Friday, March 25, 2011


Darwin agronomist and veteran activist, Rob Wesley-Smith, is like St Peter at the Pearly Gates in that he has extensive tomes in which are the names of the good, the bad and the ugly. Inserted in his Gutenbergs with a sharpened Magpie Goose quill , the ink made from the blood of fruit bats trapped on his leafy rural retreat, is invaluable information about a wide range of subjects-the struggle for Wattie Creek, East Timor, civil rights campaigns, Vietnam War demonstrations, the Territory’s agricultural and pastoral industry , our blessed civic mothers and fathers , cranial trauma, the local media, etcetera.

As a result of the recent Little Darwin post about crusading editor Jim Bowditch’s WW11 experiences, with the associated Kerry Byrnes photograph taken in 1974, Wes hit the recall button in his archives and emailed us additional details about the photo, tension at Darwin’s independent newspaper, The Star, and other media related matters . *******

Wes found the photograph of Bowditch was used in The Star by a columnist , Prudence,headed SHAPING THE NEWS ,October 18,1979. The caption read : Jim Bowditch...they don’t have editors like him anymore, the text critical of the Northern Territory News. Prudence said she did not quarrel with the quality of the journalists on the paper; it was quite clear from the blatant nature of the sub-editing and editing of the newspaper that the NT News had retreated a long way from the courageous and scrupulous journalism which characterised it under Jim Bowditch.

****** Then came a clipping about four journalists and a photographer resigning at The Star. Departing editor, Neil Dibbs stated the staff, Andy Bruyn (now of Channel 9,Darwin ), Rex Clark( Channel 7, Qld), Gary Dembon and ace photographer, Barry Ledwidge (Four 22 Images,Darwin ), had given notice as a matter of principle. Dibbs said The Star would continue to be published as the staff worked out their notice. He would not disclose the reason behind the resignations. A former Star employee said there had been a long-running dispute between journalists and the manager , Glen Rafael, a shareholder in the paper along with South Australian businessman Alan Scott, over direction of editorial content .

****** Then a “witch”- currently topical in caustic Canberra Coalition, shock jock and assorted dingbat circles-got into the act at The Star . Dawn's Cauldron, by politician Dawn Lawrie ( called a broomstick rider by drawling Chief Minister Paul Everingham ) , of 30/1/82 , announced she would no longer be contributing to The Star , for which she had been writing since its first issue . In that time the paper had survived three changes of ownership and at least six editors. Despite gloomy predictions from rivals, the paper had continued to prosper and presented stories which often enraged the establishment, she wrote. The Star had been lucky to have as its first editor, Peter Blake, a big man with a big heart, a sense of humour to match, and an international reputation as a first class journalist. Although the editors differed greatly in style and philosophy, successive editors, with the backing of management, had resisted the urgings and protestations of those who objected to people being kept informed of what was really happening in the Territory, because of some real or imagined embarrassment to the power brokers. The Star continued its independent line, with the editor taking responsibility for the paper's content and with a healthy respect between management and editorial for each other's responsibilities. How times had changed!

The new management had now decided what should and should not be printed, what the people should and should not know about what goes on in their town, and had decided to direct the editorial staff accordingly. Under these circumstances, it was no wonder that the entire editorial staff had resigned. Freedom of the press, she continued ,was not yet so lost that professional journalists were prepared to accept in toto the dictates of management when it came to the public interest and their right to know what is going on. The story which management decided /insisted must not be run appeared on the front page of a rival mid-week publication anyway,and people must now be wondering what prompted the management ban on a legitimate piece of Darwin news. “I admire the editorial staff for the stand they have taken. They are not on strike, they've resigned, but the underlying philosophy is the same.And under the circumstances there is no way I can continue to write for this paper.”Her stirring piece carried the farewell message: THANK YOU ....AND GOOD NIGHT. ( The new editor, John Loizou, guaranteed editorial independence of journalists .)

******Wes's musty parchments also turned up some personal information about the fact that his own column in the The Star -WESVIEW-came to an end , his golden prose no longer gracing its pages. Instead, businessman and politician ,Tom Harris , was given regular space and under the heading WHO'LL RID US OF THIS PEST, wrote about troublesome Coffee Bush ,or Leucaena, in the Darwin region.

Thirty years after the article, it still irks Wes that the accompanying photograph was of Mimosa. An alert agronomist would not have committed such and egregious error. Rest assured this botanical crime was entered in the Humpty Doo Doomsday Book.