Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Townsville’s prominent landmark-Castle Hill- which towers over the North Queensland city, is be renamed Mount Cavity following the discovery that it is crumbling and needs expensive root canal fillings . This comes a week after a dental company obtained naming rights to Townsville’s football stadium , home ground of the clean, green , nil additives Cowboys. The stadium is now known as 1300SMILES. The latest photograph of Castle Hill (above ) reveals the extent of the dental repair work that has to be carried out by the Townsville City Council. Clearly visible is the gummy state of the hill which could cause the entire edifice to collapse and slide into The Strand. Heavy–footed early morning climbers of Castle Hill who use the goat track and fluoride impregnated rainwater run off are believed contributing to the structure’s decay.
 No X-rays are needed to see the extent of the problem (above) which could also be connected to secret wartime tunnels dug into the rock  that are  beginning to  crumble.

Monday, February 25, 2013

DARWIN’S NEWSPAPER WAR-Continuing biography of Crusading Editor ,"Big Jim" Bowditch.

The NT News  in the old Tin Bank building, Smith Street, Darwin,in late l950s. The Holden  car belonged  to  linotype operator  Alf  Shearman, a  Queenslander.  
From Alice Springs , Bowditch kept a close watch on the  new  NT News in Darwin because it challenged the long established union paper, the lusty up -the- workers Northern Standard, in existence since the l920s, for  which he  provided a regular column  called ALICE LANDLINE . He felt the NT News was a sign of southern media interests moving into the Territory and  that the Centralian Advocate,which he now edited , could be vulnerable to attack .
By Peter Simon
The move to start the newspaper in Darwin had created some interesting bedfellows. Key figures in the project were Don Whitington and Eric White. Whitington , managing director of Australian Press Services Limited and former chief of the Canberra bureau of the Frank Packer owned Australian Consolidated Press , had strong links with the ALP. White , head of the powerful public relations firm, Eric White and Associates, had been public relations director for the Federal Liberal Party from l944-l947, bringing him into close contact with Robert Menzies . White went on to write several papers on public relations and propaganda .

Whitington, in partnership with White, had launched a weekly newsletter called Inside Canberra in l948 and the Chifley Labor government had been impressed by its objectivity.  PM Ben Chifley may have  originated the idea for the Darwin newspaper. Chifly was said to be obsessive about Communists and regarded the Northern Standard as a Communist publication .

Whitington was approached by the Labor government in l949 and asked to look at the possibility of starting a paper in Darwin. Dr John Burton, head of External Affairs (later Foreign Affairs ) in the Chifley Government told Whitington the Labor government was worried that Darwin , as the first port of call for visitors from Europe, did not have a “ reputable newspaper” .

Whitington responded by telling Burton neither he nor White had enough money to open a newspaper, estimated to be up to 20,000 pound ($40,000). Told that the government could help in the way of shipping freights and advertising, Whitington went to Darwin and sounded out the local business community for funds. Initially, the Chinese business sector indicated it would put up money . However, much more was needed. Whitington subsequently wrote that there was a Communist phobia in Darwin and that he felt the idea that the Standard posed a threat to national security was ludicrous. Funds were raised from various sources and the plant of a small Darwin job printer , John Coleman , was obtained for 1000 one pound($2) shares in Northern Territory News Services Ltd .

Whitington asked his former boss, Frank Packer , if he would like to put money into the new paper. Packer declined to subscribe but offered the services of his head printer, George Stanbridge , to help select secondhand equipment for Darwin . An old quad-crown flatbed press which was used to print labels on cardboard cartons for Arnott’s biscuits was purchased. It cost something like 50 pound ($100) , but took 500 pound ($1000) to move to Darwin. It printed one side only and the sheets then had to be fed back to do the other side , a laborious , time consuming process. Two linotype machines were also purchased , one coming from Smith’s Weekly.

When the Chifley government was voted out in 1949 , Canberra seemed to lose interest in the Darwin newspaper proposal. But when Larry Anthony became Acting Minister for the Interior he visited Darwin , came back and called Whitington in to discuss the project. Anthony, father of Doug Anthony , discussed the problem of finding premises for the newspaper.

It was subsequently arranged through government channels that the former English Scottish and Australian Bank building in Smith Street, used by the Navy as a store , would be made available . Known locally as the “Tin Bank “ it was a prefabricated building said to have been shipped to Darwin from India in the l880s. It was a rusty and dirty old building which had some bullet holes from WW11 . There was a verandah on one side, which was turned into an office and staff quarters . During the Wet ,the building was hemmed in by two metre high speargrass on three sides.

Whitington had been warned that watersiders planned to dump any printing equipment for the new paper into the harbour . The printing plant was consigned to Darwin in parts disguised as plumbing equipment and other non suspicious objects.

