Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Continuing ,condensed biography of  Crusading Editor, "Big Jim" Bowditch  by  Peter Simon

Two   white   warriors- each  near    the   end  of   his  life- lay  in   beds  in a  Darwin   hospice. Like scarred  bull  elephants , they  had  both   returned  from  the  south  to  their old  stamping grounds  to  die .   They  were   friends  who  had  not  been  in  contact  with  each  other  for some  years .  Now  they  were   practically  next  to each   other  in   beds  but  because  of  a  cruel  twist    of  fate  and  their  afflictions  they  did  not  know.  They  were  Jim  Bowditch  and  Allan  Alexander-Stewart, the  Great  White  Hunter .  Bowditch  had  been  in  poor health for  some  time  and also   suffered  from loss of memory  and  emphysema.  Alexander - Stewart (the name hyphenated to capture the donkey vote in  an election in which he failed to be elected ), had slight peripheral vision.

Visiting  her  father ,  Ngaire  Bowditch  saw  the name  Stewart  and  immediately  identified   him  as  her  father’s friend.  She  introduced  herself  to  Stewart  and  told   him  her  dad  was  in  a  bed   a  short  distance  away . Stewart  became  emotional   and  cried  out , “ Jimmy  Bowditch !  I’ve   searched  the country  for him , and  now  I  find  out  he  is  in  the  bed  next  to  me! ’’  He began  to weep.  Ngaire then  explained  the  situation   to  her father who said , “Don’t worry old mate.”  Bowditch , 76 , died  of  pneumonia  at  the Chan  Park  Nursing Home  on  October  5, l996.
That he  had lived so long ,  having led  such a hectic life  , surprised  many , including his wife . His  daughter,Sharon,  rang  the Sydney   home  of reporter  Jim Oram who  was  suffering from  cancer . Oram  had  given  instructions  earlier  in  the day  that  he  would  not  take  any  telephone calls. However,  when  he  heard   Jim  had  died  he  spoke  to  Sharon.
TOP: Overview of  burial with  bugler . ABOVE : Mrs Betty Bowditch ( blue top dress) , daughters Ngaire  and Sharon , granddaughter Candice ; behind them sons Steven, left, and  Peter (sunglasses ).

Of  the  many newspaper  tributes  paid to  Bowditch   there was one from Robert Wesley-Smith  which  read  : Jim Bowditch hero, hero, hero,hero.   Last  crusader  editor, needed you for East Timor too.

In  a letter to the editor  of the NT News, one  admirer of  Bowditch said  much had been written  in the media since his death  about his  larrikinism  over the years . Just one  of  his wartime  experiences -that of  sitting  in  a cramped  and stifling   submarine with  Japanese   vessels intent on  blowing  it up  patrolling overhead  for l8 hours – would be enough  to  make anybody  a  bit  bent ; allowances should  have been made for his  subsequent  behaviour.
At  the  packed  funeral   chapel   service   for   Bowditch   it   began   and  ended   with  the strains  of  Afro-American   human  rights campaigner  Paul Robeson   whose  music  was  seen  by  the Bowditch  family as  symbolising Jim’s  lifelong struggle  for  the  underdog.   Bowditch  might  have  met  Robeson  who  passed  through  Darwin  in  October   l960  on   his  way  to  Sydney .

Because  of   his  open   support  for  Communist  ideas and  a  visit  he  made  to  Russia ,  Robeson  had been  shabbily  treated  in  America.      The   News had once carried  a report   which said   that  during an  airline  stopever in Darwin  the  singer and  human rights campaigner  had  spent   two hours  with  unionists  Mr and Mrs  Des  Robson. 

Furthermore, the newspaper announced that  a  committee, including NT News   reporter  Jim Kelly,  had  been  formed  to try and  get  Robeson to  perform  in  Darwin  on  his  way  back  to  America.   During  Robeson’s  visit to  Sydney he  sang  to  workers  on  the   Opera  House  site . Comments  he made about the  plight  of  Australian  Aborigines  were  reported  in  the  NT  News .

Jim’s son-in-law, Col Allan, at  the time   editorial   manager  of  the  Sydney  Daily  Telegraph and   Sunday  Telegraph ,  spoke  on   behalf  of  the  family at the funeral service . He  said   Jim  had  been  a  complex, yet   simple  man  who  would  not  have  wanted   all  the  fuss  and  writes  ups  that  followed  his  death .  Allan  continued : “ It  is  only  here  that  I  feel  safe  saying  such  things  about  him, relatively  sure  that  he  will  not  appear  in  that  familiar  crouch,  hands  thrust  forward  in a  combat  position demanding  that  I  not eulogise him  but  instead   attack  the  Labor  Party  for  betraying  its  ideals.”

