Monday, December 1, 2014

EXPLANATION FOR EXCESSES : Last Post in biog of Crusading Editor , "Big Jim " Bowditch by Peter Simon

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 .  
Being well known in the Territory , which has an immense  drinking problem in all sectors of  the community , it was impossible for Bowditch to escape heavy  drinking. His Northern Territory membership of the Bloody Good Drinkers Club  issued and signed by  entertainer and   former  NT Aministrator Ted Egan , above ,in 1978  highlights  the   situation.
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 :


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.  

By midday
You’d see him striding  down Smith St
shorts,  long socks, pulled all the way up
racing forward
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
By midnight
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 opportunity
equal distribution  of wealth  of the land
to treat people equally, and to
think  of no man as bigger or smaller
than  yourself
We miss you Dad
We all love you Dad.