Even before the new paper was up and running , Whitington was the subject of an attack by the Standard in May l950 for “ spreading lies and libels about Darwin and its citizens” in an article he wrote for the Sydney Daily Telegraph . Whitington, the Standard trumpeted , had written that Communists ran Darwin and its hospital ; the Standard, also, was said to be owned by communists. The Standard retaliated with a satirical article by “ Dick Whittington”, headed JOURNALIST TELLS ALL : SCOTCH AND SODA  AND CERULEAN BLUE , a romp in the form of a diary in which an intrepid reporter books into the Hotel Darwin on a dangerous assignment in a town run by Reds. The gloves were off .

The first edition of the NT News was printed on February 8, l952 under the editorship of Mac Jeffers , a small man who became known as the “ Midget Sub”, a prodigious worker . That first edition ran messages of support for the paper from many political leaders. In what was obviously a poke in the eye for the union run Standard, there were also a considerable number of messages from the leaders of various Australian unions.

An editorial said the NT News would “ fight for North Australia ”. The page 3 lead in the first and many subsequent issues was headed CANBERRA DIARY which was contributed by Don Whitington. This regular feature was later changed to BEHIND THE HEADLINES , probably because to many Territorians Canberra was a dirty word. The first edition carried an advert for the annual literary competition in which Doug Lockwood would judge  short stories, one act plays would be perused by Mrs H. Chauvel(wife of the film maker ) and bushman Bill Harney would handle the verse section .

For years most of the photographs run in the paper were used blocks provided by the Packer owned Sydney Telegraph . This explains why there were so many photos of Sydney events in the Darwin paper - a girl posing on Bondi beach had no real relevance to the Top End nor did a bunch of Sydney musicians hamming it up for the camera. NEXT: God’s  surprising  big  picture population  plans  for  Australia and  New Zealand . 

Sunday, February 24, 2013


The famous bushranger - Ned Kelly- has been sighted in North Queensland , where it seems he has turned into a Greenie. His latest armour (above ) is organic -wood- and traps trying to lay hands on him will get splinters under their fingernails. It is understood that Ned  fled Victoria because of the lousy weather . Clanking about in metal armour in North Queensland gave him prickly heat, so he whittled a new outfit from rainforest hardwood. Our cameraman got a fleeting  photo of Ned  in Townsville’s Anderson Botanical Gardens , Mundingburra, before he galloped off to hide in the vast caves in Flinder’s Street East where , like Robin Hood, he will make plans to fight the cruel rule of the slash and burn Newman Government. Ned is often seen in the nearby Cowboys Leagues  Club sharing a  steak  sandwich  with  Ambrose , the naked conch shell player, and arm wrestling  with  Protestant   patrons . In a lengthy registered letter he sent to Little Darwin, Ned says he is alarmed by plans to ease broad scale land clearing regulations in Queensland, which would make it difficult for him to escape into the bush when being chased by troopers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Startled members of the Northern Territory Government’s roasted peanut think tank are caught here in a rustic location – the back room at the Alice Springs Crumble Bar- secretly discussing leadership of the party . They hope to nut out a new parliamentary leader who will be as popular as the Milky Bar Kid with angry voters . Other  hot topics  discussed included the new menu for patients at Royal Darwin Hospital following the decision to do away with porridge as part of cost cutting measures. One replacement for porridge suggested by the bright team is recycled blotting paper with a thin smear of Nutella. And as a special treat, patients will be given imitation cigarettes and cigars made from ground-up cane toads , popular with the Minister for Health.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Further  research  in the ongoing series about the late New Zealand Communist author , Jean Devanny , has resulted in more interesting discoveries about the activist and other people with whom she had contact and their close associates. Devanny’s personal  papers, which include correspondence  with leading Australian literary figures , are held in the Special Collections section at James Cook University library, Townsville. A previous post in the Jean Devanny series covered correspondence between her and Communist author Frank Hardy when he was stationed at the Mataranka Army camp in the Northern Territory during WW 11, running a publication called the Troppo Tribune ; it mentioned that the camp had inspired the playwright and author Sumner Locke Elliott to write the controversial play, Rusty Bugles ; also in the camp was another Communist , Paul Mortier, who had trained for the priesthood , with whom Hardy became very close .

A recent discovery is that Mortier played an important part in the early days of the Workers’ Club in Darwin soon after the end of the war. In l946 he was the manager of the club , which it was envisaged would become “one of the greatest community centres in Northern Australia.” The club was only six months old when Mortier outlined his vision for the place in the union run Northern Standard of August 9 of that year. He spoke of a speakers’ class for men and women and a debating society which would hold public debates in the nearby stadium in Cavenagh Street.These activities would be  a step towards developing the club as a real social and community centre for Darwin residents. Another possibility for the near future,he said, was a trade union class , based on rules and regulations of the North Australian Workers’ Union and would cover the tasks of a union representative .

