Wednesday, January 8, 2014

FEEDING THE WEIRD DARWIN IMAGE–Continuing biog of Crusading Editor ,” Big Jim” Bowditch .

Reporter  Keith G. Willey  used to  string  for southern newspapers and magazines and knew a good story when he saw one.  He  got  maximum mileage  out of  offbeat  stories  both  in  Darwin and down south.  Letters  to  the editor of the Northern Territory News  , supposedly written  by  people  down south,  especially one   person  from  a  suburb of  Melbourne , saying  that  Territorians were  weird or  lacking in social graces,  sounded  suspiciously like  the work  of   one  K. G. Willey. They  sparked  colourful responses  from  indignant locals

For  example, criticism of  Darwin barmaids to the effect that they were less than perfect  and that  Darwin men were sloppy dressers and  should wear suits  were  milked for all they were  worth.  Keith wrote a  poem  in  defence of barmaids serving up  foaming amber fluids  .  An  obituary he penned  about an alcoholic Darwin  bank dog who went on  the   dry , refrained   from  going  to   the   pub ,  and   died  was   a  classic . 

 Keith came across many a yarn   in pubs at night  and  took notes on  pieces of  newspaper , beer coasters  or anything  else that he could find .  Arriving at  work  the  following  morning , he  would  decipher his  notes,  putting   the  bits and  pieces  together  like  a  jigsaw  puzzle.  His  book, Eaters of the Lotus, was filled with  colourful stories  about  larger than  life  people  engaged in   odd   and unusual  events   in   North Australia .

Often he  sat in the Vic Hotel  just gazing into  the  depths of  his  glass  of  beer  as  if  musing about the  meaning of life ; at times he would  recite snatches of  The  Rubaiyat of Omar Khyayyam.  There  was a stressful time when Willey thought  he h ad  discovered  gemstones. 


During  a  trip to the Daly River he found red stones  in the wash  and  thought, hoped, they  were  valuable.   He sent  his wife  to  Adelaide with samples of the  stones  and  paced the  NT  News office  impatiently waiting  for Lee to  ring .  He confided  to  colleagues  that he  had found these red looking stones  which when held to the sun  could  easily  be  rubies.  “God, woman, ring !” Keith  said , gesturing  at the office phone .  Alas, a jeweller  informed  Lee  the stones were  carnelian , a  semi precious gemstone , an entire bagful not worth much .

Due to his  interest in swimming ,Willey campaigned  to have the town’s dilapidated  saltwater pool at   Lameroo Beach  repaired.   In a report  he wrote   about  Lameroo  there  were  two photos  of  him, one showing him  holding  his  nose  because of  the  stench.

 Willey  also thought up and became  the editor  of a  quarterly publication The Territorian  , official  organ of the Cattlemen’s Association of  North Australia  and the  NT  Game  Shooters’ Association,  which  was  printed and published by   the  NT News every two months .[This caused the demise of Glenville Pike’s North  Australian Monthly which  had run for  12 years.]



Lawyer  Dick Ward  gave  Willey the  diary of a swashbuckling   rogue  , “ Ginger “  Palmer , who  was found hanging by  his  belt in  the Darwin  lockup . There were conflicting  stories  about   Palmer’s origins . Some said he was  Australian . Another account maintained  he had been a  ship’s carpenter  in the   British Navy and  had  served at  Gallipoli, but did not  go ashore.  In  the Territory he was often in  trouble  with  police and  at one stage  was ordered out  of the  Territory , retreating  to  Thursday Island .

The diaries told how  Palmer once stole a  45ft long ketch   from Cairns , set his accomplices adrift , sailed to the  Dutch East  Indies where he  dodged  Dutch authorities , killed  many  people, some with axes ,  and  sired   several children before being captured and brought back to Australia.

He changed his name and returned  to the  Territory.  An Aboriginal woman  saved him from drowning   when he was  attacked by a crocodile .  As a reward , he  subsequently  left her on  sandbank to die, but she was rescued by other Aborigines.  A detective  told this  writer  that   Palmer was “ an  evil   old  bastard  ” .  Near the end of his life , he  lived in a camp at Shoal Bay , not far from Darwin.  I was taken to  meet  him in 1958. Palmer slept on   the  frame of an iron bed without a mattress and reeked of rum.  In  the mangroves nearby  was  a  large  dugout canoe .  Appearing   drunk in  court in Darwin , he  said his name was  Sutton , not Palmer.   Willey  ran  Palmer’s   diary in  the  book  Naked Island & Other South  Sea Tales. NEXT :  Exceptional  News  stories