Sunday, March 2, 2014

THE MYSTERIOUS MR SLAGGERT – Continuing biog of Crusading Editor, “ Big Jim ” Bowditch .

On  top of  running the  NT News  , Bowditch  was  also involved in managing  the  Mount Isa  paper in Queensland .  While  they  were  exciting  times , he  was bearing  a  huge load  of   responsibility  and  at  times  felt  worn  out . 

Under Murdoch's ownership the Darwin  paper  soon  became a tri-weekly , published  Tuesday, Thursday  and  Saturday.  The  Saturday edition  was mainly  made up  on  Friday .  Finding  sufficient  local  stories  to  fill  the  paper  in  that short   period  kept   everyone  working  at   a   frenetic , thirsty  pace.
By  Peter  Simon

Bowditch  invented a  person  called Mr  J. G.  Slaggert , described as  a self-employed  businessman ,  who was  an eyewitness  to many newsworthy  events  and  ever- ready  to have  his  views reported  on  any  subject .  The  observant  Mr Slaggert  was  quoted  in relation to  his  sighting  of  a  strange object  seen from time to time  in Darwin Harbour, known  as the Mandorah Monster , something  akin  to  the Loch Ness Monster, but  some people suggested  it  was mechanical and  even  that  it was Russian ! 

Mr  Slaggert was  particularly invaluable  when  you  were struggling for  a  major  story to fill  a  space .  Fortuitously,  late one Friday  night , when  Bowditch was  battling  to  wrap up  the  following  day’s edition ,  Slaggert  saw a  flying  saucer  ( shades  of  Alice  Springs ) , land near the Darwin Golf Course. Of  course, he  immediately   contacted  the  worthy  editor  and gave  what they  call in  the  trade  a graphic   eyewitness account  of  the UFO  and its  occupants.  According to  Slaggert, they  spoke  perfect  English, questioned   him  about  Darwin  and  told  him  they were  Russian!

One problem  Bowditch  had  with this handy  fictitious informant  was that he  had difficulty  in  remembering how  his name  was spelt.   Is  it  Slogget or  Slaggert ? he would ask .  At times he would hunt  through  newspaper  files  trying to  find stories in which  Mr S.  had  been  quoted to  make  sure of  the  spelling.


 Only a worldly  minister  of religion,  Reverend Norm Pearce , of  the Uniting Church , appeared  to  smell something  fishy  in  relation to  Slaggert , and it was  not  due  to Mr S.  having  had  a close  encounter  with the   Mandorah Monster .  Reverend Pearce  told   Bowditch  that this  Mr  Slaggert, oft  quoted ,   seemed to  be everywhere, yet he had never met him . Bowditch laughed,  said  Mr Slaggert  was  a  very busy man and probably did not mix in the same  circles as the  cleric.  The dubious minister  said he looked forward to the day  when he  would  actually  meet the  fellow. 
For a time  it looked as if  Bowditch’s employment  with Murdoch would not  last  much  longer . This  was  due  to  the  fact  that  Jock  Nelson , the Member for the NT  in the House of  Representatives , put  a  proposition to  Jim to come back  to  Alice  Springs  as  editor-half  owner of  the  Centralian  Advocate.
Nelson had  become  the  major  shareholder  in the paper, having bought out  the printer,  Morcom . Newspapers  attracted  Nelson ,  who  had  been a  paperboy  in  Darwin .  The  paper  ran   into  constant   staffing  problems  which  created  immense difficulties.  Nelson  described the  situation as  being  left  like  a  shag  on  a  rock whenever somebody  left  or something  went  wrong.  No member of the  staff  was  a  newspaper  man who  knew  what to  do to keep things  going .   The  situation  was  going  from  bad to worse  and  they  either  had to sell  the  paper or  take in  a   partner .  Nelson thought his  close friend  Bowditch  could  be  the  answer  to  the  problems .

 Bowditch  regarded the  half share  offer as most  tempting  .  Apart from that , there  was talk  of  the NT  News  soon  becoming a  daily  which  would   put an extra   load  on his  shoulders .   As he  had  never run a  daily newspaper,  he  felt  somewhat  apprehensive.  Bowditch  told  Murdoch  of  Nelson’s offer.  In doing so  he said      reporter Keith  Willey  was   his  logical replacement  as  editor,  and that he  would produce  a  better  paper because  he had worked  on dailies  down  south .  Murdoch asked  Jim  if he  had  signed anything  committing  himself to  Nelson’s offer.  Told  no, Murdoch then said  to do nothing further  until he  came to  Darwin  and spoke to  him .
Bowditch  agreed  and  told  Willey  what  was  afoot .   Willey  immediately  said  Murdoch  was coming  up to  talk  him out  of  going to  Alice .  Bowditch said  it would  have  to  be  a  pretty  good  offer  to  talk  him  out of  half share in  a  paper.   NEXT  :  Willey’s  fiery  departure .