Mortier said it would be possible to launch an amateur dramatic society for the presentation of revues and sketches ( these kind of activities were performed at Mataranka and at Adelaide River where Mortier had also served during the war) . The society could begin with a  talent night or similar opening function. The club’s amplifier could be used for new social evenings covering jazz and classics . Other possible activities included establishment of a chess club under a tutor; opening of an extensive library; holding of billiards and table tennis tournaments .

As the years went by the club would become regarded as merely a noisy, very popular drinking hole for workers; after getting into financial difficulties it was  sold up. It will come as a surprise that under Mortier’s management he envisaged the club becoming a cultural centre for the whole community. Mortier went south and was a devoted foot soldier for Communism, contributing much to the Tribune newspaper, receiving little in the way of payment. Involved with theatrical groups, he also took part in demonstations against the Korean War. As mentioned in a previous post, Mortier suffered deep depression and suicided. His death shocked Frank Hardy who hitchhiked to Darwin, spent time in the Workers’ Club and became deeply involved with the Gurindjis land claim at Wattie Creek , details of which will be included in the ongoing biography of the NT crusading editor, Jim Bowditch. After long contact with Mortier’s activist widow , Hardy wrote a novel in which one of  the characters was  based  on her husband, his representation causing  her deep distress.

Monday, February 18, 2013


A Northern Territory  man  - Owen Cummins -who claimed  he was  the horseman who inspired  "Banjo" Paterson's  famous   poem,  The Man from Snowy River,  is  included  in  a  book on the subject by W.F."Bill" Refshauge , above , to be launched at the  National Library of  Australia on  February 27.  Darwin resident , Creed Lovegrove , knew  Cummins and  recently told  Little Darwin he  was a tall and straight man, a wonderful horseman .  He used to  drink   with Cummins who lived  in the old Afghan  shed at  Wave  Hill . With some rum under the belt , Cummins would say: " I was born with a hoss and I’ll die with a hoss .”

When Vestey  drovers went  south  in  the  off  season , Cummins  looked after  their horses. Lovegrove's fellow  workmate ,Ted  Evans, of  the Aboriginal Welfare Department ,    researched  the  claim that   Cummins   had  been   the inspiration   for  The Man  from  Snowy River,  and said it  was  not so.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Looking increasingly troppo, Darwin and Townsville residents are sweltering and wandering what has happened to the rain bearing monsoons . Territory cattlemen are worried because grass will not germinate without rain , providing a grim outlook for Dry season grazing. In North Queensland, barramundi  fishermen blame the  poor catch on the lack of monsoonal rain . Ants are also making their presence felt in houses , appearing in large numbers , steams of them heading into ceilings as if to indicate a tsunami is on the way . They have also taken an alarming interest in  my computer ; when I slipped into the parliamentary library in Darwin to snaffle some more state secrets, they emerged by the score and  I surreptitiously squashed them. Don’t be surprised if  the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly proves to be itchy and scratchy. This torrid situation inspired  our irritable resident artist -“Jack the Dripper Pollock-to create another masterpiece , drawing on a snapshot of rainwater and  blown wattle and  leaves reflected in a blue wheelbarrow.


Not far from a fountain featuring the serene face of Buddha , it is 3am , I am in a penthouse , clad in shortie pyjamas, fanned by a cooling breeze after a brief storm with associated thunder and lightning swept through , an extraordinary panoramic view of Darwin stretching before me . Bustling , surprising, both annoying and inspiring, modern Darwin was a tiny outpost when I first arrived here in 1958 , a pimply innocent from the Big Smoke, Sydney.
By Peter Simon
 In less than a week , my wife and I leave Darwin for Magnetic Island, North Queensland ; only time will tell if I ever set foot again in this Babylonian Territory capital . From the airport , through the harbour , taking in Mandorah, the navigation lights twinkling like fireflies , sheet lightning displays , I gaze at the scene , ruminating on the immense changes that have taken place in more than half a century . People, places and events pour through my mind . Looking down from my vantage point , the whole of the Central Business District is lit up like a Hollywood film set , ready for the cameras to roll in the latest Boom Town series, longer than the Rocky and Toy Story blockbusters. It is fitting that in a place named after worm and monkey expert , Charles Darwin, the tallest current building is named Evolution , 33 storeys. Mooted new high rises have fancy names like Manhattan, Freedom Tower , Kube ; Soho is under construction .
Darwin’s Pearly KingsPaspaleys -already have a big footprint on the CBD ( and Broome,WA ) and are about to erect a new complex from the old bank building at the Smith Street Mall /Bennet Street corner . Anyway, Paspaleys appear to have developed into a bank of its own with its boundless treasures from Davy Jones’s Locker and has extensive overseas and Australian investments . It was inconceivable in the l950s that the tiny Paspaley pearling outfit would blossom into a global enterprise. Paspaleys have so many clams in the kitty that it even invested in Darwin’s rapidly built new refugee detention centre.

