Australian families as amahs, cooks and gardeners, and Malaysian businesspeople capitalised on the Australian presence. The article tracks the political, social and cultural implications of the cross-cultural encounters enabled by Australia’s Asian garrisons, taking into account the perspective of both Australians and Malaysians, to argue that these communities had a marked impact on regional engagement. Negotiations of military, political, economic and personal power were constant and ongoing; Malaysian demands, far from being subordinated, were often both articulated and met.