Saturday, July 30, 2016


Bowditch [left] sizing up then  Liberal Leader Andrew Peacock in what appears to be  a  serious  discussion in  Darwin . 

When Darwin resident  Betty  Bowditch  attends the plaque unveiling ceremony for the Z Special Unit at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Monday  she will be wearing  a replica of  her late husband's Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery against the  Japanese.

The original disappeared  in   Darwin   one   well  lubricated  Anzac Day during which " Big Jim" Bowditch , crusading  editor  of the  Northern Territory News , remembered playing  two -up  with the mayor  in  a  drained   pond  which had  been  donated to  Darwin by the Italian  community .

At war with certain  RSL types  and against  wearing medals , Bowditch had nevertheless  decided to march  that  fateful  Anzac  Day with his DCM  because he had been involved in  some altercations   with  RSL  officials   and  thought his  job could be under threat. In print he  had  criticised  local RSL officials who had  backed federal  government  moves to  deport Malay  pearldivers  he had helped  hide .
On  Anzac Day  l964  Bowditch  participated  in  celebrations  and , becoming  tired  and  emotional , flaked  out  on  a  table  in  the  RSL . What  transpired is  not  absolutely  clear. One  explanation was  that  he  had  become  drunk  and  obnoxious  and  was  asked  to  leave  as  it  was  nearly closing time .  He  left,  but  went  around  the  back  and  kicked   in  the  rear  door which  had  a  glass  panel,  badly  cutting  his  leg , and  was  taken  to  hospital .  Another  version  has  it  that  Bowditch  passed out  at a  table   and   some  RSL      officials   passed  derogatory  remarks about  the slumbering  editor . One  went  over ,  shook  him  and  told  him   to  get  home.   Bowditch  apparently  took  umbrage  at   being  told  to  hit  the  track  and  words  were  exchanged.   When  he  got  to  the  bottom  of  the  stairs , the  door  was  closed  behind  him  so  that  he  could  not  get back  inside. He  then  proceeded  to  kick  in  the glass  panels.

 After  that  ,   Bowditch made his way   to  the  nearby  Workers’  Club.   Brian  Manning  was  the   club’s  manager  at  the  time  and  took  Bowditch  into  his  office  and  sat  him  down.   Blood was  running   down  his  leg  from   cuts  and  he  was  in  a  highly  agitated  state  of  mind.   He berated  himself   for  what  he  had  done  at  the  RSL . Then  he  admonished  himself    for  the  people  he  had  killed  during  the  war.  In  particular, he  recalled  with   horror  how  he  had killed  and  mutilated  an  enemy  soldier  on  Tarakan, where he had paddled ashore  before the  invasion  to  gather  intelligence . 

At  times he  cried .  Eventually, he  fell   asleep  in  the chair  and   Manning  later took  him  home .  Manning  pointed out  that people who “ went  to the rescue ” of Bowditch, and there were many over the years , to prevent him from being arrested  or  getting into a fight, then drove him home  out of harms way , sometimes faced the wrath of  Betty.  She ,  not knowing  the circumstances  , but  furious  with Jim for  drinking, would sometimes  think  the innocent   rescuer had  been in a  session  with  him. The  RSL  fracas   prompted  the  satirical Waratah  Whisper  story  headed    Viscount Bowditch  and  PEACE  IN  OUR  TIME  . The  next  meeting  of  the RSL  barred  him  from  the  club . 

At  the  newspaper  office  ,  Bowditch  told staff   of  the  disastrous  day  and  the  loss  of  his  DCM.   He  said    that  he  could  not  put  a  classified  advert  in  the  paper    under  LOST    asking  any  person  finding  a  Distinguished  Conduct Medal   to  please  return  it  to  the  editor  of  the  NT  News.  People  would   say Bowditch  was  so  drunk  he  lost  his  medal .  If  it  had  been  anybody  else  who  had  lost  the  medal,  a  report  would  have  been  run  in the  newspaper  to  help  its  recovery .   The  medal  never  surfaced.

The  Administrator of the Northern Territory , Roger Nott ,  noticed  a  scar  on  Bowditch’s leg  .  “ Is  that   scar    from  your   war  service ?” he asked.  The  reply: “ No -  that’s  a  scar  I   got  kicking in  the  RSL  door. ”  It  is  fair to say that   Bowditch  and  some  of  the  RSL  hierarchy  were  not  the  best  of   friends.  He often  referred  to  Colonel  Blimp  types  and  RSL  club “bullshit”. 
Bowditch  with first wife at DCM investiture by South Australian Governor , Sir Willoughby Norrie .  Despite the nickname  "Big Jim " , it had been  difficult  at the Adelaide Army barracks  to find a uniform small enough  for him to wear to the event . The cap  he wore belonged to Harry Krantz of  the  Federated Clerks' Union , to which Jim  belonged .  At   the  time Bowditch was president of   the Alice Springs  branch of  the ALP  and became  editor of  the  Centralian  Advocate .
Betty Bowditch and daughter Ngaire  in Canberra .