In what used to be a waterhole called Kitty O’Shea’s , which experienced hard times and closed for a short time , there has opened a new ersatz art deco exterior Hotel Darwin . I was told it incorporated features of the grand old hotel on the Esplanade , knocked down despite strong community protests. Over the years , I spent a lot of time in the famous Green Room in the Hotel Darwin,  imbibing , spilling a bit of blood ,  interviewing interesting guests , so decided I must see the latest version before leaving LA on  a jet plane . Sucking on a squash , I could not detect one vestige of the earlier pub , said not to have been bombed by the Japanese because they may have taken up residence there. Numerous photographs of the Marx Brothers were displayed along one wall . Are the Marx Brothers the new embodiment of  this city? The bizarre weekend antics which take place in Mitchell Street would appear to rival any performances of  the whacky trio.


 Dwarfed by modern buildings , the recently re-opened Vic Hotel , in the Smith Street Mall, which , incredibly, closed because of financial problems some time ago , seemed to be the very throbbing heart of Darwin in my early days here when it was run by Richard and Alec Fong , jovial Ronnie Yip one of the memorable staff , a swarthy barmaid nicknamed The Egyptian. The people who drank there and the events played out on the premises will be covered in vivid detail in the continuing biography of NT crusading editor, Jim Bowditch. That is me, above, drinking with some of the Vic Hotel denizens in the l950s.  The lively Workers’ Club , unfortunately, is no more and as I look down from my vantage point , where it used to be , I recall the characters I met there, one being a lady called Soupy Lips , obviously taken aback by my dazzling image , clad in my white long sox, white Navy shorts and sweaty neon white shirt , destined to yellow at the armpits. Damon Runyon would have been more than somewhat  inspired by the boisterous guys and dolls in the noisy shed-like building who gathered there , carrying a wide range of nicknames , flamboyant and animated in discourse, yarns galore to tell .
Leaning against the penthouse parapet in the wee small hours , I see the modern Chung Wah temple, the old tin “joss house “, blown away in Cyclone Tracy. I was present when the Gods were installed in the old temple , it having been looted during WW11. After the impressive installation ceremony, the entrance was closed at night. Mysterious drumming was heard from within the empty temple . The Gods were consulted ; back came the message that they felt enclosed . This was taken as meaning the temple should not be locked at night , so the doors were left open . The donation box was regularly cleaned out at night ; green dye was used to catch a thief.

Well lit is the old Brown’s Mart building , now a theatre, the Crown Law Office in earlier times , where the legal actors included cowboy boot wearing , eloquent Ron Withnall ; gentlemanly George Dickinson , who had attended Japanese war crime trials, worked for the Sydney Morning Herald and told interesting anecdotes about Sir Warwick Fairfax ; John Gallop, later a Supreme Court Judge, before whom I was called on two cases in vain bids to prevent journalists from holidaying at Her Majesty’s expense .Somebody else in Crown Law went under the nickname , Comical Con.

Thrust skywards in the greenery is the spire of the rebuilt after Cyclone Tracy Christ Church Anglican Cathedral , bringing back memories –one being our marriage there- the Liquor Vicar and the busy, civic minded warden , author Peter Spillett. A short distance from the church was the old English, Scottish and Australian tin bank in which the NT News first started life .

The cruise ship Regent , above , came into port while we were ensconced in the penthouse and added to the spectacle , a blaze of light at night. In the morning the sad news came through on the radio that a young American crewmember, a singer, had been found dead in her cabin. Before sunrise one morning, there is evidence that the streets of Darwin are literally lined with gold as a van is seen doing the rounds of the CBD emptying the parking ticket dispensers , sounds like a poker machine jackpot drop echoing across the city.

Open air boxing was big in Darwin back in the l950s, and I helped set up a makeshift boxing ring in the basketball courts for the fight promoter, Kiwi Terry Alderton. At one boxing night , lawyer John “Tiger “Lyons, sitting with another prominent legal man, Dick Ward, said he would back the red corner to win , and stretched out some of his thin, ginger strands of hair to highlight the point.