Communist activist   Brian  Manning  who  had  fought    many   campaigns  with  Bowditch made an emotional speech . In   particular,  he  mentioned  the  Stayput  Malays   and  the  part   Bowditch  had  played  in  helping  to  do  away  with  the  White Australia  policy .  Manning raised  an  important   issue  - the  counselling  of   soldiers  returning  home  from  horrific  wartime  experiences. Manning  went  on  to  say  he  often  felt  the armed services  were seriously remiss  in  not  providing  professional   counselling  to  servicemen  like Jim who, although he served  with  valour    and   distinction  ,  did  not  relish  war  and  had   great difficulty  in   coming to  terms  with  what  he  had  done.

Much,  he  said,  had  been  made  of  the  drinking  exploits  of  Jim.  “ I  am sure he  caused  his  family  much  anguish  as  do  all  who  over -indulge,” said  Manning . He recalled  the  incident  when  Jim  had   been  barred  from  the  RSL   after  kicking  its   glass door.  In  an  agitated  frame  of  mind, he  had  called  on  Manning  in  the  Workers’ Club  and  admonished  himself   for   his  killings  in  the  war.  
John Waters ,QC, said the   Top End’s   record of racial tolerance  during the  period from  the  l950s to  the early  70s  was  due to  one man- Jim Bowditch
Another eulogy , faxed  from  New York , came from  journalist  Peter  Blake   and  read:  “ I suspect Jim Bowditch was the last of his  kind-the small-town newspaper editor  who believed  that treading  on sensitive , prominent  and powerful toes  went  with the territory - and that included  those who paid his wages.  He   edited the paper in  bravura fashion without ever looking  over his  shoulder at  the  people who owned it.  It was a  style and philosophy  that made the NT News  a  perfect  mirror  of  its community-outspoken,  brash,  cheeky,  quirky, and  yes , a  bit rough  around  the  edges.”

He  described  Bowditch’s  office  in  the  Old  Tin Bank  as  having  been  marginally  bigger  than the  lavatory . Of  Jim’s  grog  problem,  Blake  said  it had  brought  him  a  ton  of  grief , but  he  never  wallowed  in  self  pity  or  blamed  his  war  experiences...  “ But  those  who  knew  and loved  him  believed  the  things  he’d  been  forced  to  do tore  him  apart.”
At  the   cemetery    burial  ceremony  there  was  an   RSL  Honour  Guard  made  up  of  front  line  veterans  from  WW11 , Korea  and  Vietnam  .  As  a   mark  of   respect  for  another  front  line  soldier , a    slouch   hat  and  a   bayonet  had   been   placed   on  the  coffin .   Jim’s  eldest  son, Peter,  expressed  concern  about  the   items  on  the   coffin.     If  they  did  not   belong  to  his  father, he  said  he  did  not  want  them    on  the  coffin .  There  were  to  be no  false  trappings  at  his  father’s  burial . 
A  wake  was  held  at   the  Aviation  Club  and  stories  flowed .   Included  in  the  throng  were people  who  had  worked  in  the  old  Tin  Bank.  Betty Bowditch and  her   close  knit   Hodgson  family were  there  in  force . 
A   newspaper  account   of  the   funeral   said   because  of  a  clash   with  parliamentary  sittings  some  “ old  political   friends  and   foes” were  unable  to  attend .   Journalist   Jim   Oram  died  soon  after - December 19 ;  rather  than  attend  his  wake,  Jim’s  daughter  Sharon , expecting  a  child ,  went  home  and  gave  birth  to  a  daughter  that  night.  She  named  the  baby   Kate  J - just the initial -  which  stands for  the  two  Jims ,  Bowditch  and  Oram . 
The Bowditch  name was  intended to be commemorated    by    an Award  for Excellence  in Print Journalism  to be presented by the  Darwin  Press Club ; it is unclear if  this happened . There  is, however ,  a  Bowditch tile  in 200 Remarkable   Territorians on  the Esplanade  in  Darwin , part of the Bi-Centennial Celebrations . Of  the others listed in the above panel, Bowditch had personal contact with  most of  them . Many years later , Darwin named a street  after  him.  NEXT:  A  medical  explanation.