Continuing biog of Crusading Editor, "Big Jim" Bowditch
During the time of the Whitlam Government there was a strong backlash in the Northern Territory to reforms brought in to improve the lot of Aborigines . In the town of Katherine,which received notoriety when it was revealed that there was police involvement with the Ku Klux Klan , a movement sprang up called Rights For Whites.
Leading figures in the group were Bill and June Tapp of Killarney Station. Mrs Tapp, who was president of the organisation, maintained that government handouts were encouraging Aboriginal people towards crime, drunkenness and laziness. Bowditch took a personal interest in the issue , sensing that it could split the Territory and create racial tension.
He attended a lively Rights for Whites meeting in Katherine . One of the few Aborigines there was the Gurindji Captain Major. When a white person said that the people of Katherine had experienced tough times during the Depression, Captain Major said Aborigines had been in a depression ever since the arrival of white people in Australia.
Bowditch strongly urged June Tapp to change the name of the organisation from Rights For Whites to Rights for Territorians , which was done . By retaining the original name, he said it could and would be branded racist . Because the supporters of the organisation felt they had legitimate grievances and were experiencing financial and other problems , they would receive a more sympathetic ear from Canberra with an all embracing title.
He argued that the Federal Government by spending money on Aboriginal affairs was , rightly, trying to redress a terrible situation which demanded attention . The split in the community was a hot issue at the time and fanned by political groups opposed to the Whitlam government. Some people in high places in the NT secretly gloated over the racial rift .
The situation received nationwide media coverage. ABC reporter Gerald Stone came to Darwin from Sydney and chaired a debate on the issue between June Tapp and Bowditch . At times the discussion became heated , and Bill Tapp watched proceedings angrily from the wings . After the session , Bowditch said he would not have been surprised if Bill Tapp had rushed over during the debate and “clocked ”him for giving his wife a tough time.
In the early l970s Bowditch had also backed the cause of a Filipino musician , Meno Ella , who was popular in Darwin . Ella was in the country on a visa and applied to be allowed to stay in Australia . The Immigration authorities insisted that he and his wife would have to leave. Because Brian Manning was married to a Filipino , Ella was referred to him for help . Manning , who was the head of the NT Trades and Labour Council at the time , raised the matter with Bob Hawke , who was the ACTU leader , and Gough Whitlam. Manning had in mind unionists refusing to fuel the plane the Ellas would board to fly back to the Philippines . A rally in support of Ella was held in Raintree Park and those in attendance included Bowditch , Manning, lawyer Dick Ward , activist Rob-Wesley Smith . At the airport, Ella attempted to walk out to the plane , but protestors blocked his way. Crying, he was taken to the plane by a different route .
Meno did not want to become the centre of a major dispute and left . However, when the Whitlam government came into power and Immigration Minister Al Grassby was on a visit to Manila he announced that the Ellas could go back to Darwin. Furthermore, Grassby said the White Australia policy was dead and if journalists gave him a shovel he would bury it . NEXT: Bowditch cracks under the strain.