I well remember returning from a weekend fishing trip at Coburg Peninsula when the pilot tapped the fuel gauge , and said it could not be right. But it was –very low. Air Traffic Control was notified and we thankfully plopped down on the tarmac with a fire engine running alongside . On another light aircraft flight along the Arnhem Land coast with Opposition Leader , Jon Isaacs , and  Bob Collins , the pilot suddenly realised he did not have enough fuel to get back to Darwin. Landing at a small settlement , the pilot berated himself in a most unnerving way. Another air adventure included going out in the RAAF Lincoln Bomber which used to be based in Darwin, looking for the yacht Sea Fox and it amazing crew, which included a chimpanzee ; an RAAF Sabre jet crashed in Darwin Harbour and I found the dead pilot’s helmet  floating in the debris, which I recall looking down on the scene .


There are many people to see and loose ends to tie up before leaving Darwin in a matter of days . The car has to be taken in for attention as it refuses to start at times and has to be delivered to a depot to be trucked to Townsville . My decrepitude is obvious to one and all as I am referred to as an old man on three occasions . The final blow comes when a woman kindly offers me a seat in a packed bus, which I decline, with thanks. For some inexplicable reason, I begin singing discordant snatches of the Kinky Friedman song about Ol' Ben Lucas , who had a lot of mucus... Make a note on a scrap of paper , subsequently lost, to have a nip, tuck , apply Grecian 2000 to thin grey hair and book a session with a shrink and voice trainer .

It was so hot and sticky, I borrowed a cap with SCOTLAND on the peak, giving the impression that I am a visiting Highlander . When I retreated to the penthouse for relief from the sweaty conditions , my seven – year- old granddaughter , Steffi, showed me her impressive library of fairy books .These fairies seem to be thoroughly modern misses , one wearing Doc Martens and a designer label dress. Then Steffi challenges me to a game of chess .Groan. Never in all my years have I played chess, so I tell her, thinking ,hoping, that she will take pity on me and withdraw the challenge . Not Steffi . She revels in winning and realises I will be a pushover. Out comes the magnetic chess set and she supplies me with instant, baffling instructions on how to play the game . Naturally, she wipes the floor with me as I wanted to play the game like a combination of Chinese checkers , snakes and ladders and draughts, aggravating her in the process.

 Grandson Kurt, 10, who recently had the rare experience of being the drum beater in dragon boat races in Malaysia  during which the 18 year old race starter jumped into the water to cool off and drowned, his body not found for days , is full of surprises. Kurt shows signs of being another Steven Spielberg and showed me films he has made  using Leggos and an old WW11 military tin toy plane I gave him ; as I see the  plane streaking down towards the ground with  its wheels down, I am reminded of the 1946 event in which a l2- year- old “ Javanese” boy, Bas Wie , stowed away in the wheel nacelle of a Dutch Dakota in Koepang and fell out on the tarmac in Darwin ; allowed to remain Australia, Bas lived in Government House and with the Administrator’s son, Mike Driver, who became a reporter , rode out on bikes with a rifle to hunt wallabies and take turns shooting at a pillbox in which one of them sheltered .

Memories come flooding back about the many court cases I have covered over the years , the latest being the plight of Darwin Aboriginal art gallery identity, Shirley Collins , ruined by her involvement in the Bank of America Down Under Tour of the US in the lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games . A strange early case involved the amazing so called half woman , no body from the waste down, who came to town with a circus and gave birth to a baby . Police officers that come to mind are burly Greg Ryall, who at the Darwin Airport slapped a throat bar on one of the Russian guards attempting to whisk Mrs Petrov out of Australia ; hero Jim Mannion ; police prosecutor , “Fangs” Metcalfe ; “Killer” Kane, who on leaving the force , a chip on his shoulder , frequently referred to the NT Police Farce and complained about police vehicles being illegally parked ... last heard of , he had supposedly bought a large vessel and traded up Asia way ; the extremely fit constable who committed bigamy.

The cavalcade of characters included the tragic women Violet Clancy and Ruby, regular court appearers ; the NT News cleaner , English remittance man , Drunken Donald Duncan, who fell into Darwin Harbour one night and drifted for hours ; murders , an inquest in which angels were mentioned .

Social writer Joy Collins, unable to come to work one day, rang from Batchelor to say she was in bed with a wog, resulting in a risqué response from the editor . Other individuals that come to mind include the dynamic Professor Harry Messel who took me on a crocodile survey of the Adelaide River ; American entrepreneur , Gus Trippe ; the enlightened magistrate , Stuart Dodds , with whom I did a circuit court trip down the track, meeting former NT Mounted Policeman , Jack Mahoney, then mine host at the Larrimah Hotel ; another great Territory Mountie, Ted Morey , who put pen to paper ; the jockey who was beaten with a frying pan and John the Log , caught at the wheel of a getaway car he could not start in a London holdup; a tired and emotional Bob Hawke making derogatory remarks to an Alsatian dog; "Cannonball" Cridland .

