Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THROTTLE, BASH OR KILL - Continuing biog of Crusading Editor,"Big Jim" Bowditch .

After  each shovelling  a  ton of  gravel into a  mining skip at  the  1958 Darwin Show , News reporter Peter Simon, left, and  fight promoter Terry Alderton  sink a cold one .  Alderton  won the contest . A  combination of  grog  and  learned discussion on  the  art of  fisticuffs  later resulted  in  a  newsroom  brawl . 

 While Bowditch was  held in high regard by many, there were  some who  resented and  even  hated the man .  In typical  fashion , he  became enraged  when  he was reliably  informed  that  a storekeeper  regularly  sold  grog  and  methylated  spirits  to  Aborigines  on  the  sly  at  inflated  prices.   He  drove  to  the  store   and  confronted  the  owner  with  the  allegations.  The   upshot  of   the  heated  conversation  was  that  three  friends  of  the  storekeeper , on the premises , gave  Bowditch   a  severe  beating.  Rather  than  complain  to  the  police,  he  retreated   and  licked  his  wounds
 By  Peter  Simon
A white  South African  who  refused  to  eat  with  Aborigines  at  a  government experiment farm threatened to  bash  Bowditch  when questioned  by him .  The  irate   man  left the  farm following reports in  the News.  He then  obtained a  job in  a  Darwin  butchery.  In  an odd twist  to the story  ,  unionists  "rang the tin on him" and  he was  declared " black "; he  left  the Territory soon after.

Editor  mauler
in  News  ring. 
This writer, right ,  confesses he   grappled  with  Bowditch  after attending  an open air boxing event  , organised  by Kiwi  fight promoter,  Terry  Alderton, one thirsty night .  All  a  bit  punchy  and  noisy , a  group retired to the NT News office , drinking ,  discussing   the  fights.  Having  done a bit of boxing  at  the North   Sydney Police  Boys'  Club  under  the tutelage of an old  former  Sydney  Stadium pug  and  attended many  Stadium bouts , I expressed the view  that the  main  fighter, billed  as  a  boxing waiter , had  no ring  skill  and was just a  round  arm  puncher  who  would  be  belted   by   a  real  pug. 
Bowditch  scoffed  at  my comments , made some derogatory remark about me  being a boy  with no  experience of  the  world .  Them were  fighting  words to my then lubricated  thinking. I lunged at the editor, knocked over a pedestal fan in the process , and we  went out  the  side  door  in  a kind of wrestle ; at one stage  my mitts  were  wrapped  about  his  windpipe.  We were  separated  by   fight promoter  Alderton  and others . It  was agreed we would meet  at dawn  the next day  and resume the  battle .  I rang Bowditch early  and said we had an appointment  to  fight to death .  We agreed to call  the confrontation off .  If  it  was  not the   Mango Madness  season , it must have been very close to  that  trying period .  Years later ,I wrote a piece  saying the NT News  had been an unusual  place  in which to work  - you  could attempt to throttle  the  editor  and  still keep your job. Such a privilege would  be  denied  modern  reporters.   
Without  doubt ,  the  most  bizarre  episode  concerning Bowditch  during his  editorship  was the  time he  woke up  in his car   parked at  a secluded spot with  the  engine running  and  found  a  hose    from the  exhaust pumping  poisonous fumes  inside. There was  conjecture  that  he had been knocked out  or drugged , driven to a  quiet  spot and an attempt  made to  murder him , making out it was  suicide. The odd  event took place when Bowditch was investigating a  tip off  that a  brothel that  practiced  racial  discrimination   was operating  in  the  suburb  of   Nightcliff.

A Brisbane madam  set up the  house in Progress Drive .  She bought beds, furniture and  carpets from local suppliers and made it known  that  she would make sure  they  received  special attention  from  her girls  should they wish to  visit the  premises. Bowditch went  to Nightcliff  to investigate and  began asking  questions  .  During  the  investigations, Bowditch  did not come home one  night  and   about the  middle of  the next day he  turned up  in  a  groggy  and weak  state. He told his  wife that he  woke up in  his car , the engine running, with  a  hose  leading inside  from  the   exhaust.  

He had no idea what had happened and how  the car  came to be  at the spot. Somebody, he said, had obviously been trying to kill him .  A suspect  was  a  person  connected with the brothel,  said to  be  a " nasty piece of  work ". Bowditch made no complaint  to the police , but the  place  was  raided   and   closed down .

