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 .
Keithcame 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.]
GINGER PALMER'S DIARY
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