An unexpected and touching event took place when the Police Museum and Historical Society of the NT presented me with a copy of Peter FitzSimon’s latest book, Eureka, for editing its journal, Citation. Last minute research in the parliamentary library included following up angles on authors Xavier Herbert and Frank Hardy in particular and a number of other people and events . A goodbye visit was made to the always interesting, full of great stories and information , Genealogical Society of the NT. The small team of volunteers is incredibly knowledgeable and the source of many interesting and offbeat stories. I suggest the local media make regular contact with the group. On the way out the door , I am informed of a fabulous yarn involving London and the early British settlement of the NT, just one of number in the bulging ideas book.

With our family , we experience the CBD cafe society scene at the popular, very busy Java Spice on Sunday morning, where a strolling guitarist entertained . Down The Star Theatre arcade , I whipped into the coin, stamps and oddities dealer , my kind of territory, and searched through a mound of postcards , some French ones going back to WW1 , and purchased a wad , covering union matters, NZ, the abdication of Napoleon 1, and two views of Lord Howe Island ,where I went by flying boat when I was a schoolboy . Of particular interest is an early aerial shot of NZ’s Mount Tarawera , which erupted in l886, because I climbed it in the l960s with former NT News editor , Ross Annabell, author of the book about the Territory uranium boom , and we slid down on the loose scree into the crater bottom, the heat increasing the deeper we went . On that climb the top of the chasm was lined with red volcanic bombs (the magna which had shot high into the sky, cooled and came down as round balls ) and colourful lichens . Snow falling on the summit adds to the colourful scene , as do deer ,which bounded out of the swirling mist during our climb .


One of the first assignments I had as a reporter in Darwin did not involve crocodiles –it was a fashion night at the old Seabreeze Hotel at Nightcliff where the chemise look was introduced. I was present when the new Administrator , Roger Nott , addressed a meeting of worthy citizens in the Town Hall and said suits were not suitable for the Darwin climate and invited the gathering to remove coats ; he defined Darwin rig for formal occasions ... trousers , shirt and tie for men . There was a time when Legislative Council members were relaxed when it came to dress and a visiting press photographer was ordered out of the building for trying to take a shot of “shirt sleeve legislators.”

A menswear representative from south came to Darwin and was induced to make colourful and critical remarks in the NT News about the state of male attire in the Territory, which caused a lively and laughable local response. Opposition Leader Jon Isaacs introduced the safari suit to parliament . Now suits and ties are all the go for men in the Legislative Assembly Wedding Cake building . Women members tend to dress up in dark power suits , unlike Dawn Lawrie who injected , colour, bangles and piled up coiffure in her day. There is a strange situation in modern Darwin whereby the media insists on projecting an image of sweaty male Territorians in stubbies, singlets and thongs. Yet the glossy local magazines are replete with photographs of men in suits, ties , bowties, dickies ; women frocked up to the nines . The fashion scene at the Melbourne Cup frivolities at Fannie Bay racetrack equate to Flemington .


The night before leaving Darwin , we dined at Tim’s Restaurant , he being a magician and the local Harry Houdini , who entertained us and the grandchildren with sleight of hand tricks. The food was laid out like a work of art . At the airport the next day, two of the great team from the Nightcliff Uniting Church Op Shop-Maude and Jo-surprised us by turning up to say farewell. Once again, I was selected by security to see if I had anything explosive on my person , footwear , jocks. Why me ? . Soon after arriving in Townsville , a  young couple offer me a seat at a crowded bus stop ...Really must look like a weary old  Fenian .

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DARING PLAN TO JUMP FROM PLANE –Continuing biography of Crusading Editor ,“Big Jim “ Bowditch

Interesting news stories broke in Alice Springs and  Bowditch often became personally involved , sometimes in most unusual and spectacular ways. Early one morning , at  home, Bowditch heard the strange sound of a horn being blown from atop Anzac Hill. On investigation , it was found that the person responsible was a large Ukranian , Feodor Cartschenko.

For some unknown reason, Cartschenko  had suddenly arrived in town , carrying a goat horn . A powerfully built man, with a long flowing beard , he had vacant eyes. From discussions with the man , Bowditch surmised he had been “shell shocked” by wartime experiences . Bowditch took the religiously obsessed man home and offered to help him. Declining the offer , he camped in the Todd River and went about town spreading the word of God in halting English , telling bemused Alice imbibers that booze was bad for them. He frequently blew his horn and sang the Song of David . Children follow him about and laughed when he would slide down a slippery dip. However, some mothers began to worry about this man who attracted children like the Pied Piper. A vegetarian, he mainly lived on bread and honey . Many people regarded him as a" mental defective".