If somebody  failed in their attempt to murder  Bowditch, he came close to  ending his own life  several times.  About l965, following discussions with Murdoch and  others,  it was decided to  appoint  a  managing director to the  NT   News   which  , as a result, required a change in  Jim’s title, he being  the  managing   editor.  Bowditch   said  he was content to be the  editor  with  control of all matters  editorial .  The managing  director, Rod Lever, came to Darwin  and a function  was arranged for him to meet  members of the business community at  the   Hotel Darwin  .   Murdoch’s right hand  man, Ken May,  was there  and some  solid  drinking  took place .
Bowditch drove away from the function in the office VW van ,  crashed into  a telegraph pole , brought   down   power lines  and  blacked out  his suburb of Fannie  Bay.  His head  went through the windscreen and badly  smashed up his nose.  He remembered  being   questioned by  police  at the scene , but an ambulance man  told them they   should   not  quizz a  man  with his injuries.  Bowditch subsequently told  police he swerved to  miss a dog. 
Betty Bowditch , after  hearing that Jim was  not seriously injured  ,  refused to   go  to the hospital  to see him because she knew  the  accident  would have been due to heavy drinking ,and she was  annoyed.  Daughter   Ngaire went to  see her father and  cried when  she saw  his  battered  nose which had to be  rebuilt. Several ribs had also  been broken .

He quickly assured  his daughter  that he had  hurt nobody but himself.   To  repair the  damage done  his nose,  he had to wear a helmet-like device . It had a   long attachment  which  fitted over  his nose and he said it made  him look like a " Martian".  News  compositor Bobby Wills said he  thought  Bowditch looked more like the comic  hero  Hawk Man  with his  beak shaped  nose.

Still sore and sorry, Bowditch attended the  NT News  Christmas party in  the Blue Room  at the Hotel Darwin .  His  odd appearance provided   the town with  much  merriment . Each  time he ventured into a pub there was an outbreak  of  raucous laughter.  Whenever  there was a power blackout  in  Darwin, people  suggested  Bowditch had  hit  another  pole.

Only his fading hair  saved  Bowditch from a  beating  by an angry musician  at the Victoria  Hotel . Bowditch had been to squash practice  and dropped into the  Vic for a  snort. There was a band playing in the beer garden , its amplifiers  blaring so much that  Bowditch could not hear himself speak.  On two occasions  he got up  to go to the toilet  and on returning  pulled out the  electric plug used by the  band.  After the second disconnection, an angry  bandsman , addressing him as  "old man ", told Bowditch it was only his grey hair  that saved  him  from  having  his  head  punched  in .
Having  just  unofficially  launched the Darwin Noise Abatement Society,  Bowditch  eventually  sat  down and resumed drinking  with   compositor Bobby Wills   who  had   dropped in from  the cowboy night  at  The Star Theatre during  interval  . In  light- hearted banter , Wills disputed  the claim  that  local  boxer Dave Napier could be   billed as the  NT  heavyweight champion when he  had   not fought  a  title  bout.  Bowditch  ended  the   discussion  by  bopping  Wills on  the head  with  his  squash  racquet .

His reputation as a  fearless reporter who came to grips with police after drinking sessions spread .  Down south, Bowditch became  known as " Mr Darwin", the unusual  crusading editor who  had   his  finger on the pulse  of North Australia .  This  fame , he said  ,  was responsible for projecting  a larger than life  image.    He  explained the  situation thus :

" The  reputation  I had  down  south was  distorted.  A lot of  journos  who came up from south really  expected to see a man  about  seven foot tall , covered in  red hair  and muscle , rushing around  beating up  cops.  The truth of the matter  was that  the cops used to rush around  beating me  up. I  had many clashes with  cops, but I never  won one .  They are bigger, faster, younger, stronger .  Certainly, I probably   brought the majority  of it ( trouble ) on  myself.”
Sober, Bowditch was a gentleman, considerate , hard  working .  Under the  influence of  drink, he could become  an aggressive, swearing , foot stomping , offensive  nuisance, at  times telling you he  could kill you with  two  commando blows .  In  a  remorseful   mood, he  would  describe himself  as  a murderer, referring  to  his  wartime killings .  If  involved in a  fight, he  would not use  the lethal  tactics  he had been taught as a  commando. Instead, he tried to wrestle. As a result, he was  no match for heavier opponents who often homed in  on  his  prominent   nose.              

 An   English  female  author  presented a different  view  of  Bowditch  in  a book. She  described him  as  a slight, anxious man ,deeply  concerned  about  the welfare of Darwin and the  economy of the Territory. NEXT: Running  the  Northern Territory News