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.