Bowditch was at the racetrack when he was informed that police had arrested Cartschenko. A headlock had been applied to the crying man who was then put in a car , taken to the Ghan train leaving for Adelaide, given his possessions and told never to come back to Alice Springs.

Along the way, he jumped from the train and began to walk into the wilderness . The police who had run him out of town were alerted and formed a search party . The search went on for days and blacktrackers found signs that he had been eating wild paddy melons which would cause severe scouring . They felt he would either be dead or very sick when found. He had abandoned a jar of honey, half a loaf of bread and a bag of peanuts

On being told that Cartschenko would probably die before found , Bowditch went to aviator Eddie Connellan and discussed the possibility of chartering a plane to fly over the desert to look for him.

Bowditch said he raised with Connellan , because no parachutes were available, the possibility of leaping from the low flying plane into the down side of a sand dune, he having read that Russians jumped from planes into snowdrifts during WW11 . Connellan’s account , in a letter to this writer :
Jim came to me in my office at the town site aerodrome at Alice Springs and asked to be flown out on a charter flight to find Feodor , then jump out with a parachute and rescue him. He said that if he could achieve this , it would make him as a journalist. I said that unfortunately we did not have a parachute , but that no doubt he would be happy to do what his friends in the Red Army did during training exercises in Siberia -jump out of low flying aircraft and land on the down slope of sandhills . Jim of course at that stage was a Communist. Jim agreed that if they (Russians) could do it , he could ; and I spent the rest of the interview trying to talk him out of it! End of story. ”
In any case, Cartschenko was found sitting in his underpants with a duffel bag containing clothes , singing religious songs . He had walked about 45 miles . Brought back to Alice , he was charged with being a mental defective . However, a local businessman, Jim Richards, told the magistrate he was prepared to take responsibility for Feodor and gave him a job in the building industry. After a while , Cartschenko moved on and Bowditch read  newspaper reports that he turned up in Melbourne and then Tasmania ,where he sang to waterside workers. NEXT :The Northern Territory News and the strange letter  from Indonesia.


With the bombing of Darwin anniversary looming on February 19 , here is a bizarre story about the fearful days in Australia following the Japanese attack. It comes from a book, The Catholic Knights of the Southern Cross (KSC) –The Queensland Story , by Jack Woodward ,1984, 429pp, a copy of which was bought by Little Darwin in a Townsville op shop. Coverage of the WW11 period includes the claim that the United Protestant Association of Australia , Brisbane branch, issued an odd pamphlet , the text of which was run in full in the KSC December 1944 monthly newsletter. Woodward said it was not known if the item had been included for comic relief in a grim year or for straight-faced consumption.

Headed  THE STORY OF A LITTLE PAPAL FLAG AND THE THREATENED JAPANESE INVASION OF AUSTRALIA, paraphrased , it told how the nation had been warned that it must be prepared to defend the country from invasion after the bombing of Darwin. Frantic preparations were made to build air raid shelters, desperate efforts were made to get our armed forces into shape. People”scurried “ from their homes in Brisbane and other coastal towns; in Brisbane , people talked nothing but invasion for weeks.

The pamphlet claimed children attending Roman Catholic convents and schools were given a small flag “with a strange device”. It was not a miniature Union Jack, nor a small Australian flag .One half was yellow, the other part white. On the white section was a picture of St Peter’s Church, Rome. It was felt the flags could in some way protect Catholic Children in the event of a Japanese  invasion of Queensland, as it could not be mistaken for the Union Jack or the Australian flag.

While there was a Japanese Ambassador at the Vatican and a papal representative in Tokyo, it was not generally known that the children of the Japanese Emperor were being educated at a Roman Catholic convent in Tokyo, the newsletter item declared . In the event of a Japanese invasion, Catholic children would use the flags to indicate they belonged to a church which was on friendly terms with the Nipponese government . The strange  report ended : “The Japanese did not get as far as landing –had they done so, Queenslanders might have been amazed to see the number of Catholic children to escape the barbarities of the invaders –so long as they carried the little papal flag.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013


The obsession with crocodiles in North Australian media shows no sign of abating . In Darwin , The NT News , for example, can’t get enough croc stories ; the editor was reportedly delighted that the paper was able to run no less than four crocodile yarns in one edition. A harmless baby freshwater crocodile, not much bigger than a rubber ducky, is found in a domestic swimming pool and the Darwin media, including the ABC and Channel 9, treat it like the Second Coming.

