Bowditch’s erratic, often outrageous behaviour under the influence of alcohol undoubtedly detracted from his greatness. It also gave his enemies ammunition with which to belittle him and his many achievements. Even today it is irksome and almost distressing to hear people highlight his drinking , often as not unaware of his dangerous wartime exploits , the many crusades in which he engaged as a fearless newspaper editor .
It was only in the year 2001, long after Jim’s death, that a Sydney doctor presented a plausible explanation for much of Bowditch’s actions and wild behaviour over the years. From an early age, he had evinced a strong awareness of social injustice in the world ; his bombing of bailiffs and hopelessly challenging his father , a British Army boxing champion, showing his willingness to take on authority, the world when just a boy . This attitude had not diminished as he grew older and had then been drawn into the turmoil and trauma of the war.
The doctor said Bowditch’s behaviour indicated he had suffered from unresolved post-traumatic stress brought about by his war experiences. Receiving no treatment for those horrors he , in effect , “self medicated ” with alcohol .
Alcohol , then , outwardly seemed to be his problem , but it was more complex . With his deep seated antipathy towards authority, , his crusading zeal, little sleep and hard work , it all combined to put enormous mental , physical and nervous strain on him .
Added to this was the use, later on , of marijuana , which Bowditch said relaxed the mind . In his desperation to overcome his complex problems , simply attributed to “ alcoholism ” , he had , at medical direction, taken medication which made him sick each time he touched alcohol. While he did try to come to grips with his drinking problem , Darwin was a hard place to stop. The tragedy is that by trying to overcome his condition , he almost certainly added to his burdens.
At some stage he was introduced to Serepax , used to avert seizures when patients are coming off alcohol. It should never be taken by drinkers who are still consuming alcohol . Over - prescribing can result in addiction . Modern thinking is that Serepax should not be prescribed for longer than six weeks. In Bowditch’s case, he was on and off the drug for years , and frequently used it while drinking heavily .
Side effects of Serepax are blackouts similar to alcoholic blackouts which come without warning. The person does not lose consciousness , but part of the memory will just suddenly disappear. Rarer side effects are dizziness , fainting , vertigo, headache , confusion , hallucination and aggression . As well , paradoxical reactions such as stimulation , excitement and rage can occur.
On the occasion when Bowditch came to Adelaide by bus to see this writer on his way to Western Australia , there was clear evidence that he was on the dangerous cocktail of Serepax and alcohol. Having heard on the bush telegraph that Bowditch was “off the grog ”, this writer, baching , made sure the frig was devoid of alcohol. However , Bowditch arrived bearing a cask of wine and had been drinking along the way . He insisted on drinking , and when the cask was polished off , ferreted out a bottle of Christmas whisky at the back of a shelf in a pantry cupboard.
About two in the morning, Bowditch threatened to kill me with two blows. At this stage I had my feet on the kitchen table . Bowditch , mad eyed, standing over me with one hand raised threateningly , a whisky glass in the other , repeated his ability to make a quick killing. Giggling , I tempted fate by saying I was too young to die. At first, Bowditch responded angrily to this jocular remark, saying drastic action might have to be taken “ to teach Simon a lesson ”. Then Jim began to laugh, and asked for another whisky .
The next morning , as Bowditch was being driven about Adelaide , he asked several times to stop the car , saying he was suffering from motion sickness. On alighting , he would dry retch . When being driven to the airport , Bowditch became agitated , saying he had run out of Serepax , which he said was for his “anxiety ”. On spotting a chemist shop, he asked to stop , ran in and was able to get another bottle of Serepax , despite not having a prescription .
At the airport he was concerned that he might have to pay excess baggage as I had repacked his possessions into two suitcases. Telling Jim not to worry , I took the suitcases to the counter and said :“This grey haired old gentleman is going to Perth , and all his worldly possessions are in these bags.” Everybody laughed , there was no excess to pay and Bowditch , less anxious , relaxed somewhat, toying with his Serepax container in the airport lounge .
It is highly likely that the drug he was started on to try and help overcome alcoholism became another monkey on the back of a complex and brave man , the likes of whom will never again be seen in Australian journalism .
Bowditch’s attitude to life and philosophy was encapsulated in a poem composed on behalf of the family by his youngest son , Steven :
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF OUR DAD
At the crack of dawn
after his usual four or five hours sleep
his old typewriter was going rat a tat tat
we kids heard the racket
said “ Ahhh, Dad, not again”
and went back to sleep.
You’d see him striding down Smith St
shorts, long socks, pulled all the way up
on another crusade
By late afternoon
you’d find him at the Parap,
Vic, Don or some other pub
hammering with words, or fists
about what was right, or what was wrong
cigarette singeing mum’s new teak table
hunched, elbow propped
pondering in tears
the horrible deeds of war.
He didn’t need the respect of kings or queens
the wrath of heaven or hell
or the fear of another man to shape his
He simply believed in :
equal distribution of wealth of the land
to treat people equally, and to
think of no man as bigger or smaller
We miss you Dad
We all love you Dad.