Sunday, February 2, 2014

THE MURDOCH TERRITORY LINK-Continuing biog of Crusading Editor,"Big Jim" Bowditch .

A globetrotter and internationalist, Sir Keith Murdoch passed  through Darwin on several occasions over  the  decades. In this  London  photograph taken  in July 1921  he  is  the one with  golf clubs, about to return to Australia to take  over editorial control of the Melbourne Herald. He is in august and powerful company. On  his  left  is  media magnate  Lord  Northcliffe  and the  Australian  PM, Billy Hughes . On his right ,Tom Marlowe, editor Daily  Mail , and  Wickham Steed , editor The  Times (which Rupert  now  owns). Standing behind  Murdoch are Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith, pioneer Australian  airmen knighted in 1919  for the  first historic  England-Australia  flight  which  landed  in  Darwin  
Impressed by   the  design of  the  Hotel Darwin , above ,  officially opened  by Mrs Hilda  Abbott, wife of the Administrator,  in  May 1940, it becoming  known as  the  Raffles of Darwin and  the Grand Old Duchess, until  pulled  down in 1999, Sir Keith  engaged  its  Sydney  architects, Stephenson and  Turner, to  design a  house  for the Melbourne  Herald  on  the  Esplanade in Darwin . 

Built on  the  ground , the  L- shaped  building  had a  six inch  thick concrete floor , was constructed  of  concrete  blocks,  with  649 louvres , making  it a cool house in which to live. Reporter Douglas Lockwood and  wife Ruth took  up  residence  there in  1941 .  Mrs Lockwood was  evacuated  south before  the  bombing  and her husband was  resident the  day of  the  first  attack. They  resumed residence  in  Darwin   after  the   war , the  photo below , supplied  by  journalist  Kim Lockwood , is  an  interior view  in the  1950s.  A typewriter  is  visible  on  the  far  left  desk .   

 By Peter Simon
Mrs Lockwood  knew  young  Rupert  Murdoch when  he  wore  knickerbockers. Rupert, she  said,  more  or less  “lived ” in  the  house  when  in  town  and  stayed  there  when  he   passed  through  in  his   Oxford  days .
Sir  Keith  is  shown , right , with  Rupert  in  London  in 1936  before  he set off  for  Germany and on his return  warned  about the  massive military build up there . While in  New  York in  March 194l he  spoke to the  Press about Japan’s expansionist policy and urged  America  to make  some strong display of  power in the  Pacific ; this was  before the  attack on Pearl Harbour . Flying back from London ,where he had pressed forDominion representation on the Supreme British Council, he   was also  reported in the Brisbane  Courier Mail of January  16, 1942 , as  saying he did not expect large scale Japanese   invasion of   Australia , but it  was likely  Darwin  could  be bombed,  and we must be prepared .  Soon  after, in the Melbourne Argus, he commented that Australia's war  preparedness  contrasted with   conditions in  other parts of  the  world .   In  Britain  life was  austere and hard , shopping was  discouraged  and  he had  not seen any drunkenness. In view of a  likely  attack  by Japan, he believed Darwin should be blacked out  and other cities  be  made  ready for  black-outs, to be enforced  at  short  notice. 

Darwin , not prepared,  was   attacked  on   February 19 , resulting in  a high death toll  and  massive  destruction  of  ships and  aircraft . Wearing a  thick coat and carrying an umbrella , Sir  Keith was photographed   back in Australia after a "28,000 miles   tour " in  1944.  During  the  war ,  the  Murdoch  mansion ,  Heathfield , was handed  over  to  a  top  American  military man ,  Lieutenant  General  George H. Brett,  US Air Force .  [ After the war it was used by the Salvation Army, then provided   accommodation   for  night  nurses of  the  Royal  Children’s Hospital. In 1958  it  was  sold  and  the  mansion  demolished.]    

Sir  Keith  arrived   in   Darwin  by  air  in  May 1946  and  had  breakfast  and a  bath at  the  Residency, official  home  of   Administrator  Abbott  and  wife,  a   regal   couple.
Bowditch was  not  sure  how  he  first  met  Rupert  Murdoch, named  Keith Rupert, but  called  by  the  second  name to differentiate  the two.   The  initial  encounter  could  have  been  when he (Bowditch ) was running the Centralian  Advocate  in  Alice Springs .  He seemed  to  recall  meeting  Murdoch   who  was   then  in his early twenties .. when  he  would not  have  been  long  in  charge of  the  Adelaide News, his  father dying in  his  sleep  in 1952  at  the age  of  66.   Journalist  Alan  Wauchope  said  he  thought  Rupert Murdoch  came  to Alice with the prominent  English  journalist and Punch editor ,  Malcolm  Muggeridge . Bowditch remembered  going  to  Adelaide  and being invited home by  Murdoch for  meals.
Whenever  the  first meeting  took place  , he became  very  aware of  Murdoch when he  came to  Darwin   and  looked  over the  NT  News in the old Tin Bank  building , some clerical staff receiving  dirt money because of the poor conditions.  Murdoch, he  recalled ,  had  laughed at the  antiquated set up and asked  him why he put up with such conditions.  In those early  days Murdoch  had  spoken about  wanting  to  acquire a chain  of  country  newspapers . Knowing  the  paper was  really  secretly owned by  Swan Brewery , Murdoch eventually  told  Bowditch  he  wanted  to  buy  the  paper.

Bowditch informed Eric White , the early Sydney PR guru  who  had a major say in the running of the News . White's response was to  tell  Murdoch it was  not for sale. Bowditch suspected  that  White wanted to  maintain  close  contact with  the  brewery for  other  business  reasons.  It  could also  have  been a ploy  to  force up  the price of the  paper .


When informed the  paper  was not for sale , Murdoch  took   quick and  decisive action . He went to the NT  Administrator “Cautious”   Clarrie  Archer  and  , according to  Bowditch ,  “conned ” him  into  announcing  Murdoch and the Adelaide  News would  be starting a new  newspaper in Darwin .
The  NT News   ran a small report  about  Murdoch’s proposal which quoted him as  saying  he  planned to  print three  editions a week .  At the time the  NT News  was still  a  bi-weekly . It was  pointed out in  the paper  that  Murdoch   did not  have  a  building  in  Darwin in  which to  launch the  venture .

The  tactical move  by Murdoch  had the desired  response.   Within  48 hours ,  Swan Brewery,  not wanting to be  left holding a paper  which  would  fold  when faced  with   strong competition,  “ panicked ” and agreed to sell  the NT News  to  Murdoch for   20,000 pounds ($40,000)  , the  same amount the  brewery   had  paid  for the  publication.   The  deal also gave  Murdoch  control   of   the  struggling   Mount  Isa  Mail  in Queensland .  At the time the  Darwin negotiations were  underway  it was announced that Murdoch  had   bought  the Sydney  daily , The Mirror .   Within a  short  time  Murdoch’s  various publications  were  being  produced at the  rate of  four million copies  a  week.

Once  Murdoch  had  possession  of  the  NT  paper  he  arranged for  better  equipment to be  installed.  A  Cossar  flatbed  rotary  printing  press  capable of  printing   and  folding   a 24  page tabloid at  the rate  of 3200 copies  an hour  was  shipped up from  Sydney. An  electronic  engraving machine  for making plastic  blocks  enhanced the  pictorial  content of  the  paper . A Ludlow type-setting  machine for  headings was  also  provided . NEXTSpeedy  Murdoch  arrives  in  town.