Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MURDOCH COMPETITOR SENT NORTH CLAIM - Continuing biog of Crusading Editor,”Big Jim” Bowditch .

Barking  Bowditch  in  typical  pose  on  the  phone  .  Photo by  Kerry  Byrnes , now  chief  Bobcat  driver  at  Arnhem  Nursery ,  Humpty Doo . 
Extra staff  were  engaged  to  expand  the operations of   the Northern Territory  News  after  the Murdoch takeover. There was  much speculation and  some  apprehension  about  one   particular  early appointee,  expected to arrive  overland   in  the near  future.  The  day  the   man was  due , Bowditch was  drinking with  staff  in  the  Vic Hotel , and during  animated  discussion   some  beer  went down  the wrong way.  Clutching  at  his  throat , he  bent over  and  tried to  clear  his  airway , coughing  loudly.
People thumped  him on the back and  guffawed at his  discomfiture.  Their actions  seemed to make him  worse. He got so  bad that he  knelt down  near the  footrest, gasping.  A  joker in the group  said   Murdoch’s  new man would walk into the pub , ask  for  Jim Bowditch and  be directed  to the man barking at the footrest.  That was enough to send   Bowditch  into  another  paroxysm.

Kiwi  journalist Les  Wilson  was sent  to Darwin from Sydney.  Wilson, who had  been a sub editor on the  The Mirror  for a year  , had  been  hoping  for an exotic overseas  posting , England or  America , but  drew  " the  short straw  "-  Darwin .   However, a  different reason for his posting  North  was  raised in  the book  HUMAN HEADLINES My 50 Years  In The  Media , by  Derryn Hinch , Cocoon Lodge , 2010, when writing about  Murdoch’s  second wife, Anna Torv. He said : "Anna was a stunning blonde  cadet on  the Daily Mirror  in Sydney  when she caught the boss’s eye  and  they   were  soon  married . Rumour had  it  that  Anna  had a  journo boyfriend  at  the Mirror  at  the  time  but  somehow  he  got  transferred  to  Darwin."

There  was a  deafening  chorus  of " Les Wilson!" from  a  host of people, including  this  writer and  Betty Bowditch, when  the  statement was  read.  Asked  to  comment  about  Hinch’s  claim ,  Wilson  said  he  knew  he  had no hope against  the competition  when  Torv excused herself  one  night  and   stepped  into  a   chauffeur  driven  car. 

Wilson was instructed  to  assist Bowditch , compile   radio news  bulletins   for the  Darwin   commercial radio station on  which  Bowditch and  lawyer Dick  Ward  were  board members , and provide news and feature articles  for  News Limited  papers.With no  experience at all in writing  radio  bulletins,  Wilson  had a farewell party in Sydney, arrived  suited in  steamy Darwin, and “ nearly died  ”from the heat . 

He  was picked up by the  jovial  accountant, Murdoch appointee , Brian Phipps , and   taken  to the Parap Hotel.   After that , he was driven to the  News  office and  found  Bowditch and Willey  sitting near a pile of  empty beer cans . Bowditch had staggered off  late in  the evening and  told Wilson he would see him at six the next morning, which he did .


An observation  Wilson made was that “ everyoneat the News suspected  somebody  sent  from  south as  being  a "spy " and he  had been so regarded.  Even so , reporter Keith  Willey borrowed   Wilson’s  blue suit  and  even  a pair of  his shoes   to  wear to  Sydney  to  receive a  Walkley  Award  . Somehow , Willey  managed to  miss  the  presentation , saying  he had  fallen asleep in his  room and the hotel had  not  roused him .  

Wilson  got  along exceptionally well  with   Bowditch  and enjoyed  his  time in  Darwin , at  times  saving  the editor  from  being  assaulted  in  pubs, leading to the nickname,Thrasher Wilson  A  skilled operator, it did  not  take Wilson long  to  slip into  the way of  compiling radio bulletins  which were  delivered  to the  station  by  hand , usually  by  Les or  Jim.  Delivering  the  night  bulletin  was  irksome  as it tended  to interfere with  afternoon  drinking  sessions , which  induced  forgetfulness.
There  was often a frantic dash from the Vic to the  radio station  with  the annoying   bulletin which was in  somebody’s pocket.   One  evening  Bowditch delivered a bulletin to the station and  a foolish DJ  read  through it  and said something  should be added to an item .   Naturally, Bowditch firmly told the radio man  that his  job was to  just read the news. 

Tempting fate, the  announcer  began to argue the toss. Tired and emotional  after  a  hard day at the office , Bowditch  told  the chubby, pompous  fellow  what he thought of him. Somehow , they  came to  grips   and     banged  up against  the control  panel in the studio , the station going off air for a short time.   After  that  experience , the announcer had a clear  understanding  of  job demarcations  and never  again  stuck his  beak into the contents of  a news  bulletin. The episode  , naturally, provoked hilarity at the News  and  Bowditch  slapped  himself  on  the  forehead  for   being  "naughty."

Wilson was  responsible for  starting  what became  a major  Darwin community  sporting  event , the  NT  News Walkabout, a  15 mile walking race , which grew in popularity .   The idea for  the event  came over  some drinks in that  fertile  breeding ground  for great stories, bright ideas  and enormous  hangovers- the Victoria Hotel . One of the  drinkers in the pub  was affable , pipe  smoking   Englishman, "Walking " Jimmy Wadsworth , who  told   Wilson about having  participated in walking races in Singapore  and Hong Kong in younger days. 

Such a race would go well in  Darwin, he suggested.    Wilson wrote a story   with a  picture  demonstrating  Wadsworth’s  walking  style and the NT News annual Walkabout  was born.  It became a  well supported   community  event   with proceeds going to  pensioners .  Another reporter sent by News Limited  was   Tony Malone  who  took over the sports  section.  Organised, reliable and    efficient, Malone  often seemed   surprised  at  the   goings on  at  the  News. 

Affable accountant Brian Phipps, who had worked  for the Adelaide  News  for seven years  before being sent to Darwin , fitted in well, regarded as  one of the boys. A keen sportsman, he  played cricket and  Aussie  Rules. His  habit  of scratching himself  in the  nether  regions  resulted in the  nickname "Itchy Phipps ".

As part of the revamp of the  NT News , a Holden station wagon bearing the  newspaper’s  livery painted  all over, stood out. Phipps took the   car to Batchelor, the  Rum Jungle uranium mine township, for a  cricket match.  An elderly resident  who had to  go to Darwin for a medical appointment  hitched a  ride  in the impressive  looking car. Unfortunately ,the vehicle ran off the road  on the tricky  section  where  the tarmac joins the  highway just out of the township and  was  damaged. The  passenger supposedly finished  the trip  to  Darwin in an ambulance .
There is an appealing  anecdote  involving  Phipps  and Rupert Murdoch . The story  goes that, years later, Phipps  was  taking  pay  envelopes  to staff at  The Mirror in Sydney. As usual, Phipps , popular with everybody , laughed  and  joked , discussed sport and other topics , as he moved  about the building. It is said Murdoch came  by , plucked a pay  packet from the  container in which they  were wheeled or  held , without  being  noticed . Later, Murdoch called  Brian in and asked him  how  the  pay  run  had gone. Ok, was the reply. Then Murdoch  produced  the packet. Oh sugar! NEXT :Open season on the editor