Be it fact or fiction , I was told that the NT News reporters were divided into two groups: one which relentlessly looked for croc stories, the other charged with chasing UFOs and aliens , there being intense rivalry between the two, a tally kept. President Barack Obama was even insured against crocodile attack during his visit to Darwin last year, a fact repeatedly run by the News in its promos .

A normally polite Darwin resident said she would scream if she saw another bloody crocodile story in the NT News. Crocodile shooting safaris have been mooted in the Northern Territory. Reporter potting safaris might be more beneficial and satisfying . Over in North Queensland , the Townsville Bulletin seems to be showing increased interest in crocodile stories , the latest one about “ a monster crocodile eyeballing a teenager”at a popular fishing spot , weddings and St Valentine’s Day hogging the spotlight in the paper , although a happy hippo rated a mention near the sports pages. Of  course , the  local  basketball team is, you guessed it, the Townsville Crocodiles.

Tiring of the never ending saurian reports and dubious Territory X-File encounters , I donned a pith helmet , Bombay bloomers, gaiters and sallied forth like Ernest Hemingway with a Big Game Hunter’s Martini Henri rifle for Darwin’s first ever Dragon shoot. These monsters , of course, are rarer than Unicorns and Loch Ness Monsters. The first awesome Dragon I unexpectedly encountered was in the driveway of Arnhem Nursery , Humpty Doo. See rampant beast posing for camera at head of story.

Stunned , I parked the car and grabbed my shooting iron....Out of the undergrowth, I was charged by what at first looked like a Dalek swooping in on me for the kill. Adrenalin flowing , knees knocking, I prepared to be exterminated. Thankfully , it was only the hippy, hippy ABC gardening identity, Kerry Byrnes, mounted on a ride- on mower, below.
He could not stop for my hysterical interrogation about the fire breathing Dragon on his premises because he had a visit from outer space during the night- a lightning strike that blew out the irrigation system and made incoming telephone callers sound as if it was Mr Hissy , the large python which slithered about the roof of the nursery residence for years , who developed wander lust and moved away to an old car body with hot and cold running possums.

After making running repairs ( Kerry fancies himself as a NASA mention shall be made here of the time he could not get a leafblower to work and it was discovered by a serviceman that there was a wasp nest up the spout ) , he informed me I could buy  for my trophy room  the imported fibreglass Dragon for a mere $1900 . If that was beyond my means , there were  other life size animals - lions , tigers , lizards , cane toads , gila monsters and proud peacocks in his menagerie. Kerry ruined my death defying Dragon hunting saga by insisting it was a good luck dragon , not one of those nasty beasties that barbecue humans. We must not let the facts ruin a good beat up, I told him ; he concurred , having once been the proprietor of the independent newspaper, Darwin Star , the name inspired by a wild, blood - soaked tabloid in Hong Kong , where Dragons are found on every street corner, down each alley.


Setting out on another Dragon shooting expedition , I called on the redoubtable Rob Wesley-Smith , deep in the Howard Springs veldt , where all kinds of Jurassic Park critters might dwell. During the Wet season , his billabong overflows and joins up with adjoining swampland , looking suspiciously like croc territory. To combat the Las Vegas  vampire bats invading his airy house at night, Wes has invested in two owls from Bunnings , one with flashing red  eyes.

Wes made me drop my blunderbuss in amazement when he told me that there are Dragons on his property , and asked me if would like to taste their flesh!!! Eh? I could see the NT News screaming  headline: CROCODILES THREATENED BY DRAGON INVASION ; PRESIDENT OBAMA ORDERS  IN MARINES TO SAVE NT. True to his promise, Wes served up a tasty dish of Dragon Fruit (red) and ice cream .

In doing so , he had risked life and limb clambering up an unsafe looking ladder , nearly 10 metres high, see above, to get the fruit from a feral plant which had sprinted up the trunk of a tall tree . The dangers of the tree climbing expedition became more apparent when he revealed that he needed a long handled picking gadget to get at the fruit. On one trip into the thick canopy, there was a strong gust of wind and he had dropped the picker .On hearing this , I arranged for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to immediately ground Wesley-Smith as he had once crashed on his head at Nhulunbuy when helping unload material at the dump and ended up in an induced coma in Royal Darwin Hospital.

UFO SCOOP : You read it here first : A man in Adelaide claims to have a photograph of a flying saucer showing faces in the circular windows. They were probably vainly looking for the latest leader of the SA Liberal PartyAndrew “Beam /Beat me up , Nikki !” Downer?

Thursday, February 7, 2013


A Russian bride received an unexpected surprise when she arrived in Darwin –the door to the steps leading to her apartment in Sky Tower  carried the sign, THE KREMLIN, with an added touch of the tropics. She and her partner subsequently departed for Melbourne , the sign remains.