Saturday, April 21, 2012


View of Alice Springs when Jim Bowditch moved there after WW11.

A pay clerk in the Works Department , Jim Bowditch and his wife, Iris, arrived in Alice , population about 2000, in 1948 . There was a severe housing shortage and they were allocated a tiny residence in Parsons Street and considered themselves lucky to have such accommodation. Resident in town was the wartime supremo of Alice Springs , Brigadier Noel Loutit, who ran a mixed goods store . During the war , Alice , with as many as 8500 men and 3500 trucks, had been a bustling military base for Australians and Americans and supplies railed to the town were transported in large convoys up the Stuart Highway to Darwin and the many camps in the Top End.

Australian troops became restless at one stage , a situation caused by boredom , a severe shortage of female company , unfavourable comparison with the conditions enjoyed by American troops and the unlikelihood of any contact with the enemy . The men rioted through town streets , smashing some shop windows ; a car was driven through the officers’ mess and stones were thrown on the roof of the nursing sisters’ quarters.

Officers were abused
and anybody who got in their way beaten up. Brigadier Loutit, a short man, bravely mounted a box and addressed the angry men , telling them how soldiers had endured terrible conditions in the trenches during WW1 . In times of war , he told the disgruntled men , they had to go without home comforts. To a man, the mob roared out that this was “ bullshit ” because he had a girlfriend in town , Mona Minahan . A military policeman stood next to Loutit and said he would shoot anybody between the eyes if they attacked the officer. This foolish statement resulted in about 50 men rushing in and knocking the MP to the ground.

Alice had unexpectedly become the civil capital of the Northern Territory in 1942 when the Administrator , Mr Aubrey Abbott, and his wife moved down from Darwin after the Japanese bombing and lived in a building called The Residency . The Administrator soon found himself up against Brigadier Loutit , nicknamed the “Busy Bee.

Loutit treated Abbott with scorn and proudly claimed to have cut off the Administrator’s chocolate frog supply from the Army canteen. A request by the Administrator to have an Army band play God Save King, when he was to appear at a function, was also vetoed by Loutit . Loutit wrote regular critical reports on Abbott which were forwarded to his superiors , who looked forward to them , finding them highly entertaining. Abbott also wrote reports critical of Loutit. Late in life, Loutit , living in Adelaide, told this writer he had written to the Governor-General during the war years trying to get Abbott sacked. “ He ( Abbott) was an obstructionist ,” said Loutit . “I could not tolerate that .” With obvious delight , he repeated how he had stopped Abbott’s chocolate frog supply

Jim Bowditch
almost took the Alice by storm , becoming involved in a wide range of activities-politics, debating, amateur theatre , cricket and union work. It will be shown that his actions attracted the close attention of ASIO . The Bowditches became “ foster uncle and auntie ” to some half-caste girls at the Anglican St. Mary’s hostel , took children home at weekends and bought them clothes. Iris worked as a comptometrist and helped a woman run ballet classes; she also assisted with debutante balls.

A major event had been the opening of the ABC radio station in Alice because short wave reception had been poor and added to the town’s feeling of isolation. The cost of living was high, there being little in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables and people made do with powdered milk . About the only commodity in abundance was meat which came from local cattle stations.

Always up early , Jim used to wonder at the morning glory of Alice Springs with its striking colours, crisp air and ranges . For a time, the beauty of the place mesmerised him and he was not conscious of the town’s less attractive social aspects.

Having developed an urge to write while working in the lighthouse on Moreton Island , he took to freelance writing , sending articles about the town to southern newspapers and also contributed items to the local paper, the Centralian Advocate . The Advocate had not been in existence for long and strongly represented and reflected the views of the locals. The first souvenir edition – 12 pages - had been published May 24, 1947. The commencement of the Advocate had led to the demise of a community publication - Dead Heart - which had run for seven months and ended with number 30 . Co-editors of that publication had been Les Penhall ,who in the year 2000 would be an important witness in the “Stolen Generation ”court case in Darwin , Miss Buchanan and F. A. Gubbins.

The proprietor and editor of the Advocate was a colourful person , Charles Henry “Pop ” Chapman, a gnome of a man with a foghorn voice , who had mined at The Granites in the 1930s . He used to drive from the mine in his Humber Snipe car into Alice with up to $30,000 worth of gold bars packed in powdered milk and treacle tins.

A dynamic individual , he wanted to start an air beef enterprise and build a hotel at The Granites but failed to get approval from the government.

He grew vegetables while at The Granites , had his own swimming pool and when he moved to Alice experimented growing a variety of vegetables and fruit trees, having much success with apples. He built himself a house in Alice at Heavitree Gap called The Pearly Gates which also had a swimming pool ; it later became the Pitchi Ritchi museum and sanctuary

Chapman had little respect for the sitting Independent Liberal Federal MP for the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives , Adair MacalisterChill Blain . As a surveyor , Blain had carried out much work in this field in the NT, including The Granites goldfield. In 1933 he headed an expedition into western Arnhem Land to the head of the Liverpool River to report on agricultural and pastoral possibilities. A veteran of both World Wars, he spent from February 1942 to August 1945 a prisoner of the Japanese in Changi, Sandakan , Kuching and Outram Road prisons.

After Blain returned to politics , Labor attacked him in parliament , claiming he had used his parliamentary gold pass to get special priviliges in Japanese prison camps. The attack rebounded because it was disclosed Blain had knocked out gold fillings from his teeth to bribe guards to get special concessions and treatment for sick and injured comrades.

The Advocate
demanded to know what Blain had done for the Territory , saying he seemed to be a “silent worker ” . An extraordinary article in the first edition said the MHR, under parliamentary privilege , had claimed that he had been run off a mining lease at the point of a gun. The “culprit” had not owned a rifle at the time , said the paper, so it must have been an imaginery rifle, nevertheless let bygones be bygones. It added : “ But remember, the imaginery rifle is still loaded and only attention to Territory needs will assure the temper of the villian who does not hold it.”

This was a clear warning to the sitting member that the new paper would fire paper bullets at him if he did not work for the benefit of the Territory. As well as warning Blain in that first issue , the paper also took the federal government to task for not giving the newspaper a commercial radio licence. The pioneers and early settlers of Central Australia were saluted in a lengthy article which said it was only natural that some of them had slept with Aboriginal women.

People wanting to improve the lot of Aborigines were sneeringly called “ The Goodies ”. Aborigines were commonly referred to in the paper as “ abos ”, “ black boys ” and “ lubras ”. In the European community in Alice they were also referred to as “ boongs ”,”niggers’’ and “ coons”. HOW ADELAIDE BRINGS ABOS UP was the heading on an Advocate account of a court case involving a drunken fight.

There were not many photographs in early editions , but one on June 7 showed a group of Aboriginal men lined up in front of a white man who had a round galvanised tub on a table . The caption said it was “ abos ” getting a free meal at a mission station . It asked what would be the future of “black boys taught to loaf ” and that the white man must feed him and “ act as his batman. ” An official planting a toe at times-where it was sorely needed- would be brought before the police and fined for assault. Clearly, the newspaper regarded Aborigines as lazy good for nothings who should, with impunity , be kicked .

The first full page advertisement taken out in the Advocate was for Loutit’s store and cost 40 pound ($80) . While the money was most welcome , it contained a lot of metal and took a long time to put together. NEXT : Crusading campaigns and a medal for wartime bravery.